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.”

At the end of Tuesday’s University of New Mexico Board of Regents meeting, Regent Tom Clifford questioned Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle about why she had not offered more public support of the regents’ recent decision to cut four sports teams to address budgetary and Title IX challenges within the athletic department. Following is a transcript of their exchange.

Clifford: Has the faculty taken a position on our approach to the athletic budget?

Pyle: We weighed in behind the scenes on this one because most of the faculty were gone during the summer but let me tell you what the faculty said time and time again was why don’t we consider the holy grail … of the Mountain West Conference and look at cutting other sports, like football. That’s what the faculty had told me, because a lot of people wanted to stay with soccer. …

Clifford: I guess my concern is that there’s been no public mention by the faculty that I’ve seen in support of our effort to have the athletics program retire its debt, which was the specific request that was made to us last winter.

Pyle: I actually thought in the letter I wrote to you (President Garnett Stokes and the Board of Regents) that I did say that, that I was glad to see you addressing it and hoped you would recall the $25 million in cuts in academics.

Clifford: I haven’t seen any public statements; I haven’t seen any letters to the editor.

Pyle: No one has asked me for a public statement on that. I think we’re all very happy that we’re looking at debt, period. We just want to make sure that it’s recognized that we’ve already done a lot of looking on our side of campus.

Clifford: Because I think we’re losing this battle. I think if the faculty were to weigh in that that would be very helpful.

Pyle: I hear you Regent Clifford. I’m wondering if I could do that constructively since we weren’t at the table, I feel uncomfortable making a comment.

Clifford: I’d say that’s really very fair, because we really honored what was said to us last winter, and we’ve accepted a great deal of criticism for what we did, so I think for the faculty to try to dodge now and say this is not their

Pyle: Don’t feel we’re dodging; we’re trying to be helpful.

Clifford: If I can finish my statement, thank you.

Pyle: Absolutely.

Clifford: Thank you. 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. 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: Regent Clifford, I have stepped up against you on many tough occasions when there is a difficult job, so 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. … The 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. So 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. I can ask…

Clifford: So you have a contract (as faculty senate president) with the university

Pyle: I work the entire time, but my senators aren’t working the whole time.

Clifford: If I could finish at least one sentence at a time, thank you.

Pyle: You’ve finished many, sir.

Clifford: So you have a contract, I believe, related to representing the faculty to this board. Is it a nine-month contract?

Pyle: My contract is entirely through the year. My constituents’ are not. Does that make it (inaudible)?

Clifford: No, it means to me that you’re here to represent them throughout the year, throughout the summer….

Pyle: But I need to ask their opinions before I represent them. Otherwise I’d be fabricating it.

Clifford: In the past I think you’ve told us about email surveys that you’ve done.

Pyle: They’re not even in the country, sir. They don’t answer emails throughout the summer.

Clifford: inaudible

Pyle: I’m sorry, what was that last comment?

Clifford: I said I doubt that’s true for most of the faculty.

Pyle: No, no, you’d be surprised, actually. Your discontent is noted but so is your belligerence. Thank you, sir

(Regent Rob Doughty begins to speak…)

Clifford: So is your name-calling.