ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico’s governing board heard the same sentiment over and over from the school’s faculty Tuesday: Please stop what you’re doing and listen to us.
More than a dozen faculty members spoke at the Board of Regents meeting, asking the seven-member panel to postpone UNM’s search for a new president and instead retain interim President Chaouki Abdallah through spring 2019, a year longer than his present contract.
They lamented UNM’s history of revolving-door leadership, relating a joke that UNM stands for “Under New Management.” One professor said she has worked under five presidents in 11 years at the university.
Many expressed concern about the health of the institution, especially with a forthcoming accreditation visit.
“I think we risk losing our accreditation if we do not retain Dr. Abdallah and demonstrate there is some stability in administrative leadership at this university,” said Dr. Lee Brown, a professor of internal medicine. “Otherwise, I think we are in dire jeopardy.”
Faculty said Abdallah’s success as provost and his institutional knowledge and “inclusive” leadership style make him the right person to shepherd UNM through a period of budgetary tumult and low faculty morale.
It’s the same case Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle made at last month’s Board of Regents meeting but which elicited little response from the board. The Faculty Senate has since passed a formal resolution and asked regents to acknowledge it with an official vote.
The regents did not include it on Tuesday’s agenda, but Regent President Rob Doughty said, “We do want to listen,” and that regents may call a special meeting to address the resolution.
In addition to touting Abdallah’s credentials, many faculty alluded to a widening chasm between the regents and the faculty. Marieken Shaner from the biology department noted that the Faculty Senate’s proposal had so far prompted limited feedback.
“That would suggest to me that there is a system that is not functioning,” she said. “There is something that is not working; the faculty feel so strongly that they say ‘this is a real problem we want to see some kind of solution to this,’ and there is no dialogue between the faculty and the regents.”
Pyle pitched the resolution as a potential watershed moment for UNM.
“We all — you all and we all — have the opportunity right now to model the very best in shared governance and it will be apparent by how we go forth from today, from this moment on,” she said.
“Let this be a turning point in our collective relationship and leadership of the university. We could join forces and leave behind the them-us mentality that currently exists and work together, listening to each other for the benefit of our university community,” Pyle said to a round of applause from the audience.
In a written statement after Tuesday’s meeting, Doughty said “The issue of shared governance has been thematic at UNM for a number of years among the faculty. Improvement on this front is critical to the health of our university and it is my hope that we can all come to a place of mutual understanding and respect for our roles and responsibilities.”
Regents launched the presidential search nearly a year ago, and it’s expected to conclude this fall.
Abdallah has said he does not want the permanent job but is willing to stay through 2019.