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The Spirit versus the Spreadsheet: NMSU terminates long-time employee

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A+poem+titled+%22The+Student+Is...%22+hanging+in+Montoya%27s+office.
A poem titled

A poem titled "The Student Is..." hanging in Montoya's office.

Derek Gonzales

Derek Gonzales

A poem titled "The Student Is..." hanging in Montoya's office.

Bernadette Montoya’s office floor was strewn with files, folders and office supplies. Her walls were in the process of becoming bare, a few Aggie flags still hanging from tacks.

Montoya, former Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management (SAEM), kicked off the fall semester with a freshmen enrollment boost of 11 percent. It was a feat to be celebrated, accomplished through hours of overtime, teamwork and state and country-wide treks to influence prospective New Mexico State University students.

Yet, the euphoria of success was short-lived.

After a restructural convocation hosted by NMSU President John Floros and Chancellor Dan Arvizu, Montoya was notified that her position had been eliminated. Montoya received no explanation, but was given roughly three weeks to purge her office of personal belongings.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know how to feel, I don’t even remember driving home that day,” Montoya said. “Admittedly, I’m feeling some anger. There’s got to be a blessing somewhere, and I’m still just trying to figure that out.”

Renay Scott, current President of Dona Ana Community College, was named Montoya’s successor under the title of Vice President of Student Success. Scott’s position will serve above the Dean of Students to manage student recruitment and retention, financial aid, campus life, scholarships and career and health services.

Montoya said she believes she would have been more than willing and able to maintain the title of Vice President of SAEM and would have enjoyed taking the reigns of new tasks.

“Essentially, (the new position) is my position,” Montoya said. “They’ve changed the title, added a few other units —as you saw at the forum or have read in the paper— units that I would have gladly taken leadership on.”

Montoya’s driving purpose of her career has always been the student, she said.

“I would simply hope, and I have no doubt to think this would be true, that they (the future administration) would remember that we’re here to serve the student and to help the student. I like to call it ‘the spirit versus the spreadsheet,’” Montoya said. “I get that there’s a bottom line; I get that the institution needs money to survive; I get that we need revenue. I get that. I also get that there’s spirit. We’re affecting people’s lives.”

August 31 is Montoya’s last day in office, but has agreed to help Scott transition into her new position until her retirement date on Nov. 1.

“I’m 52 years old. People are saying that’s too young to retire, and I agree,” Montoya said.

Few wall adornments remain in her office. Most prevalent is a hand-decorated Native American patterned frame enclosing a poem entitled, “The Student Is…”

“The student is: the most important person on the campus, without them there would be no need for the institution. Not a cold enrollment statistic, but a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own. Not someone to be tolerated so that we can do our thing, they are our thing.

“Not dependent on us, rather we are dependent on them. Not an interruption of our work but the purpose of it. We are not doing them a favor by serving them, they are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so,” Montoya read aloud.

Montoya said the last few weeks have brought inordinate support from colleagues and students.

“The emails, the calls, the texts, the visits I have received, it’s just been overwhelming,” Montoya said.

Having spent the last 18 years of her 28-year marriage living nearly 280 miles from her husband, who resides in Grants, Montoya has spent nearly her entire adult life working on her career at NMSU.

Montoya said she largely supports NMSU’s community college system because that is where she started.

“When I was in high school, I was told I was not college material,” Montoya dolefully said. “I have a 14 ACT (score) because the day we were all marched in the cafeteria to take the ACT… I was told ‘you don’t have to worry about it because you’re not going to college anyway.’”

Montoya’s dream was to become an educator, however, a profession that required a college degree. She attended NMSU-Grants and received an associate’s degree, then transferred to the Las Cruces campus for her bachelor and graduate degree. Montoya eventually earned her doctorate degree from the University of New Mexico.

On the wall, next to her “The Student Is…” poem, all of her degrees hung, her Associate of Arts degree from the Grants campus hung proudly next to her doctorate degree.

“I am as proud of that associate’s degree as I am my doctorate because that community college helped me realize that I could do it, and it was all about what I put into it, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do it,” Montoya said.

Montoya has been an employee of NMSU for nearly 27 years, impacting students and employees alike—knowing and utilizing her position as a leader.

“Many years ago, when I started my leadership work that I do, I wrote a mission statement, and it says: ‘To live my life in an abundance of peace, joy and happiness and to leave strong shoulders on which others to stand,’” Montoya said.

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About the Writers
Ch'ree Essary, Director of Content

Ch’ree Essary, entering her second year working at The Round Up, currently serves as the Director of Content for the 2018-2019 academic year. A native of Eastern New Mexico, Essary graduated from Floyd High School in 2017 and is attending New Mexico State University to pursue a degree in Agricultural Communications through the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education.

Essary began her career at The Round Up last year as a staff writer and features writer while also participating in podcasts. She enjoys writing about New Mexico politics and covered the State of New Mexico’s 53rd Legislature, Second Session in 2018 and followed bills that impacted NMSU and its students. Essary has covered the 2018 New Mexico governor election and wrote one of The Round Up’s most-read articles from the 2017-2018 academic year, an investigative piece on Democratic Governor Candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Following her graduation in May 2020, Essary has interests to pursue a career in the field of agricultural communications, journalism, or extension education.

