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Editorial: Governor has a regent role in moving UNM forward

There are three – likely four – big pairs of shoes to fill on the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. The people Gov. Susana Martinez selects to fill them, subject to Senate confirmation, will play a huge role in whether the university continues to move forward, stalls or steps back.

She has done an admirable job to date, appointing or re-appointing accomplished New Mexicans who understand firsthand the changing world and university with a: need to focus on STEM fields (Sandia Labs physicist Conrad James); reliance on an educated workforce for medical care for healthy lives and economy (RN/CEO Suzanne Quillen); understanding of how to run an institution of higher learning, as well as the vital role the military plays in our state and our nation (retired Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer); and recognition that running a successful business isn’t a partisan activity but one that requires steady leadership (Farmington attorney Jack L. Fortner).

A cynic might opine that those appointments were made back before Martinez had successfully completed a second, expensive, run for the governor’s mansion and while she was still something of a political outsider not really encumbered with political obligations.

Let’s hope she still thinks that way.

Because UNM is at a turning point.

With support from the board, President Bob Frank and UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah have acted aggressively to move the university forward. They have publicly recognized their money pit of remediating unprepared students only to see them never graduate. They have essentially blown up the remedial course system and, this coming year, will instead require summer bridge classes to help students prepare for college-level work.

They also are in the process of rebuilding the College of Education, with a results-oriented focus on better preparing teachers and thus the future crop of UNM students.

They have incentivized full course loads, with tuition breaks for students who stay on track to graduate in four years.

And they have struck partnerships with the private sector to nurture entrepreneurship, and help students and graduates bring their research to market with the potential of significant new revenue to pay for things UNM’s comparatively low tuition and state funding cannot. In short, to prosper, UNM will have to find other revenue.

Also, the UNM Health Sciences Center with Chancellor Paul Roth continues to set a high standard.

The momentum is good, and good regents are crucial to sustaining it.

Regents Gene Gallegos (an accomplished natural gas attorney), Jamie Koch (an insurance executive and champion of open government as author of the Inspection of Public Records Act) and UNM medical school student Heidi Overton have served out their terms. James, who was just elected to the state House of Representatives, has announced he will resign to focus on those duties, job and family rather than serve out his term to 2018.

UNM has made strides toward fulfilling its role as the state’s flagship university in recent years. Whether the university continues moving in that direction will depend in part on the governor’s second round of regent appointments.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.