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UNM faculty seeks delay in search for president

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

With a squeezed budget, administrative churn and an upcoming accreditation visit, the University of New Mexico’s faculty is further pressing its request to delay the school’s presidential search, citing the “disruptive effect” of more leadership cycling.

The UNM Faculty Senate is asking “in the strongest possible terms” that the UNM Board of Regents formally vote on its request to postpone the search and extend interim President Chaouki Abdallah’s service through the spring of 2019 – a year longer than his current contract.

A recently approved Senate resolution says Abdallah has the experience, leadership and ability to stabilize a shaky situation.

“Further turnover in administrative leadership, at this time, would likely have a disruptive effect on initiatives that must be addressed imminently and are crucial to the well-being of our University and to the people of New Mexico whom we serve,” it states.

UNM has seen its state funding fall by about $27 million – or 8 percent – in the last two years. A number of high-ranking administrators have recently left or retired from UNM, including several from the provost’s office and three of four deans in the Health Sciences Center.

The faculty’s quest has gained little traction with regents so far, but Senate President Pamela Pyle said the faculty provides what could be critical insight.

“We are informed faculty who often know more about the university and its needs than any governing body could, based on longevity – we’ve been here longer, we’re in the daily workings of it,” Pyle said. “To ignore that voice or even have the appearance of ignoring that voice is questionable.”

The resolution comes about 10 months into the search to find UNM’s 22nd president – one expected to conclude this fall. Regent President Rob Doughty said a diverse search committee “has been working very hard for the past several months” to evaluate candidates. It has not yet conducted interviews, he said.

“We want to ensure that the selection process is not compromised, while still acknowledging the Faculty Senate resolution,” Doughty said in a statement.

Abdallah, the seventh UNM leader in the last 19 years, said the Faculty Senate did not consult with him on the resolution prior to its enactment. He said he has in the past told regents he would remain longer as interim.

“While I am not interested in the permanent position, I am honored to serve as the interim president and had previously told the regents that I would stay on beyond my current term if needed, until a permanent president is selected,” he said in a written statement Friday. “That discussion never progressed since the search committee felt confident in their candidate pool.”

Pyle told regents at their Aug. 15 meeting that senators overwhelmingly supported extending Abdallah’s contract given their concerns about stability. Her remarks – including a statement that faculty morale was at an “all-time low” – prompted scant discussion from the board.

Three days later, Doughty issued a statement that said the presidential search was “progressing exceptionally well” and should result in a November hire.

In response to the board’s inaction, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution Aug. 25 imploring the regents to recognize their position with a formal vote.

But no vote will occur at the next board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, since the regents did not put it on the agenda.

Doughty said the regents will discuss the “personnel matter” of the presidency and Abdallah’s future during closed session, including a conversation with Abdallah.

But any action on the faculty resolution itself must happen in an open meeting, and the next isn’t scheduled until Oct. 17. Doughty said he might add a “special” meeting to the calendar to move up a vote on the resolution if necessary.

“I do also understand the importance of the looming deadlines and this needs to be acted on,” he said. “So based on our discussion with Chaouki … we’ll determine what’s the best approach to going forward with it.”

UNM is paying Abdallah $315,087 annually to serve as interim president. Its last permanent president, Bob Frank, earned $362,136.