LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – The New Mexico State Faculty Senate expressed, “deep concern,” over a five-year contract extension handed to athletic director Mario Moccia in April, according to a letter obtained by KTSM on Tuesday night.
The 12-page letter, dated May 1, is part of a resolution that was presented to the Faculty Senate at a meeting on May 4. The letter was approved with 40 yes votes, 1 no and 2 voters who chose to abstain.
It will now be sent first to interim chancellor Jay Gogue and Provost Alan R. Shoho. and then be sent to NMSU’s Board of Regents.
The Faculty Senate said during the meeting that they would request a response from the university’s administration and that they would hope that it would be, “substantive.”
“We don’t have any control over anyone’s ouster, but I will say that the decision to extend the contract and sign the contract on the last day that Arvizu was chancellor, the optics of that are terrible,” said Faculty Senate Vice-Chair Jamie Bronstein. “I personally would like the university to investigate the circumstances under which the contract was extended because it was not towards the end of the athletic director’s contract. He still had another year to go.”
As KTSM reported last month, Moccia was handed a five-year contract extension that was approved and signed April 7 by former chancellor Dan Arvizu, on the same day that Arvizu officially parted ways with the university.
“It (the contract extension) had been in the works for quite some time. They had been in negotiations for awhile. It had been underway for several months,” NMSU spokesperson Justin Bannister told KTSM in April. “The timing just so happened to be on Arvizu’s last day.”
Neither Moccia, nor NMSU, would comment on the Faculty Senate’s letter on Thursday evening following the meeting.
The Faculty Senate said that was, “both astonishing and deeply disheartening,” and termed the decision to give Moccia a contract extension, “illogical.”
“It is irrational why the former NMSU Chancellor would so handsomely reward an individual when the non-academic unit they supervise (Athletic Department) was almost single-handedly responsible for diminishing NMSU’s reputation on a national level over the past year,” the letter’s first page reads. “If the desire was to afford this individual an opportunity to prove they have the leadership skills to turn the Athletic Department culture around from one of dysfunction to dignity, there was no need for a contract renewal; there was still a year left on the AD’s contract. This illogical act sent a message that rippled throughout campus about what is valued at NMSU; and the message was that it is not faculty or staff, and especially not students that are priorities. Substantially rewarding the AD after multiple very serious incidents resulting from a clear lack of accountability within the culture of the Athletics Department, sends a message to current and future students that their bravery in coming forward to report horrific acts of (alleged) sexual assault will be minimized.”
The letter can be read in its entirety here. It includes multiple areas where the Faculty Senate believe Moccia broke portions of his contract and could be terminated.
The Faculty Senate’s letter also goes through Moccia’s contract and points out areas in both his old and contract where he would be in a breach of contract if he does not control the behavior of athletic department employees, coaches and student-athletes.
According to his contract, Moccia can be fired for cause if he neglects any of the duties of his employment agreement. The Faculty Senate said Moccia broke the responsibilities of his position multiple times in their letter.
“Clearly, as an academic institution, we have lost our way. Collectively, we need to get our priorities straight and stay true to our mission, vision, and values. This will take time and a renewed commitment by everyone in the NMSU community to a high standard of integrity. This cannot be accomplished when those who (through their actions or inactions) create a culture that has (allegedly) put the safety of students at risk, and has deeply damaged the reputation of NMSU,” the letter reads.
The last year under Moccia’s watch at NMSU has been tumultuous. Former NMSU player Deuce Benjamin, his father William Benjamin Sr. and former NMSU player Shakiru Odunewu filed a lawsuit against the NMSU Board of Regents; former head coach Greg Heiar and former associate head coach Dominique Taylor; and former NMSU players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington on April 19.
The lawsuit makes multiple allegations of sexual assault, harassment and hazing against the three players that occurred from July of 2022 until February of 2023. It also alleges that Heiar and Taylor were made aware of the allegations as early as Nov. 12, 2022, and did nothing to stop them from taking place and did not report them to the proper authorities.
The New Mexico Attorney General is currently investigating that case for possible criminal charges. The Benjamins, Odunewu and their attorneys will meet with the media at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to discuss the case.
It is also expected that on Wednesday, NMSU will release the findings of an external investigation conducted by Greenberg Traurig into the hazing allegations. Last week, the New Mexico Higher Education Department also directed NMSU to open new investigations into the hazing and sexual assault allegations. NMSU says it is putting together a task force to do so.
Additionally, former New Mexico State women’s basketball Director of Operations George Ross Jr. was at the center of a Title IX investigation conducted by the university in the summer of 2022.
According to an ESPN report, ESPN obtained school records via open records requests that showed Ross Jr. had sexually harassed a student who worked at the Pan American Center in the summer of 2022. The report was officially filed with the Title IX office on July 14, 2022.
That is on top of a deadly shooting in Albuquerque on Nov. 19, 2022, involving former NMSU basketball player Mike Peake that left Peake injured and 19-year-old University of New Mexico student Brandon Travis dead.
According to police, Travis and fellow UNM students Jonathan Smith and Eli’Sha Upshaw allegedly wanted revenged against Peake for a fight at the Oct. 15, 2022, football game between UNM and NMSU in Las Cruces.
The three men lured Peake to UNM’s campus with the help of a 17-year-old female UNM student in the early morning hours of Nov. 19 – the same day NMSU and UNM were supposed to play the Battle of I-25 rivalry game at The Pit.
According to the girl’s statement to police, she told Peake she would have sex with him to get him to come to campus. Once he arrived, Smith, Travis and Upshaw can be seen on surveillance footage running up behind Peake. Travis pulls a gun out and points it in Peake’s face and Upshaw assaults him with a baseball bat.
When Peake tried to run away, Travis chased after him; Peake then pulled out his own gun and the two exchanged fire. Police say Travis shot first and that Peake acted in self-defense; Travis was shot four times and died from his injuries, while Peake was shot once in the leg.
The three other UNM students were all arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including aggravated battery and conspiracy. Neither, Peake, nor anyone else tied to NMSU has been charged with a crime in the case, though New Mexico State Police and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office are still investigating the shooting.
An external investigation by the Rodey Law Firm commissioned by NMSU found that the school, “did not identify any failure by NMSU to meet its legal obligations in managing its student-athletes.” The firm also said in its report that they did not identify any violations of NCAA or WAC rules and regulations.