Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Mesalands president placed on paid administrative leave


March 25, 2020

Mesalands Community College's president was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave March 17 after a nearly 90-minute executive session by the college's board of trustees.

The board placed John Groesbeck on leave after meeting behind closed doors with several of the college's administrators at the end of an otherwise routine meeting.

The approved motion states Groesbeck is not allowed on campus and not allowed any contact the college's staff, faculty or the Mesalands Community College Foundation.

Groesbeck also is forbidden access to his computer system at the college. “He can only access his office to get personal items, and there must be two college representatives with him,” the motion stated.

Board of trustees Chairman Jim Streetman declined to comment after the board adjourned.

“It's a personnel issue,” he said. “We've got to get it ironed out.”

Groesbeck quickly left the building and did not comment.

The college’s public relations director, Josh McVey, stated in an email Friday when asked to comment: “This is a personnel issue, and there will be no further comment.”

Before meeting behind closed doors, the board instructed all the administrators to remain in the hallway.

After 45 minutes, the board summoned Amanda Hammer, vice president of administrative affairs, and spoke with her for about 15 minutes.

Then it summoned Aaron Kennedy, vice president of student affairs, and Natalie Gillard, vice president of academic affairs, into the meeting room with Hammer.

At one point, Gillard exited the meeting room and went to retrieve something from an office.

As she walked back to the meeting room, Groesbeck asked: “They instruct you not to talk to me?”

She nodded.

The board then apparently summoned Jim Morgan, director of the college's North American Wind Energy Training Center, from another building on campus, to the meeting room.

After another five minutes, the board reconvened in open session. Groesbeck asked Streetman where he should sit, and Streetman said he could sit in his usual spot at the board table “for the time being.”

The board without discussion unanimously passed a printed motion of Groesbeck's indefinite administrative leave and its conditions, then adjourned.

The board previously had displayed a genial relationship with Groesbeck and no outward rancor since his hiring less than two years ago.

Groesbeck was hired as Mesalands president in July 2018 after the retirement of Thomas Newsom. The board gave Groesbeck a two-year contract extension in June. He is paid $170,000 a year.

In other business by the board of trustees:

— Groesbeck and other administrators talked at length about the college’s attempts to adjust to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gillard said she met with faculty to discuss alternatives to face-to-face instruction. She said students would be allowed to take classes online if they are fearful or apprehensive about the virus. They can submit coursework online and correspond with their instructors via email or Skype through the end of the semester, if necessary.

Groesbeck said after a conference call with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state does not expect to require closures of higher-education institutions like it has with public schools.

He said he and other education officials are looking for creative ways to deal with laboratory and other hands-on training during the pandemic. He said colleges might offer some students incomplete grades, with the option to complete coursework later at no additional cost.

He said colleges might have to expand lab hours, which could create “budgetary issues” with the compensation required for additional faculty work.

Groesbeck also said the state wants colleges to continue coursework, including clinical trials, for nursing students.

“They don’t want to choke off the pipeline of new nurses” during the pandemic, he said.

Groesbeck noted Mesalands’ spring break already was scheduled for this week, which would give the college time to make adjustments so it can keep operating and students can graduate “in a timely way.”

He said declining oil prices because of economic fears, coupled with a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, are putting the squeeze on the state budget because of declining revenue. He said state officials are discussing the possibility a special session with the New Mexico Legislature to address it.

— Groesbeck said students favored 3-to-1 a name change from Mesalands Community College to Mesalands College. Streetman also read a letter from former faculty member Joe Kishur, who stated a name change would “undoubtedly be a benefit” for enrollment. Kishur stated he saw a big jump in enrollment when the college changed its name from Mesa Technical College to Mesalands Community College in 2001. Kishur stated he also saw a change in the college’s demographics, with students enrolling from a wider area. Groesbeck said he would request having the name change as an action item during the board’s April meeting.

— The board approved a plan of study for associate of applied science in nursing degrees. The plan contains a list of core courses totaling 55 credits that students will be required to complete. Gillard said nursing students would be required to travel for some coursework. She said the nursing program still requires approval from several agencies before Mesalands can offer it.

— The board, at the recommendation of Streetman after administrators talked about the college’s changes in an effort to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, voted to table setting a date for its annual retreat.


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