ALAMOSA — The only interim president finalist coming from within the institution, Adams State University Professor Armando Valdez shared his goals and ideas for ASU with a packed house in the ASU business building on Wednesday afternoon.
Valdez is the first of four finalists scheduled to meet with ASU employees and community members this week before the ASU trustees select an interim president to fill the vacancy left by Dr. Beverlee McClure and currently held by Interim President Dr. Matt Nehring who is serving through the end of June.
Dennis Bailey-Fougnier will be featured in a community forum this morning (Thursday, June 14) at 9 a.m. and Marguerite Salazar at 2 p.m. today in the business building, Room 142. The fourth finalist for the interim president position, Dr. Cheryl D. Lovell, will meet the public on Friday, June 15, at 11 a.m. in the same location.
Valdez is originally from the San Luis Valley and is still involved in the family farm and ranch near Capulin. He has been teaching in higher education for 18 years and has been part of Adams State’s business department since 2006. He served as chairman of the Executive State Committee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency from 2012-2017 with oversight over 39 offices in the state and a budget of $150 million. He serves with the Conejos County planning commission, board of adjustments and St. Joseph Parish. He has a BS in business administration from CSU, MBA from Colorado State University and is completing his Ph.D. with Colorado State University.
Valdez outlined short- and long-term goals for the interim period, should he be selected to fill the vacancy, with boosting morale and enrollment some of his top priorities. He said this is a strategic and challenging time for Adams State.
He said he has been involved in executive leadership and believes he has the skills to facilitate ASU’s leadership team. He added that although he believes strongly in a team approach, he would also be able to be a decisive leader.
Valdez said his dream is for Adams State to be a place where people want to come, a university that is the best HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) university, not just serving Latinos and Hispanics but also any students engaged in predominantly Hispanic and Latino communities as well as first-generation students and rural students.
Valdez fielded several questions during the community forum on Wednesday. When asked to give more specific examples of his goals for the next year or so, he said one of his strengths is strategic management, and he has developed goals for the first couple of months, the next 2-6 months and for 6-18 months out.
Immediate goals would be to boost morale and enrollment with targeted efforts on potential students who are most likely to attend. The school could look at those students who are successful and see how to increase that population, developing multiple profiles for targeted recruitment, Valdez explained.
When asked to single out one priority, Valdez said recruitment would be it, “getting butts in the seats.”
He said he wished every classroom were as full as the room was Wednesday afternoon.
Once school starts, Valdez added, it is important to focus on retention, ways to keep students here, because the first semester is crucial in retaining students. Students need to have multiple layers of support, he said.
Valdez said he was a big advocate of “1+1=3,” where cooperative efforts produce more than individuals or departments working independently of each other.
He said he would be a good facilitator but would count on the commitment of everyone in the room, all over the campus and throughout the community and entire area.
He added he has connections throughout the Front Range, in the business community, in Senator Michael Bennet’s office, in the governor’s office and other connections he could call upon to help Adams State succeed.
Another goal of Valdez’s within 6-12 months is to create an A team that models true shared governance with representatives from each employee group meeting on a regular basis to make true shared decisions.
He said he has been at four higher education institutions that all talked about shared governance but very few actually implemented it.
Valdez said at the end of the interim period he hoped to have a successful plan in place that the next president could embrace and buy into.
Valdez was also asked how he would pare down his obligations. He said although he would not want to drop everything, and his community involvement would be one of the advantages to his selection, he would have to divest himself of some of his duties and obligations. For example, he would leave the management of the farm to his sister and brother-in-law.
He said the president’s duties would be his first professional priority.
Valdez added that he did not want this to be his forever job, and he would like to go back to teaching in the School of Business before he retires in about 10 years.
Valdez was also asked how he would make difficult decisions, such as those that had to be made recently that resulted in positions lost and people’s lives impacted. Valdez pointed to a time when he was overseeing the FSA offices and had to make cuts. It came down to cutting the FSA office in his own county, but after talking with the staff and including them in the conversations, he decided that was the best decision.
Valdez was asked how he would deal with continued financial challenges that face Adams State. He said more revenue is the solution. He would focus on generating more revenue through various means including more assistance from the state and other funding organizations and through student recruitment and retention.
He said through revenue-producing efforts, he was confident ASU could meet its shortfalls in the future without further layoffs.
Valdez was asked specifically about how he would boost morale. He said the ASU 2020 plan talks about professional development and enrichment. “That’s an area we need to do better in,” he said.
Also, he said he was highly critical of the move to take away employee tuition, which was a hit to staff morale. He said he would like to see what could be done to expand the credits available to staff and to expand tuition assistance for employees’ children.
He added that it is important for employees to have informal social time together.
Valdez was also asked about how he would increase faculty diversity. He said he would love for the ASU faculty to be representative of the student population. He said it is a shame that there are no African American faculty members at ASU although the university has a significant number of African American students. He advocated reaching out to groups and universities with potential faculty to fill some of those voids.
In addition to ethnic diversity, Valdez said he would like to see diversity among the staff in terms of lifestyles, backgrounds and experiences.
He said in a bigger picture view, his job as interim president would be to “get everybody on board” and believing in a shared vision for the university.
“The only way I am going to be able to show you that it works is give me an opportunity,” Valdez said. He added that even if he was not the one chosen, “make sure you pick a good president.”