ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s not every day a university president will describe campus buildings as so deteriorated that parents would not want to send their children there.
But UNM President Bob Frank made that statement as he and two other college presidents pushed Wednesday for higher education Bond C, which will go before voters in the Nov. 6 election.
Frank, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology president Daniel López and Central New Mexico Community College president Kathie Winograd told the Journal they were worried about the prospects for the bond passing – and the major impact if it doesn’t.
Specifically they mentioned the recent controversy over the departure of New Mexico State President Barbara Couture, the misperception by some that the bonds would raise taxes and recent poll results.
Higher education Bond C would provide more than $119 million to New Mexico universities and colleges for capital improvement projects in 21 counties. The bonds would pay for upgrades to 29 projects, 27 of which involve renovations to existing buildings.
At UNM, that would mean long-delayed renovations to the school’s biology and chemistry buildings could finally take place. The bond would allocate $19 million for Castetter Hall, the biology building the university says has outdated and overcrowded labs, and for 43-year-old Clark and Reibsomer halls, two connected buildings that house the chemistry department.
Frank said most high schools have better chemistry and biology labs than the ones at UNM, some of which have ceilings that leak water. He said the planned renovations were a “dire need.”
Overall, UNM would get $24.5 million from the bonds.
“None of you would want your students educated in the current set of facilities we’re using right now,” Frank said. “If you went in there with your students on a college tour and you would look at that, you’d say ‘I’m sending my kid somewhere else.’ And that’s the blunt truth of it …”
Even though the needs are dire, Frank, Winograd and López said they were worried voters will not see it that way.
A large concern revolves around the way the recent departure of Couture was handled by NMSU regents. Couture resigned last week, a few days after it was discovered she was on an unannounced leave of absence. NMSU and its regents have refused to say why Couture was on leave and why she ultimately resigned, citing personnel privacy.
Couture will be paid $453,093 to leave and already has a job lined in Washington, D.C.
Her mysterious departure and her large payout have raised public concern.
“We recognize that higher education on occasion makes some fairly strategic mistakes, and we know that creates a reaction within the public and it creates a misperception,” López said.
Frank said that although he knows the NMSU regents made the decision they felt was needed, the way the situation was handled left a lot of unanswered questions.
“I know that the NMSU thing really has brought forth a real air of skepticism about how the university is run and I wish regents at NMSU had explained their actions better. …” Frank said.
NMSU senior vice president for external relations Ben Woods said Wednesday recent events at the university shouldn’t affect the bond issue.
“The NMSU regents already have taken strong steps to put seasoned, experienced leadership in place at NMSU with the selection of Dr. Manuel Pacheco as interim president,” Woods said. “Looking forward, the vote on Nov. 6 will have very long-term impacts that should not be affected by current events that already are being addressed.”
Even before the NMSU controversy, a statewide poll of likely voters conducted statewide in mid-September showed less than half were in favor of the bonds, López said.
Forty-six percent moderately or strongly supported it, 21 percent strongly or somewhat opposed and 16 percent didn’t know or said it depends, according to the poll done by Research & Polling Inc. The polling numbers showed more support two years when it was narrowly defeated by voters. That bond issue would have raised taxes.
Bond C would not raise taxes and would provide 1,200 construction-related jobs, university leaders said.
They also pointed out that strong research universities fuel the economy with patents and other discoveries that can translate into future jobs and revenue for the state.
Winograd said voters should keep in mind their “yes” vote would benefit colleges and universities throughout the state. CNM, for example, would get $10.5 million for renovations to old buildings that house science labs at its main and South Valley campuses.
“Our building is … about 30 years old but it is incredibly important for our students to have the kinds of hands-on experience because these are gonna be those technicians that are in the labs, in the hospitals and working in those lab situations. … We’re looking at things that are outdated and labs that just need to be upgraded,” Winograd said.
If the bonds don’t pass, there aren’t going to be many options for funding those projects, López said. He said the state Legislature has made it clear the state cannot provide the money.
“Really, at that point, the only thing you can try to do is to try to raise internal revenue bonds, but then of course you know who pays for that – and that’s the students, with tuition and fees,” López said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal