Academic Freedom and Tenure: New Mexico Highlands University: A Case of Denial of Tenure

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

This report concerns the action taken in December 1996 by the board of regents of New Mexico Highlands University to deny tenure to Ms. Catherine Clinger, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Fine Arts.

New Mexico Highlands University, a state-supported coeducational institution, was founded in 1893 as New Mexico Normal School and opened its doors five years later. In 1941, the state legislature authorized the institution to adopt its current name. The university (frequently referred to as Highlands or NMHU) is located on a 175-acre campus in the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, some 65 miles northeast of Santa Fe.

The university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in nine departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Schools of Education, Business, and Social Work. Current enrollment numbers some 2,800 students, who are served by a full-time faculty of approximately 120. The university is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Mr. Selimo Rael has been president of NMHU throughout many of the events that are the subject of this investigation. He was appointed to the presidency in 1995, having served previously as the university's vice president for finance and administration.

The university's board of regents consists of five members appointed by the governor for a term of four years. Mr. Wayne E. Bingham, an Albuquerque attorney, is the current chair of the board, having succeeded to that office in March 1997.

II. The Case of Professor Catherine Clinger

Catherine Clinger received a B.FA. degree in painting and printmaking from the University of Kansas in 1980. The following year she did postgraduate study in intaglio design and printing at the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1981-82 she served an apprenticeship as a printmaker in a private studio in New Mexico, and she received the tide of master printer at the end of her training there. The following two years she worked in another studio workshop as a master printer and has continued to work professionally in that capacity since then. In 1987, Ms. Clinger received a master's degree in art history from the University of New Mexico, where she specialized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While in graduate school, she taught courses in art history for five semesters. From 1987 until 1992, in addition to undertaking independent study and training and giving public exhibitions of her work, she owned and directed a commercial studio and printmaking workshop, the Hexenspuk Press, where she offered instruction to undergraduate students in art as well as to established professional artists (she resumed that operation full time after leaving the NMHU faculty in 1997).

Professor Clinger's service at New Mexico Highlands University began in the summer of 1991, when she was appointed as an adjunct faculty member to teach two sections of Introduction to Art. During the 1991-92 academic year, she held a part-time appointment as a visiting artist and participated in various curricular and other departmental activities. In spring 1992, the university advertised an opening for a full-time probationary position in art history and printmaking. The stated qualifications seem to have been written with Ms. Clinger's credentials expressly in mind:

M.A. in Art History and a M.F.A. or equivalent experience and professional record in printmaking. Strong background in 19th and 20th century art history is appropriate. In printmaking strong professional record as artist and teacher is required. College-level teaching in both art history and printmaking. Administration experience and strong commitment to program and development essential.

Professor Steven Wallace, the chair of the Department of Communication and Fine Arts, encouraged her to apply for the position, and her candidacy received the unanimous support of the five-member search committee. …