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UNM student board wants cut in sports fees

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If University of New Mexico students have their way, the school’s athletic department will see $500,000 less of their money next year.

The Student Fee Review Board has recommended a $3.35 million allocation to athletics for 2018-19 – down from $4 million budgeted for this year.

Athletics would remain among the largest beneficiary of the fees, but its cut ranks among the most dramatic of any unit – and one student leaders recognize is unlikely to withstand a final decision by the Board of Regents, which holds its budget summit later this month. UNM’s leadership ultimately overruled a much smaller athletics cut proposed a year ago by SFRB.

Noah Brooks, president of UNM’s student government and SFRB vice chairman, said the student board – which made decisions following presentations, student forums and deliberations last fall – is not attacking athletics.

Noah Brooks

But there is a message in its recommendation, he said. Athletics has consistently failed to meet budget and has built a $4.7 million deficit to the university. Meanwhile, the department’s financial management practices have invited scrutiny from multiple state agencies and grabbed headlines.

The department has a new athletic director, Eddie Nuñez, and finally filled its vacant chief financial officer position. Brooks said the new leadership “seem(s) to be doing a really great job.”

But he said some SFRB members wondered, “Why are we giving so much money to these units who haven’t been proven to handle their money in the best way possible, while other units who are very financially responsible are the ones taking the cuts?”

SFRB’s 2019 fiscal year funding recommendations total $15.9 million spread across nearly 30 units and would necessitate a small increase in student fees – about $9 per semester for full-time, resident undergraduates. SFRB budgeted for $16.8 million the previous year but saw actual revenue come in at just $16.2 million due to enrollment declines.

Brooks said the board did not make “arbitrary” decisions and tried to limit damage to organizations that serve the most students and help support at-risk populations.

It tried to make cuts where it thought departments could absorb them – either with internal tweaking or use of reserves, he said.

Student fees represent just a portion of athletics’ roughly $35 million annual budget.

Brooks said some of his peers sense the recommendation will not get traction. SFRB attempted to trim its athletics disbursement for the current fiscal year, recommending about $100,000 in cuts, but the regents’ budget – with a recommendation from then-president Chaouki Abdallah – ultimately restored it to $4 million.

Athletics will get $3.85 million this year due to lower-than-expected fee revenue.

“Hopefully, this year the Board of Regents will listen to students and they will think about what we have to say and really take it into consideration when they’re making this vote,” he said.

“This isn’t their money; this is our money. It’s not coming out of their pockets; it’s coming out of our pockets.”

Rob Doughty

Regent President Rob Doughty said he will listen to the students’ proposal and “respect their input,” but he added, “I’m very interested to hear where they believe that money should come from.”

Regardless of the proposal’s outcome, Nuñez said he hopes to meet with SFRB to “see how we can work with them” moving forward – part of his ongoing outreach effort across campus.

Noah Brooks, president of UNM’s student government and SFRB vice-chair

Regent President Rob Doughty