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Forgiving UNM athletics debt raises concerns

Faculty and student leaders at the University of New Mexico are decrying the possibility that the UNM athletics department may not have to repay its $4.7 million deficit to the school, raising concerns about fairness and institutional values.

No decision has been made about how exactly to address athletics’ accumulated deficit, officials stressed Tuesday.

But Regent President Rob Doughty’s recent comments that UNM should consider forgiving it to avoid big deficit repayment bills that could hinder the department’s efforts to balance its budget in the long term have sparked some outrage.

“It shows to us that students are not the priority here and academics are not being prioritized,” Associated Students of UNM President Noah Brooks said Tuesday during a Board of Regents meeting.

Brooks was referring to both the possible forgiveness of athletics’ deficit and a recent decision that affects UNM Press’ $7 million deficit.

Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle said her constituents are “deeply troubled” by the idea of athletics not having to repay the university given the sacrifices many academic units have been making.

“The mere suggestion to forgive the athletics debt speaks to a fundamental conflict with what many of us believe should be our primary mission,” she said.

Forgiving athletics’ deficit would send the message “that fiscal irresponsibility is acceptable for some (deemed) important, while others are not important,” said Kathryn Watkins, an associate professor in the College of Education.

Doughty told the Journal he wants to have multiple options to consider and that the discussion deserves “campuswide involvement.”

UNM budget staff members have introduced a preliminary plan for athletics to make annual payments of $350,000 to tackle the debt but say they would have a more detailed plan next month.

“I think that my previous comments have opened up great debate,” Doughty said, adding the regents are “continuing to look at all options available.”

Doughty noted that UNM administrators recently struck an agreement to move the financially beleaguered UNM Press – which has accrued a $7 million deficit to the university – under the university’s library system. The libraries will not assume the press’s debt, though it remains unclear exactly how it will be absorbed.