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UNM vows to lead from the top in commitment to improvement

The University of New Mexico is a dynamic research institution that has repeatedly demonstrated its value to our state and its communities – value rooted in the education of our students, in driving innovation to meet the most challenging societal problems, in advancing health care for our citizens and in our service to the public good. For the sixth year in a row, UNM has topped its previous four-year graduation rate. UNM was recently ranked third in the nation for helping students improve their critical-thinking skills. The university consistently receives national recognition for ground-breaking research. The UNM Health Sciences Center just reported a record $203 million in external research dollars in fiscal 2017, while the main campus and branches garnered $142.5 million in awards in 2017. While we can all be rightfully proud of these accomplishments, it is equally critical for the university to demonstrate that we are careful stewards of the public funds entrusted to us.

As the recently appointed chair of the UNM Board of Regents’ Audit Committee and the interim President of New Mexico’s flagship institution, we are committed to improving both internal and externals reviews, and the audit planning process. This is a challenging task, given our limited resources and a growing list of issues that fall under the audit umbrella, including: administration of financial resources and fraud; compliance with federal laws, such as the Clery Act and Title IX; ethical conduct; minors on campus; and safety and risk management. While it has been argued that we have been insufficiently proactive, we can assure the public that we are continually strengthening and reinventing the way we approach and manage our operations, test our systems and train our people. This does not mean there is no room for improvement. In the months ahead, we will continue to assess UNM’s audit practices and take decisive steps to make any necessary changes or improvements. Given the state’s tight financial circumstances and the increasing burden of student debt, we are well aware of the need to re-engineer processes and systems to meet the growing complexities of our university’s mission and its operations.

We also need to infuse a culture of continuous improvement that enables efficiency, transparency and accountability so that we may fulfill our mission to its greatest potential. This requires thoughtful examination of our practices and long-term outcomes throughout our enterprise – and it starts at the top. Just as we ask our students to learn from their setbacks and apply creative solutions to hurdles that stand between them and success, so must we do the same and lead by example.

This is an institutional issue for which we are responsible at the highest level. The university – not just an individual department – is named as responsive to any external audits and, as such, any flaws in our systems reflect on the strength of the entire enterprise. We have openly disclosed our institutional shortcomings in many of the above-mentioned areas of risk. We have also responded aggressively with changes, the goal being to keep our students and campus community safe and secure, and our operations efficient, transparent and fiscally accountable.

We cannot emphasize it too much: the status quo is unsustainable in the context of the rapidly changing landscape of higher education business models, and therefore unacceptable if we are to maintain the high standard of excellence, trust and transparency that we expect for ourselves and that is expected of us. The UNM Board of Regents and president are committed to creating a vibrant, competitive institution that maximizes the efficient use of resources, generates a high-quality education for New Mexican students, meets the highest standards of ethical behavior, and supports and improves the quality of life in our community. The way in which we make this happen is how we show our value and what we value.

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