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UNM Names 5 Finalists for President

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico’s short list for its next president includes former university heads, sitting provosts and a UNM graduate.

Three are women and one is Hispanic.

Regents met Monday, despite the campus’s snow closure, to confirm the top five candidates to replace David Schmidly as UNM’s president when Schmidly steps down in May. The announcement sets into motion a state rule that requires regents to vote on the university’s next president before Jan. 5.

UNM’s top presidential candidates are:

  •  Douglas Baker, provost of the University of Idaho since 2005.
  •  Robert Frank, provost of Kent State University, Ohio, since 2007 and a UNM graduate.
  •   Meredith Hay, former provost at the University of Arizona, UNM presidential finalist in 2007.
  •   Elizabeth Hoffman, former president of the University of Colorado, provost of Iowa State University since 2007.
  •   Elsa Murano, former president of Texas A&M University.

“I think any one of them could be a great president here at UNM, and I think all of the constituencies will be excited about all of them: students, faculty, staff, alumni, athletics, you name it,” said Regent President Jack Fortner, who led the 29-member presidential search committee to identify candidates. “… All of them had great knowledge of UNM and have a lot of enthusiasm for coming to New Mexico.”

Public candidate forums on campus are scheduled to begin Thursday and continue each weekday through Dec. 14. Each candidate will have a one-day public appearance to meet with students, faculty and staff, although the schedules have not been set yet.

The timing has been cause for concern among students, who say many will be forced to choose between preparing for exams and participating in the public search process. UNM has agreed the timing is not perfect, but has said it was important to name a new president as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, three of the candidates have left past university leadership positions under pressure, and a fourth submitted his resignation this year to focus on applying for presidential positions.

But UNM Faculty Senate President Tim Ross said that is not a concern because each had understandable reasons to step aside. Ross served on the search committee that interviewed semi-finalists.

“That was not as big an issue to us as the quality and the excellence of their leadership skills,” Ross said.

Graduate student president Katie Richardson said she felt confident any of the finalists could be a good fit for UNM.

“I’m extremely excited about this list of five candidates,” she said. “I think every single one of the candidates would lead UNM in the direction we need to go.”

Here is more on each candidate:

- Baker, in his résumé, includes as his accomplishments an 8 percent increase in freshman retention between 2005-2010 and his work with the Faculty Senate in restructuring three colleges and eliminating 35 degree programs.

Attempts to reach Baker for comment were unsuccessful.

- Frank, in his résumé, said that at Kent State, he had increased student retention by more than 6 percent, revised promotion and tenure rules and developed a “comprehensive student graduation planning and tracking system.”

Frank, who graduated from a Las Cruces high school before getting three degrees from UNM, announced plans to resign as provost at Kent State at the end of this academic year to focus on seeking employment as a university president. Frank said he wanted to try to develop his academic career without misleading Kent State about his long-term employment plans.

“I’ve wanted to be a president for a long time and felt like I could give my full attention to achieve that goal during this year and not feel like I was not being honest with my institutions,” Frank said.

- Hay, in her résumé, said she has a strength in communicating the value of a university with government leaders, donors and the community and using those relationships to develop university funding.

She was removed as University of Arizona provost last summer and reappointed as an adviser to the state’s university board of regents. Hay did not return a call for comment Monday.

- Hoffman in an interview said she is skilled at helping universities identify what aspects of education they do best and how to use those institutional strengths to improve the university as a whole.

Hoffman resigned as University of Colorado president in 2005 amid two controversies: then-professor Ward Churchill’s statements comparing victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to Nazi leadership and allegations that the university recruited high school football players by providing alcohol and sex on campus visits. She had served as the Colorado president for five years prior to her resignation.

Hoffman said Monday she has demonstrated a strong history of leadership during her time at Iowa State University and as Colorado’s president before the controversy.

“I’ve learned a lot of lessons,” Hoffman said, “And my experience at Iowa State has been immensely valuable. So I would certainly hope that people would look … at my entire record and see that I have an outstanding record of service.”

- Murano’s résumé said that while she was president at Texas A&M, she began work on an academic master plan that would outline priorities and launched a $300 million fund-raising initiative to raise money for minority scholarships.

Murano, who is Hispanic, resigned from her job as president in 2009 after 18 months on the job and officials completed a performance evaluation that questioned her leadership and integrity.

Murano, in an interview with the Journal on Monday, said she resigned after regents with political interests pressured her into limiting academic freedoms.

“I will tell you just very plainly, there were things that the leadership of the university system, the chancellor and the board wanted me to pursue that I was not willing to do,” Murano said.

UNM has been the target of criticism in past presidential searches by some Hispanic groups for under-representing the minority group in presidential searches. Ralph Arellanes, director of the New Mexico Hispano Roundtable, an organization that has been critical of UNM’s executive hires, did not return calls for comment.

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