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Unity of purpose needed at UNM

We would like to take the opportunity to respond to some of the ongoing, dramatic public conjecture as to the motives behind the action taken last month by the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

While a vocal few have characterized the changes to the governance of the Health Science Center as being “power grabs” or “takeovers,” it is critical to public trust that the university’s stewardship of its finances and operations, under the regents and the president, is driven by institutional goals and policies. The myopic position resistant to change speaks to apathy and the inability to see the importance of an entire institution pulling in one direction, as one institution.

Our action created an opportunity for the regents to effect change before obvious structural flaws and inefficient processes lead to greater, systemic obstacles. We came to the conclusion over the past year that the HSC board structure was, indeed, in need of fixing. We felt we must optimize our board operations.

That being said, in response to some of the more recurrent allegations:

First, the UNM Board of Regents has a mandated fiduciary duty to examine the entire UNM enterprise in terms of solvency and success. Where we have opportunities to streamline our core operating functions and find collaborations in support of common infrastructure needs, we must seek to create sustainable models of efficiency.

Second, there is no attempt to curb community input. There is significant community representation across HSC entities, but regents simply cannot hand off fiduciary oversight to non-regent members who are not privy to – or responsible for – the institution as a whole. Furthermore, this change will ensure that not even the perception of a conflict of interest or malfeasance will exist.

Third, the HSC has had a long and productive relationship with the state Human Services Department, both of which serve all New Mexicans in need. The discussion concerning the HSC’s ability to contribute to the Medicaid shortfall was in no way out of the ordinary or causal to any later actions. Helping those most in need is an undisputed goal shared by both the Human Services Department and the Health Science Center.

Fourth, despite allegations to the contrary, no current regent has stood against the new hospital proposal. In fact, the most recent phase of the proposal was unanimously passed by the full Board of Regents in February. We look forward to working with the clinical chairs of HSC in the planning of a modern and efficient health care facility.

Finally, the 2010 change to the HSC governance model has led to an ongoing public impression that UNM is not one university, run by one president and governed by one Board of Regents. Two former regents who had originally supported the change, later publicly regretted the decision, citing this as one of their concerns. In June of 2013, an Albuquerque Journal editorial posed the question, “Do regents want a unified university or two relatively autonomous entities…?,” and then opined that the UNM Regents should “determine the best governance structure for the university and its Health Sciences Center.”

This question was finally answered and the determination made by a majority vote of the Board of Regents last month.

Let us be clear, there is no “takeover.” How can one part of the university, be “taken over” by the university? According to the New Mexico Constitution, Article XII, Sec.13, “The legislature shall provide for the control and management of the University of New Mexico by a board of regents.” The changes that were approved are in alignment with the duties set forth in the Constitution, as well as UNM policy.

Our greatest power as the state’s flagship institution is that we are one University of New Mexico; that we are not a collection of discrete units connected in name only. As such, our collective magnitude and mission must be fueled by the integration of ideas and opportunities, and catalyzed by innovation and action.

Rob Doughty is president, Marron Lee is vice-president and Jack Fortner is treasurer of the Executive Committee, UNM Board of Regents.