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Fries points to Highlands stability

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By Don Pace

Highlands University President Jim Fries celebrates his first anniversary at the helm Tuesday.

The president took the post after the tumultuous tenure of former President Manny Aragon, who left Highlands with a big settlement and a threatened indictment in connection with the building of the federal courthouse in Albuquerque.

Fries (pronounced “freeze”) was interim president from 2001 to 2002 and is credited with rescuing Highlands from bankruptcy by merging academic departments, eliminating some majors and cutting some positions.

After he was named president on Jan. 22, 2007, Fries said this time he would focus on building for the future rather that managing a crisis situation.

“It’s been terrific and I’m so pleased to be back here at Highlands. We have terrific faculty, staff and community support. Everywhere I go people are so supportive of Highlands and anxious to have this institution achieve its full potential, and I’m privileged and proud to be part of that overall effort,” Fries said.

Fries said the thing that he’s most proud of is that people feel a greater sense of stability and a renewed optimism for where the university is going.

“To whatever degree I’ve been a part of that, that’s important to me,” Fries said. “That sense of stability is really significant.”

The president said getting the university off the American Association of University Professors censure list has been another important accomplishment. Highlands got on that list some time after the Board of Regents followed Aragon’s recommendation to deny tenure to four professors, even though faculty committees advised to give the tenure.

“I think the university is building a tremendous sense of forward momentum with a number of projects funded and under way,” Fries said. “We’re actively in the process of a $5 million remodeling of the science annex. We’re well along with a major effort to establish new stand-alone heating systems in all of our buildings that will allow us to abandon the various steam lines that are just horribly inefficient and will bring significant cost savings to us and hopefully a heightened comfort for everyone on campus as a result of that effort.”

Fries said the regents’ recent approval of a bond issue for a new residence hall would be a huge addition to student comfort and help the university in its recruiting effort. He said Highlands is about to put out a request for proposals for architectural services on a new student center and the concept for a one-stop shop for student services at the Felix Martinez building.

Fries didn’t have a cakewalk into the presidency as he faced two other finalists with resums that impressed those at student, faculty and community forums. Student senators even endorsed another candidate.

But as the new president, Fries was welcomed during his first week with a President James Fries Day, and one student senator called Fries a “cool dude” during an interview on the university radio station.

“Having been referred to by one of our students as a ‘cool dude’ is really one of the memorable highlights of my entire career. That was just so unexpected. I enjoyed that very much,” Fries said with a wide grin.

Fries’ contract will expire Dec. 31, 2010, unless it is terminated by written agreement, resignation for just cause or at the request of the board. The board has the option to extend the agreement by an additional year.