SANTA FE, N.M. — In April, the Faculty and Student senates of Northern New Mexico College voted “no confidence” in their administration. A week later, the Board of Regents voted to eliminate several career programs and, with them, the president of the Faculty Senate, who runs Automotive Technology.
Then, financially strapped Northern spent several thousand dollars on newspaper ads with a defensive gloss on recent turmoil at the college by President Nancy Barceló. It also spent $5,000 hiring a private investigative firm for a presumably exculpatory inquiry into alleged assault and retaliation by administration members against a popular and accomplished professor whose tenure approval it reversed.
People rightly ask, what is going on?
Students continue to leave the school because of reduced offerings and cancelled classes. They have to pay more tuition for less service compared to nearby schools. And every move the administration makes only accelerates the process.
Northern has acknowledged the role of two successive tuition hikes in reducing enrollment. The administration’s proposed budget continues destructive cuts of academic programs, withholding appropriate compensation for faculty, targeting anyone who disagrees with their methods for termination. What to do in such a situation? Blame your critics – your own faculty, students and community members – for the “destructive” atmosphere.
It’s time President Barceló shows true leadership. Vice President for Advancement Ricky Serna virtually runs the campus and has far exceeded the legal limits of his position by intruding on purely academic affairs, making decisions about firing and hiring academic staff, even intimidating students who voice dissent on simple matters like tuition. The Northern Board of Regents must live up to its constitutional obligation to exercise rigorous oversight of the school’s administration rather than facilitating its mistakes.
Leadership entails taking responsibility (not just credit) for what occurs on your watch. President Barceló has led the college for four years, and needs to stop blaming the former administration and her current critics for persistent financial and worsening enrollment problems.
Further, one of the major responsibilities of a college president is fundraising. What has President Barceló produced in that regard, aside from what the state Legislature has provided? While Barceló points out she was charged with transitioning to a four-year, comprehensive institution, the school’s mission and the Regents’ legal duties strongly suggest this would entail building upon what was already here – not dismantling programs to make way for an ill-defined new vision she has refused to discuss with faculty or community. Two indications of President Barceló’s insensitive and out-of-touch attitude can be found in her quip that Northern needs to attract “a better caliber of student” and in her surprise at the outrage over dismantling the automotive program.
If the administration cannot even fiscally manage and sustain the existing mix of two- and four-year programs, how in the world are we to believe they are up to the task of building a four-year, comprehensive institution that can compete for students with UNM or NMSU? That goal appears to reflect the personal ambitions and vanity of Regents and presidents more than the needs or market realities of the surrounding area. The administration’s current plan to rely increasingly on low-paid adjunct faculty in place of “unprofitable” full-time professors hardly points in that direction, and directly contradicts her claims to be hiring “more full-time and doctoral-level faculty.”
President Barceló claims to “embrace transparency and communication,” but our experience has been quite the opposite. Those who have questioned policy or offered differing suggestions for fixing the budget, such as curtailing administrative growth and executive salaries, are either ignored, intimidated into silence, or let go.
The process leading up to the announcement of program closures is a prime exhibit for how the administration does NOT deal transparently, honestly or respectfully with its Faculty Senate. The administration came to the surprised Effective Resources Utilization Committee just two weeks before a budget was due with its recommended closures. Serna’s presentation focused on career tech programs slated for “possible” closure based on their financial inefficiency, but without telling how ALL programs at the school performed by those criteria.
The committee objected to the selection and requested full data. These requests were ignored. Despite administration insistence that there was no top-down, pre-existing decision behind the program analysis, the provost told the Faculty Senate more than a year before that faculty tenure was no guarantee of a job if programs were cut for financial reasons.
Serna and Regent (Michael) Branch have scoffed at the notion the administration would retaliate against employees. Yet the administration insists that it is not obligated to give reasons for discharging the numerous employees who have been let go under Barceló’s tenure. Just this week, a talented young instructor was terminated after encouraging the community to participate in the debate over the school’s future. Another employee was terminated after serving as an advisor to the Student Senate, which voted no confidence in the administration.
As Branch said in scoffing at retaliation claims, “Come on.”
This opinion piece, edited for length by the Journal, was signed by 17 people.