LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Administrators at New Mexico State University know they’re headed into a fall semester this week facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, but they still hope to make campus life as normal as possible. NMSU Vice Chancellor and Chief COVID-19 Officer Ruth Johnston said they’ve tightened protocols, meaning students and system employees at all five campuses will need to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis, beginning September 30. “And the reason for that was not because we wanted to delay things or make our community less safe,” said Johnston. “In fact, we wanted to give people the opportunity to be able to get the vaccine if they hadn’t already.” The University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College have both issued similar policies, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Mexico is one of 18 states suing the Trump administration over the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that targets international students. The lawsuit calls the new regulation an “insuperable burden” on American colleges and universities as they now have to certify every international student’s respective class schedule to demonstrate that the students are not taking all of their course work online, by August 4. ICE issued the new regulation last week, which some affected New Mexico institutions of higher learning called “vague.” New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has 134 international students. The University of New Mexico has 1,100 and New Mexico State University has about a 1,000. The regulation states that students on nonimmigrant F-1 or M-1 visas cannot legally remain in the country if all of their course work is online.
New U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regulations on international students is creating uncertainty on New Mexico university campuses. ICE issued a news release Monday that restricts students who are on F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas. Students on F-1 visas pursue academic coursework while students on M-1 visas take vocational training. ICE’s new regulation prohibits students on F-1 and M-1 visas from remaining in the U.S. legally if they take online course work only. During the start of the pandemic, when many colleges, including New Mexico State University, shifted to online only classes, ICE made an exception for international students because it was the middle of the semester, said Seth Miner, director of admissions, orientation and international student and scholar services for NMSU.
Proposed cuts to higher education spending in New Mexico could jeopardize some research funding for state universities and lead to a hiring freeze at Santa Fe Community College, advocates say. Universities and colleges in New Mexico are denouncing proposed cuts to higher education spending as lawmakers trim budgets across state government to fill a $2.4 billion budget hole wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastated oil and gas market. A draft House bill seeking to blend recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and an influential budget committee would slash roughly 6 percent from research and public service projects at universities and 4 percent for broader university and public college funding from the state. That would represent the steepest reductions for any state-funded department or agency eyeing potential cuts as lawmakers address the budget shortfall. The Legislature is still debating the proposed cuts.
A racist tag left on a woman’s wall in Las Cruces led to a neighbor’s response. The tagging, a backward swastika and a crossed-out Star of David, were spray painted on a wall that separates Wanda Saip Ray’s backyard from the railroad tracks on the western edge of Las Cruces. Saip Ray said she wasn’t aware of the graffiti because she hadn’t been on the other side of the wall in a while. But while taking a walk with her husband last Wednesday, Las Cruces resident Megan McQueen saw the two tags. She wanted to do something but still practice social distancing.
New Mexico State University will move to online courses starting March 31, the day after the university’s extended spring break. NMSU President John Floros, Provost Carol Parker, Chancellor Dan Arvizu and other university officials held a meeting Wednesday afternoon to announce the decision and the next steps for the university’s community. The meeting allowed up to 1,000 people to call in or watch over web platforms. The campus remains open and about 1,000 students are still living at NMSU and eating in the student cafeterias, Floros said. Floros said the dining hall has been deep cleaned, the university eliminated the open salad bar and cafeteria workers are serving food behind glass. But, he said, as COVID-19 response continues to evolve in relation to the spread of the coronavirus, the dining hall may change to offering to-go meals only.
Note: This is a breaking story and may be updated with new information. Universities, including the two largest in the state, announced they will extend their spring breaks to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, that has become a global pandemic. University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes announced in a video that the university’s regularly scheduled spring break would extend through Sunday, April 5. Spring break was initially planned to begin March 15 and end on March 22. It will still begin on March 15.
Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
State law requires the New Mexico Lottery to allocate 30 percent of its gross revenues for college scholarships, a program that helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. So effective was this system that it funneled more than $40 million annually to the scholarship program for nine consecutive years, helping many students obtain a college degree without the crushing debt that can come with loans. But lottery revenues dipped in 2017, a fact that figures heavily in another attempt to change the law. A Republican lawmaker has revived an annual bill to eliminate the requirement of pledging 30 percent of gross lottery revenues to college scholarships. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, proposes that at least $38 million in net revenue go to the scholarship program.