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UNM to freeze staff hiring, cut budget 5 percent

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico President Bob Frank announced Tuesday he will freeze staff hiring and advised administrators to prepare for a 5 percent cut due to the shrinking state budget.

The state’s largest university also plans a more stringent review before hiring new faculty, Frank said.

“We can’t survive with a fiscal footprint as wide as we have now,” he said, during his presentation to the Board of Regents.

The staff hiring freeze and faculty hiring review come at a time when the state budget may continue shrinking.

Gov. Susana Martinez ordered state agencies last month to reduce their spending by at least 5 percent, but that directive did not apply to public schools and universities around the state.

Still, more spending cuts may well be enacted after a special legislative session that Martinez is expected to call later this month to address the shortfall.

Some lawmakers have said steep budget cuts for higher education have been discussed, possibly in excess of 5 percent.

Frank said he has instructed the administration, academic affairs and the Health Sciences Center to prepare for at least a 5 percent budget cut in anticipation of fewer state dollars.

“We’re just trying to prepare ourselves for the current recision we’ll face,” Frank told the Journal after the meeting. “And we know whatever they do in the January session to go forward will be very difficult because we know how grave the budget is this year.”

During his report to the regents, Frank outlined what the university already is doing to slash costs, including an external review that broadly found UNM pays more for information technology than similar institutions but gets less return.

The report recommended restructuring the IT department and outsourcing some services, such as printing or digital security. An assessment of roughly two dozen administrative positions is ongoing.

Other measures taken this year include cutting some vacant positions, and raising tuition and fees by 2.5 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively.

Universities statewide have been battling budget woes.

After a nearly two-year hiring moratorium, New Mexico State University announced this summer that it would cut more than 120 faculty and staff positions and trim budgets across academic and administrative units to save more than $12 million this fiscal year. Earlier this year, Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said some administrative salaries would be trimmed between 1 percent and 3 percent. New hires will have reduced benefits and vacation time.

In addition to decreased state funding, UNM and other state universities have struggled with declining enrollment, which means fewer tuition dollars.

At Tuesday’s meeting, UNM Executive Vice President David Harris said the longer the state waits to act, the harder it will be for the university to absorb cuts.

UNM regents President Rob Doughty praised Frank’s plan, but he said Frank should look at cutting salaries of highly paid administrators as well.

Doughty said NMSU followed a similar plan, which may be necessary at UNM. And Doughty again said he does not want to raise tuition to fill holes in the budget.

Pamela Pyle, UNM Faculty Senate president, said Doughty’s stance is encouraging.

“A group of regents that looks first at the administration, and not the faculty, I think is doing the right thing,” she said.

Pyle said she is not trying to undermine the administration but believes it can sustain cuts with less harm.

The Journal reached out to the university’s Staff Council for comment about the hiring freeze but didn’t hear back.

Frank said a faculty-led review of programs would be necessary in the long run to address continued budget woes.

The campus community will have a chance to weigh in on the state of the university’s finances at a Sept. 22 town hall meeting.

Journal staff writers Dan Boyd and Lauren Villagran contributed to this report.