The San Miguel County Commission is weighing in on the controversy over Gov. Susana Martinez selecting a man who is suing Highlands University as a member of the school’s Board of Regents.
The commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution opposing Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointment of Carl Foster to the board.
The resolution asks the governor to withdraw the nomination and it asks Foster to withdraw his own name. Absent of that happening, the resolution states, the Senate Rules Committee should vote down the nomination.
The resolution was drafted at the request of Commission Chairman Nicolas Leger, who called the appointment absurd, given the lawsuit Foster has pending against the university.
“If there ever was a conflict of interest (this is it),” Leger said. “You’d think the governor, being an attorney, would know this.”
Because the county commission has no authority over regent appointments, the resolution is largely symbolic.
Foster was appointed to replace Regent Nancy Long, whose term has expired. Foster cannot take his seat on the board until he is confirmed by the state Senate, unless Long resigns her position.
The legislative session ends next week.
The governor’s office has previously said that it is aware of the lawsuit and that the litigation shouldn’t prevent him from serving on the board.
“Carl Foster brings to New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents a lifelong commitment to education and to the state of New Mexico,” the governor’s office said in a statement issued in January. “His pending matter with the University of Highlands was disclosed to us during the vetting process.”
Foster taught education courses at Highlands Rio Rancho Center as an adjunct faculty member, meaning that he was hired on a course-by-course and semester-by-semester basis. His lawsuit alleges that he was not rehired because a student complained that he bullied her. Foster denies the allegation. The university has called the lawsuit baseless in court filings.
Leger, a Highlands alumnus, said a red flag went up for him when he saw the story that Foster was suing the university.
“It really concerned me, and it’s a concern all of us should have,” he said, calling Highlands one of the most important institutions in this area and in the state.
Leger noted that the university went through a tough period several years ago. But he said the university has been a stable institution the last few years, and he doesn’t want that to change.
“I think we as constituents of San Miguel County need to take a stand,” he said.
Commissioner Ron Ortega expressed his support for the resolution, but questioned what effect it would have.
Leger said the resolution merely expresses the Commission’s opinion about the situation. He told his colleagues that if it were to be adopted, it would be sent to the governor, to Foster and to Sen. Linda Lopez, the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee.
Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat, is also publicly opposing Foster’s nomination. She said last week that she would recommend that the Rules Committee reject Foster’s nomination. She told The Associated Press that Foster has a conflict of interest because of his pending lawsuit against Highlands.
Also opposing the nomination is New Mexico LULAC and the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico.