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President says decision on UNM sports coming soon

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UNM President Garnett Stokes talks during a campus town hall in the Student Union Building on Monday. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

The University of New Mexico is still determining exactly how to evaluate its 22 sports as it proceeds to expected program cuts, though President Garnett Stokes said officials should reveal their assessment strategy soon.

In her first campus town hall since assuming the presidency on March 1, Stokes on Monday focused on a series of hot-button issues, including athletics. Athletics’ accumulated deficit and New Mexico Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron’s warning that the situation could endanger UNM’s state funding recently prompted officials to develop a long-term budget plan for the department. It assumes trimming sports in fiscal year 2020 to save an estimated $1.9 million in expenses each year – a plan that has sparked angst among some athletes, coaches and their fans.

Stokes stressed that officials have made no specific decisions, but are close to explaining how they will “measure and assess” programs as they make what she called tough decisions.

“We know there are many supporters of every sport that we carry and … when I get a chance to meet these student-athletes, they’re remarkable students,” she said. “But then this is a campus that’s full of remarkable students in a lot of different places.”

One attendee questioned Stokes about other elements of the athletics budget plan, including one that grants the department nearly $1 million in tuition waivers and room-and-board discounts. Ken Carpenter, who is retired from UNM’s Global Education Office, but still teaches at the university, said it “transfers the cost” to taxpayers and to students and their families.

“I’m going to be honest,” Stokes responded. “I don’t see in the foreseeable future that the athletic department is able to be self-sustaining without some mechanism for providing resources that support the athletic program.”

She said many universities subsidize their own athletics departments in some way, noting that very few in the country generate enough revenue to fully support themselves.

Stokes also used Monday’s session to discuss campus safety, an issue she said many have raised with her since she arrived. She mentioned forthcoming investments in security cameras and lighting, and a recent meeting with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. She cited his efforts to promote community policing as a “positive” for the city and the campus, and said UNM should work in conjunction with the city when possible.

“I think we need to figure out ways to adapt to the community we’re in, figure out ways to share in the responsibility and the response to what is a clear need,” she said.

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