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Presidential Finalist Excited for UNM’s ‘Potential To Soar’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Texas A&M University president Elsa Murano met University of New Mexico faculty, staff and students Thursday, offering ideas and asking big questions about UNM’s future.

“There seems to be a lack of definition of what does this university want to be,” she said, clad in a red pantsuit and red shoes. “Does it want to be a world-class, research tier 1 university, as the flagship institution of the state … or does it want to be an institution that values access more than anything?”

“If it wants to be both, then it better find some strategic steps on how to do that effectively,” she said, “as opposed to just trying to be both, you know, letting it happen, without any control, without any boundaries, without any way to make sure that you are keeping a tight rein on making sure you don’t do too much one way or the other.”

Murano, a professor of nutrition at Texas A&M and one of five presidential finalists, also met privately with regents.

During the forums, she said that if she becomes UNM president, she plans to take a few months getting to know the administration, but she’s not afraid to replace or retain current leaders.

To help minority students graduate, Murano, herself a Cuban immigrant, stressed the importance of including minority applicants in the search for UNM administrators.

“You can say anything you want about diversity, but if you don’t show it by what you’re doing as a manager, if you will, by the people you hire, it falls on deaf ears,” she said.

Faculty asked about her resignation as president of Texas A&M in 2009, after 18 months on the job. She said she stepped down because regents there pressured her to limit academic freedoms and wanted to use university funding for political favors.

“If I had to do it over again, I would not take that job,” she told the health science faculty.

“What makes you think that the results, if you were to come here, would be any different?” asked Don Duszynski, professor emeritus and former biology department chairman.

Murano said that regents, if they are independent thinkers, can be reasoned with.

To defend the university, Murano told main campus faculty she’d call on “champions” from around the state for political backup. “There’s a bunch of people in the state who love this university and who would step up to the plate.”

Student Isle Biel, a graduate student in ethnology and cultural anthropology, asked Murano to pledge transparency to students. Murano said she would be as transparent as possible, and that at Texas A&M she included the student body president in her Cabinet.

“I’m exhilarated,” Murano said at the end of the day. “What potential this place has to soar,” she said, “really take off like a rocket.”

The other presidential finalists are University of Idaho provost Douglas Baker, Kent State University provost Robert Frank, former University of Arizona provost Meredith Hay and Iowa State University provost Elizabeth Hoffman. Hoffman will be on the UNM campus today. Regents plan to select the next president at a Jan. 4 meeting.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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