Highlands University officials are looking at names for the new dorms and the under-construction student center.
Leveo Sanchez, chairman of the Highlands University Board of Regents, said that until recently, the school didn’t have a policy for naming buildings.
“Three or four months ago, this board adopted a policy with important criteria that should be taken into consideration to name a facility,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez, whose own name is attached to a lecture hall at the school, said there are a number of people who through the years have contributed greatly to students and to the university.
“We want to alert the community that they should begin to think about this, so at our next meeting, various groups can make presentations about some of the individuals or groups that have been supportive, contributed to the student body, and the university itself. So we want everybody to think about it, and the president (Jim Fries) will make the new policy available to anyone who is interested,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said as an example, he became aware within the last year of the tremendous contributions the Viles Foundation has made. He said numerous orphans have received scholarships because of her generosity.
Sanchez said for too many years, facilities have often been named for management and politicians simply for doing their jobs.
“We want to go beyond that and name buildings for people who have gone beyond the call of duty,” Sanchez said.
Regent Jesus Lopez said one of the few perks that regents have is the naming of facilities.
“I want to take that very seriously, and if we don’t name these facilities, another board will. The board that sits today is a board composed of very committed, very attentive people. That’s not always the case, and I’m not shy about saying that, and if we don’t take the initiative, others will. Their actions may not be as lofty or well considered as ours might be. We struggled and came up with a very good and well-balanced policy. With that said, I have some recommendations for this board and for the public,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he was recommending that one building be named for Mattie Viles, and Ken and Sue Crimmin.
Lopez said the Viles Foundation was founded by a Hispanic woman, Mattie Martinez-Viles of Sapello, who made a college education possible for thousands of orphaned area kids.
“She’s done more for Highlands than any politician. That’s the kind of person we need to honor,” Lopez said.
He said the Crimmins made Las Vegas their home after being stationed at Camp Luna during World War II.
“Ken ran a credit bureau and was not the most well liked person in Las Vegas,” Lopez said to laughter.
But Lopez said the couple set up an endowment of more than $500,000 for students from West Las Vegas and Robertson high schools.
Lopez said he was recommending the other building should be named after two other well-known and respected Las Vegas natives.
“One of the names on the other building should be that of Frank Angel, the first Hispanic president of Highlands. By accomplishing that in 1971, he became the first Hispanic president of a four-year institution of higher learning in the entire United States of America. That alone should qualify him for such an honor,” Lopez said.
Lopez said the second Hispanic president was John Aragon and the only native son to apply for the job as Thomas C. Donnelly was ending his 18-year reign.
“One person had the fortitude, and believe me, it took a lot of fortitude to submit his name — only one Hispanic had the grit and gall because he knew the repercussions,” Lopez said.
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Aragon’s application and denial sparked a revolution at Highlands in 1970. Students carried signs reading, “Be Fair to John Aragon,” and “Why Did You ‘Trash’ John Aragon,” a slogan asking regents why they threw John Aragon’s application in the trash can.
“The revolution changed the face of this university and of northern New Mexico — the people had a role model,” Lopez said.
Lopez said the protest in 1970 made national news, and Frank Angel ended up being the first president, but that would not have happened without John Aragon.
Lopez said the board would be remiss in not recognizing Angel and Aragon as a team.
Lopez said he had not spoken with fellow regents, and his recommendations would only be among those offered by regents, students, staff and community members.
Highlands President Fries said the university would give the public an opportunity for input on building names.
“We will establish some guidelines and timelines by which we would ask people to make submissions on why they think their nomination is appropriate. We will bring the input we receive to the board at the next regular board meeting.”