ALAMOSA — Though Marguerite Salazar has no experience in academia, she explained to a full classroom in Adam State University's business building on Thursday that she is still qualified to be the interim president for the institution. It was the third candidate forum for finalists to have a chance to meet with the public.
"I wasn't a doctor but I knew how to organize things to help the doctors," Salazar said, referencing working as Valley Wide Health Systems, Inc.'s CEO from 1989 to 2010. "I'm not going to pretend I'm an academic. I'm not that."
Salazar, who is currently the executive director of Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies, began her presentation by outlining her transferrable skills and explaining the department she works in. The La Jara native and ASU graduate said that though she is no longer working in counseling, she still uses her skills she learned at ASU when pursuing the degree.
"The idea of being able to be a good listener is so critical," Salazar said.
Within DORA she oversees numerous divisions such as those on banking, civil rights, insurance, real estate, securities and public utilities. Before becoming executive director she was the state's insurance commissioner from 2013 to 2017. She said that she could relate to low morale at the university following the layoffs since the insurance division also had a morale problem. However, she said she helped turned it around with her managerial skills.
"People that have jobs mostly in cubicles need to know that they are valued," said Salazar. "Happy people aren't always productive, but productive people are always happy. I would rather have productive people."
She also said that her experience, such as when she helped implement the Affordable Care Act as Colorado's regional director for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, has helped make her collaborative and she wouldn't operate in a vacuum if she was president.
"I'm only one person," said Salazar. "We have to have a lot of thinking and a lot of ideas before you actually execute an issue. No one person can know everything about one problem."
A reason she has applied for the position is because when Hickenlooper's term is up she will no longer be employed. Salazar said she isn't ready to retire and wishes to return to the Valley. "This is my home. This is where my family lives. This is where my friends are."
After detailing her background the forum opened up for questions from the audience. La Puente Director Lance Cheslock first asked how businesses and nonprofits could help ASU in returning the university’s generosity. Salazar suggested that ASU could foster community partnerships and internships with organizations, like the one in place between La Puente, Valley-Wide and the university for the annual Christmas theater program.
"I know other nonprofits and groups would want to be a part of that. Who wouldn't?"
Marty Jones, former chemistry professor at ASU, asked Salazar if she ever had to make a difficult decision like ASU's board of trustees did when eliminating 27 positions. Salazar responded with a story of Valley-Wide expanding into Durango, yet the clinics ultimately didn't work out. She then had to lay off 40 people.
When asked how she would improve ASU's current situation, Salazar said she would focus on affordability, recruitment and retention.
"I know a tenet of business is that it's cheaper to hold onto your customer than go find another one. We've invested in our staff already, let's hold on to them, do everything we can to keep them here and make sure they’re productive."
One person asked how she would get the university's finances on track. Salazar said her various experience has given her contacts with grants and foundations and, for example, she would ask the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation for funding to help restart the university's suspended early childhood development program.
"I always do watch out for Adams State," Salazar said. "Adams State has been wonderful for me. I know there's problems but every organization goes through this...I've sat on many foundation boards and I know there's money out there. People are so generous in this state and country that we just have to be ready to find it.
"This institution is so critical to the economy and community," Salazar said. "Education is the greatest equalizer there is because in the end it doesn't matter if everybody has great healthcare because if you don't have a job, nothing else really matters. You can get a good job by having an education.
The final forum with candidate Cheryl D. Lovell is scheduled from 11 a.m. to noon today (Friday, June 15) in room 142 of the business building.