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New UNM president says she wants to gain insight by listening

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New UNM President Garnett Stokes addressed the media for the first time on Monday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes says she doesn’t know yet what comes next in the Bob Davie saga.

She is not sure yet if she thinks UNM – after years of budget cuts – should raise tuition for 2018-19.

And she has formed no opinion about the prudence of possibly forgiving athletics’ cumulative $4.7 million deficit to the university.

On Monday, just five days after assuming the presidency at New Mexico’s largest university, Stokes told reporters she still has a lot to assess and many people to meet, and that listening to others is central to her leadership style.

“I want to make sure the decisions I make are fully informed; that they are in fact in the best interests of the university,” she said in her first session with media. “I have a genuine interest in everyone’s experience and perspectives, so I want to work with the entire campus community on gaining insight into the major challenges we face, so we can work together in improving this great flagship university here in Albuquerque.”

Stokes, formerly provost at the University of Missouri, inherits a series of issues that include a tight budget, waning enrollment and low faculty morale. She arrives in the wake of several athletics department scandals. Financial management concerns in athletics have drawn scrutiny from three different state agencies, and the university’s reserves have covered the department’s routine budget shortfalls. In addition, head football coach Bob Davie is currently serving a 30-day suspension following investigations into allegations of racial discrimination, interference in police investigations involving players and football staff over-ruling medical staff determinations on injured athletes’ readiness to play. Investigators said they “cannot conclude” the football staff inappropriately interfered with investigations and found no evidence staff forced athletes to play against medical guidance. The Office of Equal Opportunity determined Davie’s race-related comments did not violate university policy but did report finding “significant environment concerns and failure to follow civil rights reporting and protocol.”

The suspension, levied by former president Chaouki Abdallah, runs through March 18. Asked in a Journal interview if UNM had further need to explore allegations against Davie or if she considered the case closed, Stokes said “I don’t have enough information to answer that question.”

Stokes’ arrival comes less than a month before UNM’s Board of Regents hosts its budget summit and makes decisions regarding tuition. She said she is still learning the details of UNM’s current finances, and has not yet discussed tuition rates with the board, which makes the ultimate decision.

As for the athletics’ budget, Stokes said “I trust that our leadership in athletics recognizes the need for figuring out how we have a financially viable athletic department going forward,” but still needs time to craft the right plan. Whether it will include repaying the university for its cumulative deficit or having the bill cleared remains to be seen.

“That’s a tough one for me to answer right now because I don’t know what all the options are going to be,” Stokes said. “I’m recognizing this is a really big issue to be resolved, but I will say again I’m not a big believer in simply forgiving debt that’s been accumulated in any unit, academic or otherwise.”

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