Nearly 50 people over the course of three hours urged the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents to postpone a vote on policy changes that would restructure the governing board of the university’s Health Sciences Center.
But those concerns didn’t sway the majority of regents Monday as they voted 4-2 in favor of the restructuring, which also brings Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth more clearly under the authority of the university president.
Critics said the consideration of the major changes came with little notice and they were akin to “going backward.” Applause greeted nearly every comment against the restructuring.
However, Regent Marron Lee said, “These changes are important to function as one institution.”
The change takes effect immediately and means community members Mel Eaves and Ann Rhoades will no longer sit on the board.
Regent Rob Doughty, who was elected regents president Monday and who has been chair of the HSC board, said the goal is to make the Health Sciences Center more accountable to the board of regents, which he said is necessary for dealing with looming financial woes. During this year’s legislative session, UNM’s allocation was cut about $8 million.
Doughty also said the changes would allow for streamlined management of HSC and prevent conflicts of interest among board members who may only be considering the interests of the Health Sciences Center and not UNM as a whole.
Regents did change one of the proposals in a 5-1 vote to say the university president could not terminate the chancellor of health sciences, currently Dr. Paul Roth, without the majority of regents’ approval. Lee voted in opposition.
The Health Sciences Center includes University of New Mexico Hospital, the medical school, the school of nursing and the cancer center. Its governing board, including the community members, has been appointed by the regents’ president and the chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, who is a nonvoting member.
Lee, one of the two regents to introduce the proposal last week, said it should come as no surprise that the regents were considering a change in HSC governance. Lee said she has previously spoken to Roth about her concerns with the current structure.
Regents Brad Hosmer and Suzanne Quillen said they had no knowledge of the proposed policy changes before last week. Both voted against the majority of the proposed changes. Hosmer and Quillen both said the board was functioning fine without interference.
“What’s the problem we’re trying to solve here?” Hosmer asked.
Doughty, Lee, former president Jack Fortner and student regent Ryan Berryman voted in favor of the changes.
The HSC board had been a committee without community members before a change in 2010, Fortner said, and it operated without issue. Additionally, he said, Roth will remain the chief executive officer – which UNM President Bob Frank reiterated in a memo over the weekend – so there should be no cause for concern.
Speakers who asked the regents to postpone the vote included students, faculty members, state lawmakers and public leaders.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins; Acoma Pueblo Gov. Kurt Riley; Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque; and Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, were among those who urged a delay. While the wording varied, the overall message from those who spoke during public comment was largely the same: More conversation is needed before making drastic changes.
Fourth-year medical student Kyle Leggott read a petition signed by hundreds of Health Sciences Center students.
“We feel that matters of this magnitude necessitate transparency and collaboration. To this end, students need time and information to appropriately formulate questions and opinions regarding these important issues,” the petition read.
Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, a former UNM regent, said there was no need to rush changes.
“Passing a bad bill is far worse than not passing a good bill,” he said.
Community board representative Eaves, who is also a former UNM regent, said the current model has functioned perfectly.
“Give these people a chance to participate,” he said, referring to the community members who had raised concerns about the sudden introduction of the policy changes.
Others questioned why the changes hadn’t been discussed publicly until Monday. The changes were made public for the first time when they were posted Friday on the university’s website, along with the agenda for Monday’s regents’ meeting.
Cheryl Willman, head of the cancer center, worried that the changes would mean Roth would no longer be the chief executive officer of the hospital. But Frank sent a memo to Roth on Sunday that said if the proposed changes to the HSC policies were passed, he would immediately appoint Roth as the chief executive officer of the UNM health system.
Frank said in a statement he appreciated the concerns brought by the 50-plus people who spoke during the public comment period.
“I believe the changes to policy that were made are basically specific and limited in nature, but will allow for more efficient and effective governance,” Frank said.
At the start of the meeting Roth had called on regents to postpone voting on the proposed policy changes. He said he was displeased with the final vote.
“I am disappointed that the Health Sciences Center leadership, the university faculty and the students and staff did not have time or the opportunity to provide input into the policy changes that were adopted today,” Roth said in a statement following the meeting. “I am grateful, however, to President Frank for clarifying that I will continue as CEO of the UNM Health System, with all of the responsibilities and authorities commensurate with that.”