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UNM showdown averted

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico president Bob Frank has backed off – at least for now – on seeking changes to the Health Sciences Center governance structure and pledged to work closely with HSC Chancellor Paul Roth.

“I think for now we’ll operate under the same governance structure we have,” Frank told the


on Tuesday. “I think (Roth) and I will engage in a conversation about how we can work together, certainly, and improve our communication and see how we can make things good between us.”

Frank’s comments came after a regents meeting during which he and regents president Jack Fortner addressed a Sunday Journal story about HSC governance. Frank said in that story the structure didn’t give him enough authority over that part of the university.

Roth was not present at the regents meeting, but Frank and Fortner reassured faculty and staff that the matter was under control.

“We’re working with the governance structure as it is. …,” Fortner said. “And all of us believe moving forward means continuing to see if there’s better ways to doing things, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Frank, who became president a year ago, said last week the governance structure, which created the Health Sciences board of directors, effectively created two separate institutions. He said he had the responsibility for UNM as a whole, but lacked sufficient authority. The board has a majority of non-regents.

The gist of Frank’s concern is that the HSC board ultimately has authority over changes the president might want to make at health sciences.

For example, Frank could recommend someone for the chancellor’s job if it were to come open, but the board would have to approve the hire. And while the president evaluates the chancellor, his evaluation goes before the board, which is not bound by it. The board of regents as a whole has ultimate authority over hiring.

On Tuesday, Frank told the regents the issue is not a crisis.

“The HSC has served New Mexico well for many decades, as it continues to do today,” he said.

“We do have challenges for which there is no single answer, and I look forward as president of the university to working with regents and Dr. Roth to having an open and honest dialogue and developing options for which we can, over the next few months, determine the best answers.

“In the interim, the current structure under which we operate serves adequately.”

Fortner concurred.

Two regents, Jamie Koch and Gene Gallegos, said although they voted for the new structure when it was unanimously approved in December 2010, they now regret it and said they hoped to see changes. Other regents support the current structure.

Frank said the complications are manageable, and there are more important matters facing the university.

“I’m absolutely committed to working with my colleagues on the Health Sciences Center and my entire university on ensuring we make this work on being one university and be an integrated one,” Frank said.

Roth was on vacation Tuesday, but Richard Larson, HSC executive vice chancellor, said there is strong support for the governance structure as is.

Referring to Fortner’s comments, Larson said, “I’m encouraged by the comments made by the president of the UNM regents reaffirming the regents’ support for the current HSC governance model.”

The chairs of 19 academic departments under HSC signed a letter Monday supporting the current structure, saying it is in the best interest of UNM and the community.

“We are critically dependent on governance that enables quick action and nimble management of our interrelated educational, research, and clinical service work,” states the letter, which is addressed to regents Jack Fortner and regent Suzanne Quillen. “This structure is crucial to our management of clinical services that promote patient satisfaction and high quality, cost effective and safe patient care.”

Gallegos said after the meeting that he didn’t think HSC governance was a closed matter. Gallegos has raised legal questions about the model, saying the New Mexico Constitution grants regents overall authority over the university.

“I think everybody would like for things to calm down a little bit, but I don’t think it’s over,” Gallegos said.

The matter, he said, could end up in court.

“The reason I say that is I think there’s a serious legal question about this structure in view of both the constitutional authority and the statute which authorizes the regents to delegate authority …” he said.