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UNM faculty, students weigh in on choice of regents

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Michelle Lujan Grisham

With Michelle Lujan Grisham positioned to dramatically make over the University of New Mexico governing board, students and faculty are offering the governor-elect some input about what they want in new members.

Lujan Grisham has the rare opportunity to immediately stock UNM’s Board of Regents with her own picks, as five of seven current members’ terms are ending. A spokesman said last week that Lujan Grisham intends to start submitting her regent appointments to the state Senate in early January.

UNM’s student government leadership wrote Lujan Grisham earlier this month urging her to make regent selections that reflect the campus community.

And the university’s Faculty Senate last week discussed the characteristics they want in regent candidates, with senators, commenting that they want regents who have some university experience, no conflicts of interest and an understanding of “civil discourse.” Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle said she aims to get a meeting with Lujan Grisham or someone in her administration to present the faculty feedback.

“I want on their radar that this is one of the most important decisions they’re going to make. I want her to understand the weight of how the faculty feels,” Pyle said during the Faculty Senate meeting.

The regents have oversight of UNM and its $3 billion annual budget. They hire, and can terminate, the university president. They also set the institution’s priorities and goals.

New Mexico’s governor nominates regents, who are then subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

But the state’s regent boards have sparked political wrangling, with the Senate failing to hold confirmation hearings for any of Gov. Susana Martinez’s UNM appointments for the past two years. That has disrupted the normal, staggered-term system and created a patchwork board with some temporary placements, leading to this wave of five near-simultaneous departures.

“Five is a substantial number,” Pyle said during the faculty meeting. “We’re not just getting one or two; we are now altering the course and the shift in power on the board. And for those of us who have been intimately involved, we know how important that is.”

Both UNM students and faculty say they want the new governor to consider diversity when selecting new regents. Associated Students of UNM President Becka Myers wrote in her recent letter to Lujan Grisham that diversity is “important to UNM’s culture and identity.”

“We are a minority-majority campus, serving a 46 percent Hispanic student body. It is critical to me and all of us at ASUNM that our Regents reflect that diversity, which includes ethnicity, heritage, culture, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ideas, and professional backgrounds,” she wrote. “As the University faces pressing challenges, the diversity of the Board of Regents will be imperative as it seeks to steer UNM and New Mexico in the right direction.”

The board has been predominantly Anglo in recent years.

Faculty senators also expressed the desire for a board that represents different perspectives, with Ann Waldorf, an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, noting the importance of understanding both urban and rural communities.

“I think we get confused about the fact that students don’t just come from right around here, and rural is a cultural barrier and so (we should) really push for that as well,” she said.

Lujan Grisham has made it clear she has been unhappy with the current UNM board.

Asked if Lujan Grisham was soliciting feedback from the university community, spokesman Victor Reyes wrote in an email to the Journal that “she welcomes feedback, recommendations, and input from community members and education stakeholders” via her website.

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