President Fries To Retire June 30
Photo: Sean Weaver/Highlands University
Highlands University Regent Louella Marr-Montoya hugs outgoing Highlands President Jim Fries during the university’s commencement May 9. Fries announced in October 2014 that he will retire June 30.
Las Vegas, N.M. – When Highlands President Dr. Jim Fries took the helm in January 2007, the university was embroiled in turmoil that attracted national attention. He is credited with restoring stability to Highlands and reclaiming its reputation as a leading New Mexico university. Fries also served as interim president in 2001-2002 during a period of fiscal challenges. He steps down June 30 to retire.
“Before President Fries, there was high turnover and acrimony in the position for some 13 years,” said Board of Regents Chairman Leveo Sánchez. “President Fries was highly successful in instilling a sense of confidence and stability in the university with the faculty, staff, students, parents and Las Vegas community.
“His working relationship with the Board of Regents was consistently excellent, allowing the university to function more effectively. President Fries is extremely dedicated to Highlands and devoted the kind of unlimited time that is so rarely seen,” Sánchez said.
“As I have said many times, institutions do not make things happen, people do,” Fries said. “It is the leadership of our Board of Regents, the high quality of our faculty and staff, and the efforts and talents of our students that have made it such a joy and privilege to be part of Highlands these last eight years.”
In his 2008 State of the University address Fries summed up his philosophy on education: “Education is liberating. Education is empowering. Education is not rote memorization at the expense of imagination. The ability to learn, to be educated, that is the essence of what it means to be human.”
Successful accreditations at Highlands flourished during the Fries administration, including the 10-year university-wide reaccreditation in 2010 from the Higher Learning Commission’s North Central Association.
Academic offerings expanded during Fries’ tenure, with Highlands adding programs for an RN-BSN program, conservation management, and oil and gas management, among others.
“I appreciate President Fries’ leadership style because he listens thoughtfully to new ideas that have the potential to advance the university,” said Teresita Aguilar, provost and vice president for academic affairs since January 2014. “He is the respected and tireless public face of Highlands. I think it’s remarkable that the New Mexico legislature gave President Fries a standing ovation across party lines when his retirement was announced.”
Capital construction projects during his tenure made striking improvements to the main campus that earned numerous Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold and Silver awards for sustainability. In 2012, Highlands was the only university to be honored for green building practices by New Mexico Business Weekly.
A new residence hall and student union rose, while Lora Shields, Felix Martínez, and the natatorium got major facelifts. Ground will be broken in June 2015 to transform the historic Trolley Building into a new state-of-the-art home for media arts.
Fries presided over his last commencement at Highlands May 9.
“Highlands has been here since 1893, and we continue to be Northern New Mexico’s university with our main campus in Las Vegas as well as centers in Farmington, Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and, along with a Social Work Program in Roswell,” Fries said at commencement. “One of our greatest strengths is the incredibly rich multicultural nature of our campus and the many opportunities which that represents for all of us to learn from one another on a daily basis.”
Fries said Highlands is a center of affordable excellence dedicated to student success and finding ways to assure more of its students complete a degree. Total graduation numbers grew 42 percent during his tenure from 671 in 2007 to a record 952 in 2015, 48 percent of which were master’s degrees.
“The ability to read well, to think quantitatively, to write effectively, and apply those skills to both one’s professional and personal life is the mark of an educated mind. I would suggest it is the mark of a Highlands University graduate,” Fries said.
Outside Highlands, the 71-year-old Fries is a lifelong runner who still beats about three-quarters of the football team in its yearly uphill scramble to the H. He’s also competed several times in the grueling Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon and is known for his prowess on the dance floor.
Fries is looking forward to having more time to travel, enjoy the outdoors, and read during retirement.
“It’s time for this cowboy to pass the reins to someone else,” Fries said.