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College says goodbye to laid-off workers

ESPAÑOLA – About 20 people attended a potluck lunch in the cafeteria of Northern New Mexico College’s administration building on Friday. They brought chicken, pizza, fruit, snacks and desserts to celebrate, and commiserate, alongside departing faculty and staff members.

“It was a good send-off,” said James Biggs, an assistant professor who was one of five instructors notified this week that their contracts would not be renewed. “It’s hard to see a lot of good people go, and it was nice to be able to say goodbye.

“I think the college will continue to lose a lot of good people because of the unethical behavior by administration and their retaliatory practices. Undoubtedly, there will be more.”

Biggs said he has no doubt he was dismissed from his job in the environmental science department because he’s been an outspoken critic of the college’s administration and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education that the college was misusing grant funds, which the department substantiated. Biggs said he’s considering filing a whistleblower lawsuit.

“There will probably be quite a bit of legal action from this,” he said, adding that several people feel they were let go because they’ve been critical of administration. “There are a number of state and federal complaints now, and I know other people are talking to attorneys.”

The college denies it has retaliated against faculty and staff, saying cuts were made to keep the college financially solvent.

Last month, the college’s regents approved a budget that cuts three programs, seven faculty jobs and nine staff positions. “The college’s FY 15 budget is reflective of a lengthy process that included faculty and staff leadership,” wrote Ricky Serna, the college’s vice president for advancement, in an e-mail. “The administration continues to review the concerns raised by community members, faculty, staff and students in light of the FY 15 budget approval. We continue to welcome suggestions on how to increase transparency and shared governance.” Serna noted the budget was approved without a 5 percent increase in tuition, something that was included in the initial budget proposal.

Students and faculty have complained that administration isn’t transparent, doesn’t practice shared governance and academic freedom, and mismanages finances. As of Friday, 567 people signed an online petition calling for the state to reject the college’s 2014-15 budget.

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