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UNM search for president forges ahead

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The presidential search at the University of New Mexico is moving full speed ahead despite a new faculty push to extend Chaouki Abdallah’s time at the helm.

Chaouki Abdallah

Rob Doughty, UNM Board of Regents president, said Friday in a statement that the hunt for the school’s next president “is progressing exceptionally well” and the search committee had reviewed applications from “a group of highly talented candidates with a wide range of experience and backgrounds.” He said the finalists probably will visit campus in October.

“We are excited for the future of UNM, and can look forward to the announcement of the next President in November,” Doughty wrote.

Doughty, chairman of the presidential search committee, issued the update just three days after UNM faculty senate President Pamela Pyle told regents that faculty senators overwhelmingly favored keeping Abdallah, the interim president, in place through the spring of 2019. That’s a year longer than his current contract.

Speaking during Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, Pyle said she polled members after hearing repeated faculty member concerns about how “a lack of institutional continuity” might affect UNM at a critical, challenging juncture. She cited UNM’s coming accreditation review, a pinched budget and the necessary re-evaluation of the university model in a changing world. Faculty satisfaction, she said, is also at “an all-time low.”

Sixty of 67 members responded, with 57 supporting an extension of Abdallah’s service. Pyle called the level of participation unprecedented, with 40 generally considered a high number.

“This means to us that our representative body believes that interim President Abdallah has the skills, experience and the best interests of the university at heart to help steer us into more desirable waters,” she said.

She added, “This is no reflection on a possible new president; simply on a need to provide more stable footing before handing off the reins to another leader.”

Pyle’s remarks generated little regent discussion during the meeting.

Asked for comment about the faculty senate’s position on Friday, Doughty deferred to his written statement about the progress of the presidential search.

Abdallah, meanwhile, called the result “an honor.”

During a brief conversation with the Journal after Tuesday’s meeting, he said that he would consider staying interim president longer but that “it really depends on a lot of things – some personal, some not.”

But by Friday, he struck a slightly different tone.

“While honored by the vote of confidence of the faculty senators, I look forward to welcoming a new president to UNM at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said in a prepared statement.

Abdallah, who has been at the helm since January, has steadfastly maintained that he has no interest in being UNM’s permanent president.

UNM is seeking a replacement for Bob Frank, who announced last year that he would not seek a new contract. He stepped down in December after 4½ years on the job. Nobody has held the position for more than five years since Richard Peck, who served from 1990 to 1998). Counting interim presidents, Abdallah is the seventh man to lead UNM in the past 19 years.

Doughty last fall named about 20 people, from both inside and outside the university, to a presidential search committee. UNM also retained a search firm at a cost of $111,000. The committee recommends semifinalists to the Board of Regents, which must choose and publicly announce at least five finalists. The regents ultimately pick the president.

One known candidate is New Mexico Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron, who confirmed to the Journal earlier this summer that she had submitted a resume and cover letter to the search firm.

Frank received an annual salary of $362,136. UNM is paying Abdallah $315,087 annually during his interim presidency.

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