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New details uncovered about separation agreement between NMSU board of regents and former president

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Oct 04 2012 02:35:36 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 07 2014 12:07:21 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

ABC-7's New Mexico Mobile Newsroom uncovered new details about the settlement agreement for former New Mexico State University president Barbara Couture after the board of regents announced her resignation on Monday.

At Monday's meeting, the board of regents cited Section 13.1 in Couture's contract. That section is the termination clause by a mutual written agreement of the parties.

Section 13.2 is the clause of a resignation by the president that requires a minimum six-month notice period.

The contract states that failure to provide that notice would result in Couture paying the regents six months salary.

Instead, Couture is getting paid about $453,000. University officials told ABC-7 the money for Couture's settlement will come from not filling administrative positions that are currently open.

Many faculty and staff members are furious about the amount of money Couture will be paid in this agreement.

"There's more to the story than they're telling us. Just the secrecy that has been going on on this campus with regard to this issue makes no sense," NMSU Professor Jamie Bronstein told ABC-7.

Bronstein is one of the many out there who question whether Couture's separation from the university was "mutually agreeable" as the regents said.

"There are clear reasons on both sides of this agreement. We will honor the legal obligation not to discuss them," Board chairman Mike Cheney said at Monday's meeting.

Cheney is referring to a clause in the settlement agreement where both parties agreed not to discuss any of the provisions.

According to the document, both parties also agreed not to file any lawsuits against each other.

The document also reveals they cannot speak poorly about their business relationship or each other.

What really has faculty and staff riled up is the roughly $453,000 Couture will receive in January. 

"If it had been a situation where she voluntarily separated from the university, then why are they feeling the need to give her over $450,000 as part of the
separation agreement?" Bronstein said

University officials told ABC-7 the money is coming from general funds. In a statement, a spokeswoman wrote, "With open positions, we have the opportunity to delay hiring for some administrative positions, so non-recurring salary savings will be the major funding source for the settlement."

"Considering that staff people on this campus make maybe $15,000, $20,000, $25,000 if they're lucky, how many staff members are they not going to hire in order to come up with that money? For how long are those staff positions going to remain vacant?" Bronstein said.

NMSU spokeswoman Julie Hughes said the savings will come from as many as 15 vacant administrative positions. She said the 10 to 15 vacancies should be filled early next year.

Hughes said technically those cost savings could be used for any instruction and general purpose. However, she said the money is being generated specifically to pay for Couture's settlement, so it "would not otherwise exist."

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