Former NMSU Dean Remembered for Leadership in College of Arts and Sciences

New Mexico State University is remembering the accomplishments of former Dean E. Rene Casillas, who passed away July 5.

Casillas was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1992-2002. He retired in 2002.

“Rene was a fine academic and a special Aggie,” said NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers.

“Dean Casillas had a major impact on the college and this campus,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Dan Howard. “During his time as dean the college experienced steady growth. He was always accessible to faculty.”

Howard was promoted to professor while Casillas was dean.

“Dr. Casillas was a strong advocate of this department as a faculty member and served NMSU with distinction as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for over 10 years,” said William Quintana, professor and department head for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Casillas joined the faculty of NMSU’s chemistry department in 1976 as an associate professor after having worked for six years as a scientist at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Institute. He earned his doctorate in biochemistry at Oregon State University and his bachelor’s degree from California State University at Chico.

Promoted to full professor in 1982, he became assistant dean of the college in 1986, associate dean in 1987 and dean in 1992.

During his tenure, successful degree programs were established in English, including the doctorate in rhetoric and technical communication and the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

The Women’s Studies Program was strengthened by the creation of a supplementary major and a permanent budget for a director and support staff. Initiatives in his latter years as dean were in distance education with the creation of a Web-based master’s degree in criminal justice and the start of work toward an undergraduate degree program.

Casillas guided the college to hiring more faculty with expertise in border studies with the goal of specialized degree programs and a center focusing on border issues. His long-time interest in better teacher preparation led to collaboration with the NMSU College of Education and to hiring faculty in Arts and Sciences with specialties in how to teach math and science at the elementary, secondary and college level.

Adding a development officer to the staff increased the college’s fund-raising capacity and the size of the permanent endowment for scholarships, library support and faculty development.

Research funding grew more than fourfold during his administration.

Casillas also stressed the importance of hands-on laboratory experience for undergraduate students.

“I was recruited by NMSU because of my interest in providing opportunities for minority students in all disciplines,” Casillas said at the time of his retirement. “One of my great satisfactions was in mentoring students in my laboratory and seeing the success of so many of our students who have gone on to graduate school and medical school.”

Funeral services for Casillas are pending.

Author:  Darrell J. Pehr – NMSU