OSU President Heading West

Saturday, February 17th 2007, 3:59 pm
By: News On 6

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) University of New Mexico regents on Saturday named Oklahoma State University President David Schmidly as the school's new president.

Schmidly, who owns a home in Placitas, will replace Louis Caldera, who resigned last year. He was one five finalists considered for the post.

"We had five wonderful candidates," regent Don Chalmers said. "But one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Dr. Schmidly came to us with a vision about how to take this university to the next level."

Schmidly was named president and chief executive of the 32,000-student Oklahoma State University system in November 2002. Before that, he served as president at Texas Tech University.

Schmidly was attending a basketball game Saturday between OSU and the University of Missouri when he received a call from UNM that he said didn't come as much of a surprise.

"I felt like my interview had gone very well, and I felt like the regents connected with the idea of having an experienced president who had worked on some of the challenges at the University of New Mexico," he said in an interview.

Of the UNM constituents who participated in candidate forums earlier this year, 91 percent of them favored Schmidly, said regents President Jamie Koch.

"We're real thrilled to be able to have a sitting president of a major institution coming to us," Koch said.

UNM regents also pointed to Schmidly's track record of improving retention and graduation rates, and fundraising in naming him to UNM's top post.

The largest single donation given to a public university in Oklahoma -- $70 million from OSU alum and Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in 2003 -- came under Schmidly's watch. The school's football stadium, renamed to Boone Pickens Stadium, has undergone massive renovations.

Oklahoma State men's basketball coach Sean Sutton said Schmidly was "tremendous for the athletic department, always extremely supportive about it, comes in the locker room after every game and always encourages our players to come by and see him.

"He always has been unbelievably supportive and the best president that I've ever had the fortune of being around," Sutton said.

"He understands how important athletics can be to a university, and it's important to him. He sees what it can do overall for the university. He's been good to me, and I appreciated everything that he's done for us since he's been here."

In the candidate forums at UNM, Schmidly promised to create a vice president for minority affairs to increase the hiring of women and minorities.

"That alone won't do it but at least you create an organization where it's shown as a top priority," he said Saturday. "You have to get broader acceptance of it. One person won't do it."

Schmidly also suggested that unprepared students could benefit from taking, for example, 24 hours of instruction in areas they might need strengthening before moving into a degree program.

"What matters in higher education is students' success," he said. "You enroll a student, retain them and graduate them. If you're not focused on student success, then you're not doing the right thing."

Schmidly has said that the New Mexico position had a strong appeal because the school is the state's flagship research university and because of strong personal ties.

"I think the university is just a research powerhouse," he said Saturday. "The opportunities there under the leadership of the great governor in New Mexico to move the research out into the private sector in projects like Mesa del Sol, I just think the upside is huge. I'm excited that I'll be at the helm and looking forward to the challenge."

No date has been set for Schmidly to start at UNM, though he and Koch said it will happen by June 1, if not sooner.

Once at UNM, Schmidly said he'll form a transition team and develop an agenda within the first 120 days "to make a bold statement."

Koch said Schmidly's compensation package will be no less than what he received at OSU, which was $407,870, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Of that, $276,117 is salary, $75,000 is deferred compensation, $31,753 is retirement pay and $25,000 is for a vehicle.

David Harris, who has been New Mexico's interim president, earns $270,000 a year, plus a car allowance and $35,000 in deferred compensation.

Schmidly said it was an honor to lead OSU -- one of the nation's finest land-grant universities, but he is confident the university is poised for greater levels of achievement.

"I've been very well received at OSU, by the students, faculty, alum -- they've all been very good to us," he said. "It's sort of a bittersweet moment for us. We thought this would be the last place we would work, but now we have this new opportunity."

The other four finalists for UNM president were: New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. Lopez; Meredith Hay, vice president for research at the University of Iowa; Herman D. Lujan, provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Los Angeles; and Robert T. McGrath, senior vice president for research at Ohio State University.