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Q&A: Former NMSU President Jay Gogue discusses his role as interim chancellor

After the New Mexico State University Board of Regents agreed to a mutual separation from Chancellor Dan Arvizu in early April, the board selected former NMSU President Jay Gogue as the interim chancellor.  

Gogue served as the NMSU president from 2000-2003, before serving as the University of Houston’s chancellor from 2003-2007. He later served as the president of Auburn University from 2007-2017 and from 2019-2022. Today, Gogue leads NMSU once again while the university searches for a permanent chancellor. 

Kokopelli sat down with Interim Chancellor Gogue last week to find out more about his return to NMSU and his plans for leading the university for the remainder of the year.  

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I know that the students, faculty and NMSU community will be interested in getting to know their interim chancellor a little bit better. You initially served as the president of NMSU from 2000-2003, and 20 years later, you’re back. What was your initial reaction when you were offered the opportunity to return? 

Interim Chancellor Jay Gogue: “Well, I was excited. I had enjoyed my time in Las Cruces earlier, and I’d moved on to the University of Houston and Auburn University for a number of years. I retired from Auburn last August. So, when the board called me, I’m going to say sometime in February, and said would I be interested then I said, ‘sure, if I could help.’ NMSU had some disruptions, so I took the opportunity to come back and try to really do the things to prepare for your permanent president that will come next year.” 

In what ways would you say the student environment at NMSU has changed since you were last here?

Former New Mexico State University President Jay Gogue was selected by the NMSU Board of Regents as the interim chancellor in early April. (Photo by Josh Bachman)

JG: “My guess is that it’s about the same number of students now as it was in 2000. I know there was some growth in the 2010-2011 period of time, and then there was a downturn, and COVID-19 was part of that. It’s also just the demographics. People did not have children during the last recession of 2008, and so we’re at about 22,000 [students] within the NMSU system. Enrollment is up about 3%, so that’s good, and about the same size campus in terms of students. I always tell people that the one thing that didn’t change would be the spirit and the sense of community that students have toward the university and beyond. Some things change, but some things don’t change very much, [including] the Aggie spirit.”

Could you describe what your first day back on campus was like? 

JG: “We started with a breakfast with student leaders. The most important thing was to send the message that we’re here to serve students, and that’s what institutions are all about. If you look at the real purpose of NMSU, it’s to help people achieve whatever their hopes and dreams are. So, to me, it was important to start with students. We obviously visited with administrators, vice presidents, public safety officers, some deans, and a variety of people and community leaders.”  

During those initial meetings, what were some of the campus concerns you had, and how do you plan to tackle them?  

JG: “The provost and I are visiting each of the academic departments. We visited about 15 or 20 from the time we arrived until graduation in May, and we’ve picked back up and are visiting this fall. We hope to finish all the departments by the end of this term, but some of the things that we heard about early on were about the length of time it took to hire people and bring people on board. So, we’re trying to look at human resources and their process. People commented that it was slow in the procurement area, to purchase and bring things to campus, so we think we’ve solved that backlog by looking into that. A third item was the board of regent’s policies. The university has administrative policies, and we found that certain ones of those were not in sync, and so we’re trying to correct that.”  

As the interim chancellor, what are your responsibilities? 

JG: “The main duty is to help prepare the place for the permanent president that will come next year. So, one of the things that we need to do internally is to do as much as we can, so the new president is able to begin thinking strategically and long-term. Another thing that we do is we’ll have a legislative session. We’re trying to make sure our priorities are set and that we know what we’re going to do when we go to Santa Fe during the 30-day [legislative session] this year. The final thing is to sort of reinvigorate our work in Washington D.C., working with our congressional delegation and the executive branch. In the past year, they’re doing what they call congressionally directed appropriations. A long time ago, that was called political pork, but it’s important for NMSU to have priorities in things that would help our students and help our state.”

You’ve had a prolific career working as the president of schools such as Auburn University and the University of Houston. How would you describe the student culture there compared to NMSU? 

JG: “My experience is in working, not only at those schools, but at Clemson University, Texas A&M University, Utah State University, and Michigan State University. Every school has its own unique culture, tradition, values and history. As a new person going in, you want to be very respectful of those things that have been created over decades and try not to necessarily bring your culture from one school to another. You have to be all about the culture of the institution that you’re at.” 

Would you say that it was an easy move coming back to NMSU since you had already been here previously? 

JG: “Yeah, absolutely. I spent 20 years in New Mexico, every year, for at least a third of the year. So, I knew a lot of people and understood pretty well the legislative process of learning more. Still, you remember after you get involved in it, the way that it works. New Mexico is a very strong relationship type of state. As you all know, you have unpaid legislators, and they have done a phenomenal job in terms of trying to guide the state. The Opportunity Scholarship is a huge opportunity for New Mexico residents.” 

After serving as the president of Auburn University for 10 years, you briefly retired in 2017, only to return from 2019-2022. What made you initially decide to retire before jumping back into your career in education?  

JG: “Well, I had served 10 years, and I wanted to spend more time in New Mexico. [Auburn University] had made a decision, and it didn’t work out, so they asked me to come back. My guess is it would have been very short term, but then we went into COVID-19, and it ended up being about three more years that I was there. I’ve loved all the places I’ve ever worked in, and the thing I miss is the people I got to know that I don’t see every day like I used to.” 

How do you hope your legacy is remembered after your career in education? 

JG: “I hope that people will say ‘he hit the ground listening’ rather than ‘he hit the ground running’ because you have to listen to understand before you can decide what you need to do. I had a great mentor at one of my early universities, and the person told me that it’s important when you’re president to try to help other people become president, so be a mentor. I can’t remember the exact number, but 30-plus people that I’ve worked with have become presidents or provosts at other universities. So to me, that’s the thing I guess I would say is my legacy. That I enjoy trying to help people. I don’t even know how many, but [there’s been] over 200 graduation ceremonies at various universities. To see the excitement on students’ faces, and when you get as old as I am, you’re seeing some [students] that have moved on and done phenomenal things, and their roots are back in the four-year education that they had at school.” 

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