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Highlands hires new provost

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Aguilar to start job in January

By Martin Salazar

An administrator at Our Lady of the Lake University has been tapped to be New Mexico Highlands University’s next provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Teresita Aguilar, a first-generation college graduate who earned her doctorate from the University of North Texas, will begin her new job in early January, Highlands President Jim Fries announced during last week’s regents meeting. She replaces Gilbert Rivera, who has been trying to retire since 2011.

“Dr. Aguilar is a very solid, thoughtful administrator,” Fries said as he announced to regents that Aguilar has accepted the position.

The university’s previous attempts to fill the provost post have result in failed searches, prompting Rivera to remain in the position.

The university’s attempt to fill a vacant vice president for advancement position, however, has been unsuccessful. Fries had hoped to have someone hired for that position by January. On Wednesday he informed regents that while the university found someone who he described as the perfect person for the job, the individual ended up declining it for family reasons. Fries said he may end up appointing an interim person for the post while a new search is launched.

Aguilar has worked at Our Lady of the Lake University for nearly nine years, most recently as director of the school’s Center for Mexican American Studies and Research. According to the school’s website, Aguilar has also served as dean of the School of Professional Studies and the Worden School of Social Service and had been a professor of education.  
Our Lady of the Lake is a church-affiliated, liberal arts university in northwest San Antonio.

Prior to going to work for Our Lady of the Lake, Aguilar was dean of graduate studies at the University of New Mexico.  
Aguilar earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, TX, in 1977. She majored in recreation and minored in sociology. Aguilar earned her Master of Science degree and doctorate from the University of North Texas, Denton, in 1981 and 1985, respectively.

Aguilar was the focus of a brief article in a campus publication in 2012. The article focused on Aguilar being a first generation college graduate.

“She grew up in Belton, one of 10 siblings, with no intention of pursuing a higher education,” the article states. “A friend of her family happened to be the financial aid director at Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. The director called and asked why Teresita had no college plans. The answer: She couldn’t afford it.”

The friend secured a full scholarship for Aguilar.

According to Fries, 92 people applied for the provost post. Nine people were interviewed by phone and four finalists were brought to campus for in-person interviews.

Fries and regents praised Rivera and the contributions he has made at Highlands.

“He is really retiring this time,” Fries joked. Rivera worked at Highlands from 1985 until 1996 and then was brought back in 2007, when Fries took over as Highlands president.

“I appreciate the support and cooperation I received during my 30 years at Highlands,” Rivera said. “I hope my contributions did help in some way, but the credit belongs to everyone. If people within an organization don’t work together, things don’t happen.”

Fries credited Rivera with playing a key role in getting Highlands off of the American Association of University Professors’ censure list and with helping in the university’s various re-accreditation efforts. He added that morale among faculty has also improved tremendously under Rivera’s leadership.

Rivera responded that he has enjoyed his time at Highlands.

“If not for Highlands, many of us from this part of the state wouldn’t be here today,” he said.