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Alanna Herrera, Managing Editor

Alanna Herrera is entering her second year at The Round Up, this year serving as the Managing Editor. She is a sophomore studying Journalism and Mass Communications at New Mexico State University. She loves traveling, is a sucker for good puns and spends her spare time crushing her boyfriend in Words with Friends. Alanna is excited to continue a culture of excellence at The Round Up and represent the voice of the students. You can find her on twitter @alannaherrera_

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8 Comments

8 Responses to “The Spirit versus the Spreadsheet: NMSU terminates long-time employee”

  1. Anonymous on August 30th, 2018 9:27 pm

    I am a parent of a new student at NMSU. We chose NMSU because we were so impressed wth the focus on student success and the positive culture generated by people such as
    Ms. Montoya. I am very dissapointed to hear about the dismissal of such a respected and dedicated member of the community.

  2. Bob Gallagher on August 31st, 2018 8:25 am

    What an absolute disgrace, Bernadette Montoya is the mirrored reflection of the success stories we should be highlighted and celebrating every day on our campus. In 2004 our enrollment became sluggish and the University had stopped engaging high school students from throughout the state as well as states that adjoined New Mexico. Our new president was tasked with the job of putting together a team that could compete with any other university when it came to student recruitment, Retention and success. Instead of looking all over the country President Martin found Bernadette over at the Dona ana community college, put her in charge of building the program and the rest is history. Between 2004 and 2009 our enrollment grew 33%, retension was at the highest it has ever been and there was a feeling of success and positivity on our campus, and as the chairman of the board of regents I could tell you that there was no doubt in my mind or anyone else’s mind that all the credit went to Bernadette Montoya. This is what happens when board of regents are not engaged in what is best for the University, makes knee-jerk reactions on hiring and Are willing to walk away from the very people who brought them to the dance. God bless you Bernadette, you are one of a kind

  3. Anonymous on September 4th, 2018 1:56 pm

    I am 62 years old and have worked in higher education for over 35 years. I am very familiar with the issues facing universities and colleges today and understand why new leadership would want to make changes in their administration. But, I am very disappointed in NMSU’s Chancellor, President, and Board of Regents and have very little trust in their ability to achieve their goals. Why? because the way they informed Dr. Montoya of her dismissal was unprofessional, insensitive and cowardly. Their behavior is an indication of more to come and NMSU should brace itself for more of the same.

    I wish Bernadette all the best and know that she will land on her feet.

  4. Anonymous on September 7th, 2018 1:22 pm

    I agree with all of the comments and as a currently employed staff member at NMSU, there are those of us who are very concerned and worried about our future employment. Dr. Montoya’s termination was heartless and undignified and most likely ordered by our very ignorant Board of Regents. They are the incompetent ones and should be replaced immediately. And, many of our impressions of the new administrators at nearly $1 million per year do not measure up. It feels like a top-down administration and it is not going to be a good year for many of us. Read Prof. Peach’s resignation letter and he is accurate about the Regents. Why has no one taken them to task by hiring two top administrators and not one – how legal was that decision? No university administration is perfect but by firing Dr. Montoya, they made the biggest mistake and will rue their decision.

  5. Raymundo Diaz on September 4th, 2018 3:01 pm

    I was fortunate to work for Dr. Montoya as an academic advisor for a few years, prior to her promotion to Provost. She was a supportive supervisor and I always enjoyed our meetings where advisors were praised for their hard work and the team spirit Dr. Montoya instilled. Many times when we volunteered to do freshman orientations at the Espina Campus on Saturdays, Dr. Montoya went out of her way to thank each of us individually, not to mention that she was there in the trenches working along with us. I understand that bureaucracies are not people friendly, but the consequence of many of these decisions results in losing some outstanding administrators. It was an honor to work for Dr. Montoya.
    Ray Diaz
    Academic Advisor
    Gadsden Center

  6. Anonymous on September 7th, 2018 1:40 pm

    The termination of Dr. Montoya was disgraceful, untimely and most likely ordered by our incompetent Board of Regents. They need to be replaced before they make more hasty decisions. Those of us who are employed at NMSU are very concerned and worried. We will be witnessing other terminations and resignations so that the university can afford $1 million per year for two administrators. The job announcement was for one administrator and not two – how did this happen? And why wasn’t the Board taken to task regarding this decision especially without having university faculty/staff and community input?
    Many of us do not have confidence with the new administrators and the cowardly termination of Dr. Montoya only supports the way many of us feel. We are angry!!!!
    Find Prof. Peach’s resignation letter and it states exactly why the current Board of Regents are ineffective. And to our Chancellor (with no academic or student affairs experience) and President – who else is on the chopping block?

  7. Anonymous on September 7th, 2018 3:04 pm

    Terminating Dr. Montoya in such a hasty and undignified manner is unacceptable. Why couldn’t they wait a semester and slowly make the transition? And, who else will be on the chopping block? The behavior of the Board of Regents indicates a lack of leadership and was predicted in Dr. Peach’s resignation letter. It is clearly obvious that they wanted Dr. Montoya out. They certainly do not appreciate or honor loyalty and hard work as demonstrated by the NMSU faculty and staff and not to mention an outstanding leader as Dr. Montoya. The Board hires two administrators instead of one without getting any input from the NMSU community at large and now we have a nearly $1 million bill every year. How can we justify these hires? We now have a quagmire of distrust and the feelings of anger will only increase among the NMSU employees. Finally, how is this continued lack of leadership going to impact the students?

  8. Anonymous on September 14th, 2018 10:16 am

    She spearheaded dismantling counseling services. She is a fraud.

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The Spirit versus the Spreadsheet: NMSU terminates long-time employee