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Espanola college’s name change stirs up dispute

ESPANOLA, N.M. — A name change is at the center of a dispute involving a northern New Mexico college already entangled in accusations of budget mismanagement and poor leadership, a school official said Saturday.

The Board of Regents at Northern New Mexico College voted last January to rename the institution Northern New Mexico University, a move that irked several lawmakers and even some school officials.

Newly confirmed regent Damian Martinez said the school should cease referring to itself as a university because the Legislature never approved the change. “My position is that it needs to be changed by statute,” Martinez said.

Martinez was not yet in office when the board voted 4-0 on the name change. Two of the regents who did are no longer serving on the board.

Legislation proposing the name change died in session last month. Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Democrat from Quest who sponsored the bill, said that he decided the proposal warranted further review.

Ricky Serna, the college’s vice president of advancement, said he shared Cisneros’ concerns. But he also disputed claims that the regents acted out of turn by changing the school’s name outside of the Legislature. “Tell us where the process was defined and how we didn’t follow it,” Serna said in an emailed statement.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the school doesn’t deserve university status. “Frankly, I don’t think they rise to the level of a university. They have no graduate programs,” Stewart said.

Stewart said she also believes regents did not have the authority to vote on the change, and school administrators should have consulted with the state Higher Education Department. “I think they did it in such a sloppy way,” she said.

The Espanola school has been saddled in the past year with budget constraints and other issues. Critics demanded last year that the state Higher Education Department investigate the school for mismanagement of federal funds, increased tuition and cuts to programs. The U.S. Department of Education last week named Northern New Mexico College as one of 500 campuses under additional financial monitoring.

The college currently has 784 full-time students and offers two- and four-year degree programs.