Regents boost authority of UNM president

UNM President Garnett Stokes

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico regents recently voted to give the university president the power to sign off on larger settlements without getting regent approval, clarifying who has the authority to approve such deals at the state’s flagship institution.

A year ago this week, University of New Mexico administrators were wrestling with how to part ways with former football coach Bob Davie.

School officials had announced that Davie was no longer going to be the coach. But with two years remaining on his contract, how much the buyout was going to cost the school was unknown.

It wasn’t until the end of a two-hour executive session during a regents’ meeting that athletic director Eddie Nuñez said getting rid of the coach would come with an $825,000 settlement reached through negotiations.

There were questions at the time about who at UNM needed to sign off on the deal. School officials said regent approval of the Davie buyout wasn’t needed despite regent policy calling for the board to approve all settlements over $400,000.

Regents voted in a meeting last week to change their policies to give the president the authority to agree to settlements up to $1 million without regents’ approval. They also gave the president the authority to fire the executive vice president of the Health Sciences Center without their approval, according to university documents.

The state Sunshine Portal, which reveals settlements against state agencies six months after they are completed, in 2020 has published 19 settlements UNM has agreed to pay. The settlements range from $4,000 to $775,000. The vast majority are medical malpractice cases against UNM Hospital.

Regents President Doug Brown said in an interview that the policy changes were done to give the university president the power to sign off on routine administrative matters.

He said the change had nothing to do with Davie. Regents didn’t need to approve that settlement, he said, because negotiating a settlement was needed as part of Davie’s employment contract with the university.

As for giving the president the authority to fire the top doctor at the Health Sciences Center, Brown said it was done to clarify in policy that the medical official reports directly to the university president.

UNM’s chief legal counsel said in a memo to regents that the policy changes were requested by UNM President Garnett Stokes.

“The policy revision put forward by the UNM Board of Regents affords the UNM president greater flexibility and efficiency in managing those aspects of financial settlements of claims or lawsuits that involve University funds, while still providing for oversight by the Board at a designated financial level,” Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement.

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