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Regents wrong to downplay protests over their takeover of HSC

In their guest column published on April 7, three University of New Mexico regents, Robert Doughty, Marron Lee and Jack Fortner, made a number of inaccurate assertions about the recent reorganization of the UNM Health Sciences Center medical complex. We believe readers deserve clarification.

They have repeatedly claimed they dissolved the HSC board of directors – in an extremely abrupt and secretive way – because the HSC has become too independent. They also asserted it is not part of what they describe as “one university.”

This assertion overlooks some inconvenient facts. The HSC has always been a proud part of UNM. But it is undeniably a unique and highly complex organization, with 10,000 employees, thousands of students and the responsibility for providing medical care to hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans. Many HSC activities are highly technical in nature and have no similarity with any other functions within the university.

This complexity is why the HSC board was created in the first place. The HSC was growing too fast amid a rapidly changing health care landscape for the regents to exercise effective oversight. Before it was tampered with, the board included members with expertise in health care, academia and management, as well as community representatives.

Properly governed, the HSC is an enormous asset to the university as a whole. Its hospitals and clinics provide a safety net for everyone in the state, its nationally recognized educational programs raise UNM’s profile, and its research programs bring millions of dollars and many high-paying jobs into our state. Unfortunately, this latest move has put all that in jeopardy.

Doughty, Lee and Fortner claim they engineered this move to preserve their constitutional authority as regents – but that authority was never in question! The HSC board of directors essentially served an advisory role: It could make its considered recommendations to the full board of regents, who always had final approval.

This is part of a disturbing pattern on their part of making misleading and false statements. Still worse, these regents dismiss the “vocal few” who objected to their action. … Readers of this newspaper know that hundreds of students, faculty, staff, community members and elected officials registered their objections at the March regents’ meeting. To rewrite history and minimize their concerns insults the intelligence of everyone at UNM and in the community at large.

As state senators, we are disgusted and embarrassed by the disrespect they have shown to the public and to the UNM HSC leadership. But we are even more concerned about the negative impact their dishonesty will have on the university as a whole. This move has demoralized many UNM employees, who are left to speculate about the possible motives for this sudden move and what it will mean for them.

Doughty, Lee and Fortner profess to be perplexed by this. They ought to ask themselves why anyone would ever again trust a group of people who behaved in such a duplicitous way. The three regents who hatched this scheme seem all too confident of their legal authority, but they have overlooked something significant: moral authority. Moral authority must be earned. These regents have forfeited their moral authority, diminishing themselves and, sadly, hurting the institution they serve.

The HSC’s physician leaders have, on the other hand, exemplified true leadership through their decency and commitment to operating transparently. And they have earned moral authority the hard way: by tending to dying patients, comforting their loved ones and rejoicing when there is a cure. They accept the grave responsibility that comes with holding others’ lives in their hands. And because they speak from deep experience, they deserve our attention.

To suggest that they are “myopic” and “apathetic” as Doughty, Lee and Fortner did, is both insulting and laughable. Perhaps they were gazing in the mirror when this thought occurred.

We fear for the future of the university, and are not optimistic about what will come next. But we know the entire university community, as well as the thousands of New Mexicans who receive health care at UNM, will be watching.

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