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Stokes takes the ‘office’ out of ‘office hours’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

About 45 people stood mingling and sipping coffee at University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library on a recent morning when the institution’s president made her entrance.

With little fanfare – no official introduction, no formal remarks – Garnett Stokes gradually began working her way through the crowd, carrying on a series of brief conversations with the individuals and small groups gathered in the library’s window-walled Willard Room.

All had come for some presidential face time, whether to make suggestions, pay compliments or simply say “hi” to the woman at the helm of the state’s largest university.

Stokes calls her new “traveling office hours” initiative an essential way to connect with the campus community – something she also did in her past role as University of Missouri’s provost.

Now nine months into her tenure as UNM’s president, Stokes said she plans to make the sessions part of her regular routine, holding the informal meetings at different spaces around campus every Wednesday that her schedule permits.

At a university with more 24,000 students and even more employees when counting the hospitals, there is plenty to discuss. And some people arrive with serious concerns.

At Zimmerman, Stokes had conversations about budget challenges, staff salaries and retention of minority faculty members. One student even spoke to her about the difficulty he’s had registering for a math class.

“Occasionally, students will come with specific issues,” Stokes said, noting that she was able to refer the student to her interim chief of staff, Terry Babbitt, for more precise guidance. “But many of the people who come, they’re coming just to introduce themselves and tell me about where they are on campus and what they do, and they want me to know a little bit about their programs.”

Even when people approach her with concerns, she said the tone is overwhelmingly friendly.

Karen Gardner, a program planning manager in UNM’s College of Arts & Sciences, attended the Zimmerman event to discuss three specific matters, including the chronic funding challenges within her college.

“I have spoken to her before but not in this type of an environment,” Gardner said, referencing a few short interactions at campus events. “I’ve never had a chance to promote personally what I had to say.”

Other attendees had no particular agenda but said they appreciated the opportunity to have an audience with UNM’s leader.

“It was nice to have a president come out and meet people,” Todd Quinn, UNM’s business and economics librarian, said after his quick chat with Stokes.

“She comes across as very approachable and very open,” added Amy Jackson, also a UNM librarian.

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