In too short a period of time Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey will leave Northern New Mexico and take up residence in rainy (20 inches a year) southwest Oregon. His departure will leave a huge gap in not only the College’s leadership directory but the community as a whole.
Bailey arrived in October 2016 in Northern New Mexico. We don’t know if Bailey truly understood the monumental catastrophe he was agreeing to tackle.
He was armed with a three-pronged approach to heal the College internally and reconnect the College with the community.
First he wanted mutual respect on campus with healthy disagreements and dialog.
“We have to start by making sure we are exemplars of mutual respect,” Bailey said Dec. 1, 2016. “It is healthy not to agree on everything. But I want, at a minimum, that there will be mutual respect on campus and that has to translate to our relationship with the community.”
Next he had a short and long range plan of outreach at local, state and even national levels. Bailey has established many, strong relationships with non-profits, colleges, philanthropists and science-based academies all over the country. We inherit that from him.
Lastly, he was going to bring transparency to the College, a public institution that worked for almost a decade to keep everything secret.
Bailey immediately took up the practice of quarterly town hall meetings in Northern’s auditorium. He continued this until COVID shut him down in early 2020. Then he continued online. The penultimate listener, with manners upon which any grandmother would dote, Bailey takes up all questions, regardless of the absurd nature. He responds to rude, angry people without emotion, respectful and direct.
We’ll not yet again rename the half dozen despots who pulled Northern down to a point where many were convinced it could not be repaired, including a former governor and many state senators and representatives. Bailey, in short order, proved them wrong.
His boundless energy, bright outlook, can-do attitude and unparalleled work ethic made his first year as president look easy. We know he was like the duck on a pond, poised and professional above water, beneath the surface paddling away during all hours.
Bailey inherited a host of horrific audits. Most of them were populated with repeat findings upon repeat findings. It seemed the finance department wasn’t even reading the reports.
On top of that it was quickly discovered highly placed finance director Henrietta Trujillo was stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars while the rest of the finance department fiddled.
There were lawsuits for sexual harassment, federal whistle-blowing violations, verbal assault and retaliation. They were strong suits full of long lists of wrongdoing on the part of Northern’s highest managers. Bailey knew this and worked to settle them to the best of his ability, while simultaneously trying to be fair to plaintiffs and protecting the College, requiring a surgeon’s hand.
Those suits are all gone. There hasn’t been a civil suit filed against the College under Bailey’s watch. That goes back to his three-pronged approach.
The criminal case against Trujillo remains on the First Judicial District Court’s docket and may be decided in December.
In his first six months he must have broken bread with enough weasely politicians to fill a jumbo jet. The thought of it makes us squirm.
But he performed the task gladly, spoke the College’s truth and soldiered on, as his decades of military training taught him.
He quickly held meetings with staff, professors, adjunct professors, union folks, janitors, maintenance people and most importantly El Rito and Española residents who had a more direct stake in the College. He won almost all of them over with his honesty, follow-through and listening skills.
More than anything, prior to Bailey’s arrival, no one was listening to them.
Another of Bailey’s early goals was to find money for the College so it could quit begging politicians to throw us a couple of bones each legislative session. Once he had a solid management team in place, he tackled the profit and loss, balance sheet and most importantly the host of ghastly audits.
Once he had the College’s finances moving on an upward trajectory, he went knocking on doors. No non-profit or even profit-based entity was safe from his seeking a partnership, deal, donation or support. He was not afraid of failure.
Bailey tried for years to establish partnerships nationally to bring people, programs, funding to the El Rito campus. His coup de etat was probably changing state law to establish a community college at El Rito, then the mill levy funding passed to support it.
The pipefitters and electrician schools at El Rito would not be there without all of his groundwork. How he repeatedly attended all those school board meetings in 2018 in five different districts borders on herculean.
We can’t list all his many accomplishments but take a look at the Eagle Corporation, the Northern Foundation, Northern Food Pantry and associated Closet. State and federal dollars will flow to the College for years because of Bailey and his team’s efforts.
He was key catalyst in the formation of Collaborative for Higher Education Shared Services (CHESS). This program ties many campuses around the state allowing students to enroll at one school and be able to take classes at a partnering school without registering there. It will track students, tuition, programs, grants, scholarships and grades, among many other things. Once implemented, it will save Northern hundreds of thousands of dollars as it will be able to abandon an archaic software that currently requires constant maintenance, last year costing almost $1 million.
He can trade his Eagle jersey for a hawk jersey with full knowledge his work here will not be forgotten and the College community and community at large must ensure his replacement will continue the tremendous momentum Bailey has built.
He cannot be replaced, but we can honor him by supporting the College’s current growth and demand that a competent replacement be found, sans politics and under the table favors.