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UNM president plans to convene new ethics advisory group

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University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes said Monday during her “state of the university” speech that she intends to convene an in-house ethics advisory group at the state’s largest university. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico – the subject of U.S. Department of Justice, state attorney general and state auditor investigations in just the past four years – is on its way to establishing its own ethics advisory group, first-year President Garnett Stokes said Monday.

In her “state of the university” speech, Stokes noted her plans to convene several new advisory groups to cover a variety of issues, including alumni engagement, campus safety, tribal relations and ethics.

She said the ethics panel would “guide the administrative leaders and study ways to increase compliance with ethics policies.”

She did not provide specifics but said during her half-hour speech that building trust has been among her chief challenges since she assumed the presidency on March 1.

UNM has faced many questions about its finances, policies and adherence to state sunshine laws.

Last year, fiscal management concerns in the athletic department – in particular UNM’s use of public funds for private donor costs on a golf fundraising trip to Scotland – prompted state Attorney General Hector Balderas to launch an investigation and then-State Auditor Tim Keller to conduct a special audit.

Balderas also has repeatedly assailed UNM for a lack of transparency.

His office earlier this month issued a report outlining a series of complaints registered about UNM’s adherence to the state’s Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act. The report said UNM has a “disturbing pattern of concealment and deliberate misrepresentation.”

Stokes said in response that the university intended to correct any problems and improve its policies.

But the scrutiny has come from the federal level, too.

In 2016, UNM forged an agreement with the DOJ to revamp its policies and procedures and bolster training following the agency’s investigation into complaints about how the university handled sexual misconduct cases.

“As you’re all aware, UNM faces continuous scrutiny from many corners, which should never allow us to forget the urgent need to do even more to enhance communication transparency and accountability,” Stokes said to UNM leaders, faculty, staff and students gathered in the Student Union Building. “If this university is going to remain accountable to the public, stakeholders, legislators, alumni and students, we need to make sure that our decisions and how we make them are transparent. Though the road to accountability is a long one, it does start at the top, with strong administrative leadership.”

Stokes said in a brief interview after her speech that she had not determined exactly what functions the internal ethics panel would handle, but UNM needs a group “to think through how we do things and what we can do to exemplify the highest standards of ethical leadership.”

She called it “one of the most important things we can do.”

Stokes’ speech covered many subjects, from UNM’s efforts to grow the state’s health care workforce to the recent statewide tour during which she visited 38 cities and met with more than 1,300 people.

But she did not mention perhaps the most controversial issue to arise during her young presidency – UNM’s decision to cut four sports at the end of this year, a move designed to address budgetary and Title IX compliance issues within the athletic department.

Although she did not speak directly of the cuts, Stokes made what appeared to be a reference Monday.

“After some of the decisions I had to make over the summer, I can no longer consider myself your new president,” she said. “However, I am no less filled with enthusiasm for our future work together than when I arrived.”

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