ESPAÑOLA – Northern New Mexico College’s Board of Regents held off voting on the school’s budget after hearing pleas from students and faculty not to cut programs or raise tuition, as well as accusations of retaliation, intimidation and bullying by college administrators.
The board made it halfway through its agenda on Thursday before postponing the remainder of the meeting until 8 a.m. Saturday, at which time the board is expected to vote on its 2014-15 budget in order to meet a May 1 deadline.
Board chairwoman Rosario “Chayo” Garcia said the regents were “exhausted and needed to rest” after emerging from the second of two, more than 90-minute executive sessions. In between those sessions, the board got an earful from nearly 30 people during the public input session and hearing reports from student and faculty representatives.
Before adjourning about 7 p.m., the board issued a vote of confidence for college administrators and explained that it was postponing action on the proposed $11 million budget because of “the serious concerns expressed today.”
“Prior to submitting its budget to the state, the regents and administration will give substantive review of the materials, statements, and concerns submitted,” said board member Kevin Powers, reading from a statement.
Powers also announced that a new budget proposal was on the table that would keep tuition, which increased 13 percent last year, at its current level.
Last week, Northern’s Effective Resources Utilization Committee recommended cutting several two-year vocational programs to help in an effort to balance the college’s budget. A 5 percent increase to tuition was also proposed.
Earlier this month, both the student senate and faculty voted “no confidence” in the college’s top administrators by overwhelming margins. Their concerns included declining enrollment, shifting funding to top management, cutting faculty and replacing them with adjuncts, transparency issues and alleged mismanagement of budgets and grant funds.
At Thursday’s meeting, faculty representatives told the board about an atmosphere of fear that existed among instructors. They said many faculty members were afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation, including losing their jobs.
“To put it bluntly, the faculty is scared to death,” said Gil Sena, the faculty senate president.
Joel Martinez, president of the student senate, complained about raises given to administrators while the regents are talking about cutting programs.
“If we’re in a financial crunch, why are we paying these people more money?” he asked.
Two programs that could be cut under the budget proposal under consideration are the two-year programs for automotive repair and radiological technology.
Edgar Perea, a student in the automotive program, reminded the board that Española is known as the “Lowrider Capital of the World.”
“You’re not doing away with a program, you’re not doing away with a class, you’re doing away with our culture and tradition,” he said.