Editorial: A sad state of affairs

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When the Optic broke the news that Mora Superintendent Charles Trujillo had faked his credentials in order to obtain his administrative license, Charles Goodmacher, a spokesman for the National Education Association New Mexico, asked a simple question:

“If the allegations are true, who will hold them responsible for failing to demonstrate to the students of Mora, Luna Community College and NMHU the values of upholding high ethical and moral standards as required by our professional code of ethics?” he asked.

Goodmacher was referring specifically to the state Public Education Department. But the “them” in his quote could just as easily refer to every individual and entity that played a role in helping Charles Trujillo obtain educator licenses he didn’t qualify for.

Unfortunately, it appears that Highlands University President Sam Minner won’t be holding his dean of students accountable for his role in cheating the system; at least that’s what it looks like from our vantage point. In our view, anything less than a demotion or termination for Fidel Trujillo is insufficient.

Highlands spokesman Sean Weaver confirmed on Thursday that the university’s investigation into the matter is complete, and that the president had doled out the disciplinary action he felt was appropriate. Weaver wouldn’t say what the punishment was, calling it a personnel matter, but he did confirm that Fidel Trujillo will continue as the university’s dean of students.

A slap on the wrist for such an egregious ethical breach is outrageous, and if that’s an indication of how Dr. Minner is going to run Highlands University, then we’re worried about the institution’s future.

We concede that Fidel Trujillo is a likable guy and that he has done a decent job as dean of students, but his actions, even when cast in the best possible light for him, crossed the line.

Fidel Trujillo submitted an employment verification letter to the state Public Education Department that significantly inflated the time his cousin Charles Trujillo worked as a Highlands administrator, and PED relied on that representation to determine that Charles Trujillo qualified for an administrative license. Charles Trujillo held the position of deputy director of the New Mexico Work Program for two years and seven months, but Fidel Trujillo stated in his letter that his cousin held that job for about seven years.

Fidel Trujillo says it was an honest mistake, but it’s worth noting that the higher education administrative experience that he listed in the letter was exactly what his cousin needed to qualify for the administrative license. It’s also telling that an identical letter was submitted to PED under Highlands human resources’ employee Marka Trujillo’s name, and that both letters asked PED to call Fidel Trujillo’s office number if there were any questions.

Couple Fidel Trujillo’s “mistake” with another embellished employment verification letter from a Luna Community College employee and with the fact that Charles Trujillo falsified a Highlands transcript to show that he had a master’s degree that he never earned, and a pattern starts to emerge.

But let’s put all that aside for the moment and give Fidel Trujillo the benefit of the doubt that he truly did make an honest mistake in his letter to PED.

We believe it was unethical for him to have written an employment verification letter for his cousin in the first place. And it was unethical for him to short-circuit the university’s human resources employment verification process.

Minner’s handling of this debacle sends the message that the university doesn’t take licensure matters very seriously and that ethics, morals and integrity are optional at Highlands.

And it reinforces the feelings held by many in this area that you can get away with just about anything so long as you have the political connections.