Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Year in review: ENMU hires chancellor to replace Patrice Caldwell

This was the year Eastern New Mexico University’s president and chancellor announced she was leaving so the search for and selection of her replacement occupied much of 2022.

Patrice Caldwell, who had been appointed ENMU’s president and chancellor in 2020, in February informed the university’s Board of Regents she would be leaving the post to retire July 1.

Caldwell later announced she would stay at the post until her replacement was found.

Caldwell has been with the university for 42 years.

It would be the end of November before the Board of Regents announced the university’s 12th president and third chancellor would be James Johnston, interim president of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Johnston will be taking office Jan. 3, the same day Caldwell will be stepping down.

The selection process involved sometimes contentious meetings of the Board of Regents, contracting with a search firm for $100,000 for their services in helping in the selection process and reviewing 96 people who were interested in the post.

It would be June 15 when a “want ad” for the position appeared in the “Chronicle of Higher Education.”

The search for the new chancellor was handled by the executive search firm EFL Associates. The person who led the search was Wynn Goering of Albuquerque, senior consultant for higher education practice with EFL.

In a June interview, Goering said he helps decide “who the search firm is serious about and helps the committee make good choices.”

Goering worked with the search committee that was drawn up by the ENMU regents made of members of that board, people from the Portales community and campus people.

At a March meeting of the regents, one member alleged Caldwell’s successor had already been selected.

Trish Ruiz of Hobbs was assured by Regents President Lance Pyle and other board members that the allegation was not true.

Ruiz was concerned she’d been excluded from the decision-making process by other regents. She said she’d heard rumors that Caldwell would be replaced without following the board’s bylaws about how executive hiring is conducted. Ruiz also expressed concern that Caldwell had actually been dismissed because of declining enrollments, which she said was not Caldwell’s fault.

Pyle told Ruiz and other attendees that the search for Caldwell’s successor had only begun and that bylaws for hiring a new chancellor would be followed. Pyle said Caldwell was not forced out and she agreed to stay on until her replacement is named.

It would be near the end of October before regents publicly announced five finalists for the job had been chosen and Oct. 28 before the finalists names were revealed: Johnston; Bruno Hicks, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Dalton State College, Dalton, Ga.; Gary Ligouri, founding dean, college of health sciences, University of Rhode Island; Larry Sanderson, vice president of institutional research and accreditation, New Mexico Junior College, Hobbs; James Williams, senior vice president for student affairs (retired), Emporia State University, Emporia, Kan.

The finalists came to Portales the first week of November to attend forums for ENMU faculty, staff and community, trips to the ENMU Roswell and Ruidoso campuses and interviews with the Board of Regents.

The Regents announced their choice of Johnston on Nov. 29.

Board of Regents member, now board president, Phillip Bustos, chaired the search committee.

Bustos lives in Albuquerque where he retired as vice president of Student Services at Central New Mexico Community College.

Bustos, who was elected Board of Regents president Dec. 9, is beginning his third year on the board.

“I think we should probably look at the process again,” Bustos said of this year’s search. “Once Dr. Johnston is on the job and has been here for some time I believe we should just review the search policy and make sure the policy fits the purpose of the search.”

Bustos believes the search process was “kind of unwieldy” because there were 18 people on the search committee.

“It makes it hard to schedule meetings, hard to schedule interviews and some of the people end up not being able to participate,” Bustos said.

“I think a group a little bit leaner would serve better,” Bustos said. “And timelines. Timelines were tight. When you get to the end of the process you’re pretty rushed and I don’t think that’s good in the process of choosing a president.”

Looking back at the months-long search for her replacement Caldwell reached the same conclusion about search committee size as Bustos.

“A smaller number (on the local search committee) might have provided the same level of consultation and greater efficiency,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she felt the purpose of the search committee wasn’t made clear to the campus and community.

“The search committee was to function in an advisory capacity to the regents, who hire and fire the president,” Caldwell said. “That process may not have been as clear to the campus and community, and that should have been made clearer.”

Caldwell also said the use of an external search firm as a necessary part of the search should have been made more clear and more time should have been allowed for the finalists to visit all three of the university’s campuses in Portales, Roswell and Ruidoso.