LAS VEGAS, N.M.
Former legislative leader Manny Aragon’s tenure as president of New Mexico Highlands University ended over the weekend, as the school’s board of regents approved a contract buyout that will pay him $200,000.
The regents approved the settlement with Aragon on a 4-1 vote and then unanimously agreed to name Manuel Pacheco as the university’s interim president.
Pacheco, who starts Tuesday, is a former president of the University of Missouri system and the University of Arizona. He will be paid $12,000 a month in salary. He will also receive $3,000 a month instead of a benefits package.
Pacheco will live in the university president’s mansion, but will not be a candidate to replace Aragon permanently, says regents chairman Javier Gonzales.
Aragon, a lawyer, had no experience in higher education administration before becoming the university’s 16th president. Advocates had charged he was being pushed out by disgruntled, non-Hispanic faculty who were trying to undermine Aragon’s leadership.
Gonzales says Aragon’s lack of experience contributed to problems during his administration. The American Association of University Professors censured the school after two professors filed lawsuits because they were denied tenure.
Aragon’s settlement calls for him to step down Friday in exchange for the $200,000 lump sum payment and 18 months of health insurance coverage. Under federal law, Aragon has seven days to revoke the agreement.
Aragon, who was not at the meeting Saturday, has declined to comment publicly on the matter.
Pacheco said before the vote that he would accept the job at Highlands.
“I can’t think of anything more flattering than to be asked to come back to help my old school continue its advancement to great achievement in higher education,” Pacheco said in a statement released by the university.
Pacheco received an undergraduate degree from Highlands in 1962. He was president of the University of Missouri system from 1997 until his retirement in 2003 and was president of the University of Arizona from 1991 until taking the job in Missouri.
Gonzales says Pacheco “has every skill we need to set a course for a first-class academic reputation and developing alumni involvement to secure our university’s future.”
Aragon became the university’s president in 2004, after serving 29 years in the state Senate. He was paid a base salary of $165,000 a year, plus inflationary adjustments provided to faculty and staff, and he was eligible for a $15,000 annual performance bonus. Last year, the regents approved such a bonus for Aragon.
— Associated Press
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