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Editorial: Lujan Grisham earns red card for UNM pandering

Whether you agree with the University of New Mexico’s decision to cut four sports programs or not – and many do not – the reality is the university’s Athletics Department is hemorrhaging money; fields more sports teams than nearly any other school in the Mountain West conference; and, according to a recent independent report, isn’t in compliance with federal Title IX gender equity mandates.

As all of these issues came to a head earlier this summer, new UNM President Garnett Stokes and first-year Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez went to work on addressing the monumental mess they inherited from past administrators.

The plan they came up with begins to address the growing problems in Athletics. But to do so, they are discontinuing men’s soccer, women’s beach volleyball, and the men’s and women’s ski program after this school year.

Whatever your opinion of their plan, Stokes and Nuñez deserve credit for taking on the difficult task of getting the Athletics Department’s house in order.

What they don’t deserve is to be undermined by Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Make no mistake, the cuts Stokes and Nuñez recommended – which the regents approved – were controversial, and are fair game for criticism. During a gubernatorial forum last Friday, both Lujan Grisham, and Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce blasted UNM for the decision to cut the sports programs.

But Lujan Grisham took it a step further and cut the new president of the state’s flagship university, and the head of its athletics programs, off at the knees.

“It’s outrageous,” she said at the forum. “I will work immediately with the Legislature to provide whatever oversight and investment we need to immediately restore those programs and to hold universities like the University of New Mexico accountable.”

But isn’t that what Stokes and Nuñez were doing – trying to finally make Athletics accountable after a decade of not living within its budget? Isn’t that integral to their jobs and what they are paid to do?

And does Lujan Grisham really think she can convince legislators statewide to pour more money into UNM athletics?

Doesn’t the state have plenty of problems that are truly in the purview of the governor? Or were escalating crime, the brain drain, an unfair and burdensome tax system, pension insolvency and over-reliance on the boom-and-bust oil and gas industries resolved when we weren’t looking?

What’s truly “outrageous” is a gubernatorial candidate trying to dictate policy decisions at UNM six weeks before the election is even held.

What’s “outrageous” is Lujan Grisham promising an endless stream of state money to prop up UNM’s hemorrhaging Athletics Department, while in the next breath promising to hold universities accountable. What’s “outrageous” is Lujan Grisham taking UNM officials to task for finally doing what their predecessors didn’t have the guts to do.

And what’s hypocritical is Lujan Grisham pledging to reverse the sports cuts on a Friday, and just days later telling the Journal, “I believe we need regents who are going to be independent, transparent about budgets, and will work without political goals seeing students as their constituents and customers.”

If Lujan Grisham wins, she will be able to carry through on her promise because the new governor will be able to replace as many as five of UNM’s seven regents. She appears to be setting the stage to do exactly what our governors have been criticized for, for years – meddling in the policies and personnel decisions at the state’s universities.

In order to thrive, New Mexico universities need regents who look out for the best interests of their institutions – as the state Constitution mandates – and not political sycophants who merely carry out the campaign promises of the governor who appointed them.

Even worse is the message Lujan Grisham is sending through her comments at the forum: That, should she become governor, officials in her administration shouldn’t try to make the tough calls; their governor won’t have their backs, no matter what the ledger says, if public sentiment turns against them.

Pandering may be a good way to campaign; it’s certainly no way to govern.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.