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Plans for new UNM college gain traction

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Plans to open a new college at the University of New Mexico – a move that’s been talked about for more than two years – got a big boost this month when a top-ranking campus official gave the effort his stamp of approval.

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Chaouki Abdallah has written to the new college’s planning group endorsing the proposal. The College for Social Transformation could open officially in fall 2015. It would include a number of existing programs that are currently spread across various departments.

The college would encompass Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicana and Chicano Studies, Community Engagement Center, Peace Studies, Native American Studies, Research Service-Learning, Sustainability Studies, Women Studies and the Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice.

Irene Vasquez, chair of Chicana and Chicano Studies, said one of the goals of coming under a single roof is to develop closer working relationships among the programs and to identify avenues of mutual support. Under the current structure, she said, there is little opportunity for growth and development.

“We all had these similar challenges, so we decided to propose a structure that would allow us to grow, develop and pursue initiatives we all care greatly about.”

Barbara Reyes, Women Studies chair, said it was “practical considerations that brought us together.” The various programs share a common purpose and “sought to further develop collaborative efforts in the areas of curricula and programming,” she said.

The planning group members stressed the importance of developing and maintaining strong ties to the community.

The new college likely would be headed by its own dean, whose duties will include overseeing the hiring of faculty members.

In his letter, Abdallah said he had reviewed a conceptual proposal submitted by the planning group and encouraged its members “to consult with campus administrators in the development of a formal proposal that would be submitted through the university approval processes. He also encouraged the group “to engage in discussions with funding agencies, donors, legislative and community representatives for the purpose of identifying resources to support the implementation of the College for Social Transformation.”

The planning group hopes to submit a final proposal to the provost next fall.

At a meeting last week, faculty members said it is time for UNM “to recognize the significance of ethnic, gender and cultural studies programs that play an integral part in the strengthening of communities in New Mexico,” said John Mitchell, a UNM Law School student interested in the new college who attended the meeting. The college “will bring academic, research and student services units under one umbrella,” he said in an email. “The College will provide these programs with more autonomy and freedom to make decisions that impact their growth and development. In a CST college structure, these programs can initiate budget decisions and hire and promote full-time, tenure-track faculty.”

According to Mitchell, UNM is one of the few major universities in the country whose structure does not grant such decision-making abilities to programs like Women Studies, Africana Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies.

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