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Opponents of UNM program relocations make case to regents

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A controversial plan to relocate the University of New Mexico’s graduate student art studios attracted a crowd of opponents to Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting — and led one regent to accuse the opposition of “back-stabbing.”

To make way for a student health program expansion, UNM intends to move its Honors College from the student health center and into the Art Annex — a building used for graduate students’ photography, painting and other studios. Their studios would relocate to now-vacant space in the Biology Annex, a spot art students and faculty say is smaller and lacks the natural light abundant in their present location.

“I turned down better funding at other institutions because UNM provided me more appropriate conditions for my practice, including the promise of an ideal working environment in the Art Annex,” Eugene Ellenberg, an MFA student in photography, said Tuesday.

A few Honors College students, meanwhile, argued that the Art Annex does not meet their needs and suggested an alternative: locating the college alongside student housing, something they say many universities do.

About 30 audience members stood in solidarity with the students who spoke during the public comment period, after which Regent Suzanne Quillen said the board should listen to objections.

“We clearly didn’t get the input we thought we got when we voted for it,” said Quillen, who said she could not remember specific discussion about the Art Annex relocation at board meetings. “I’m puzzled by all of this. … We’re just hearing problem after problem with this, and we need to listen to it … Maybe we need to backtrack. I don’t know. Something is not right in our process.”

Regent Tom Clifford, however, called it a “carefully thought out plan” for which the right parties were already consulted.

“Each of us is all of us … means sometimes you may be asked to make a temporary sacrifice. That’s what that means — it means not going around and back-stabbing and trying to out the regents in the newspaper and so on and so forth and mischaracterizing our decision-making process,” he said. “That’s not being a team for the Lobos and that’s what’s happened. This is a mutual relationship, but we have to manage this entire campus and that’s what was done in this process.”

Regent Marron Lee also defended the plan, contending the moves were more than a year in the making and mentioned in public meetings when UNM approved the sale of bonds to pay for them. UNM sold bonds to pay for Art and Biology annex renovations — and some other campus projects — after getting State Board of Finance approval earlier this year.

But Department of Art chair Justine Andrews noted that the agendas for the public meetings where regents discussed the plan did not signal it would include the Art Annex relocation.

Quillen, Regent Brad Hosmer and several students urged the board to reopen the discussion and get more feedback.

“I simply ask that you listen to the students of the Honors College and consider our experiences, needs and solutions before making this decision about our future,” Honors College student and peer adviser Serena Mickens said.

Regent President Rob Doughty said he would consult with interim President Chaouki Abdallah and interim Provost Craig White about the situation and report back at next month’s meeting. Abdallah said in a written statement he would convene a meeting of the various parties to “consider options” and make recommendations to the regents.

More on the plan is available in this Journal story.

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