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Regent, faculty leader spar over response to sports cuts

A month after the University of New Mexico Board of Regents’ controversial decision to eliminate four sports, one member is accusing faculty leadership of “cowardly” behavior by not publicly backing the move and sharing in the resounding criticism.

Regent Tom Clifford on Tuesday told Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle she was not doing her job because she hadn’t openly spoken about the cuts, saying faculty had previously pressed regents to address the athletic department’s recurring budget shortfalls.

But in a sharp exchange during the last 10 minutes of the five-hour board meeting, Pyle said she had not felt comfortable speaking publicly on the decision to discontinue men’s soccer, both ski teams and women’s beach volleyball after this year. She said faculty did not help design the cuts — recommended by President Garnett Stokes and Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez —nor were many professors present when regents voted on them this summer. She said her peers had repeatedly questioned why UNM did not consider cutting football over men’s soccer, but nobody asked her to issue a public statement.

Clifford accused her of dodging the issue, which sparked outrage across the state — including from several state lawmakers.

“I think it’s cowardly for the faculty to hide from their responsibility here and allow us to take the heat from legislators, where I know that in the past there was criticism from the faculty directed toward this board,” Clifford said. “In this case we’ve actually taken the action that was requested. It’s been a very difficult one. There has been a great deal of criticism on this campus. You’re basically hanging our new president out to dry on this, and the fact that you won’t step up now when it’s difficult and difficult choices had to be made, I just think you’re not doing your job.”

Pyle fired back, saying she has often spoken on controversial matters.

“I rebut your accusation that I don’t stand up with courage. We thought we were helping President Stokes by letting her make a decision that she thought was important,” she said. “The (faculty) senate was not in session, I’m not really privileged to speak on behalf of the faculty when I haven’t spoken to the faculty for three months. Certainly I’ll take it under advisement what you’re suggesting and see if the faculty as a whole would like to make a statement, but I don’t speak on behalf of them during the summer when they aren’t around.”

Stokes sat silent as Clifford continued to challenge Pyle about her responsibilities.

“Your discontent is noted, but so is your belligerence. Thank you, sir,” Pyle said in closing to Clifford.

“So is your name-calling,” he responded.

In a written statement after the meeting, Pyle said most faculty work on nine-month contracts and she is empowered only to speak on their behalf after she knows their opinion and only had informal information to share over the summer.

She commended Stokes for responding to a “long-standing challenge” but noted “If the Regents would like the faculty to endorse their budgetary decisions, then they must include us in the decision-making process.”