Town hall gets grim outlook on UNM finances - Albuquerque Journal

Town hall gets grim outlook on UNM finances

Roughly 500 university employees and students attended a town hall meeting Thursday in which high-ranking university administrators discussed the troubled state budget and how it could affect the university as a whole.

The forum offered the chance for employees to suggest their own solutions, and chief among them were calls to slash highly paid positions.

Karen Gardner, a staffer in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she did the math and if everyone making more than $100,000 took a 5 percent salary cut, the university could save millions.

The crowd, which was so large it required staff to open another ballroom, cheered and clapped at the suggestion. Other suggestions that earned applause were slashing travel budgets and ensuring that a committee that reviews the university costs is culturally diverse.

When questioned about administrative cuts, President Bob Frank said no one would be immune from scrutiny.

“It’s a reasonable thought,” Frank told the Journal after the town hall. “There’s nothing off the table in this dialogue.”

UNM employs about 1,250 full-time faculty on its main campus and about 3,000 staff members. The main campus budget for the 2017 fiscal year is about $839 million.

Frank also used the meeting to paint a grim picture of the future economic woes that the state and, by proxy, UNM faces.

Executive vice president Dave Harris presented the audience with state revenue estimates that predict a roughly 7 percent reduction in the state’s current budget year. Based on UNM’s current share of the state budget, that translates to about $22.5 million reduction for UNM as a whole.

Main campus could see a $14.2 million reduction, the Health Sciences Center a $6.8 million drop and about $1.5 million for the branch campuses. Harris added these are only guesses since no one knows what the Legislature is going to do.

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 state’s shortfall.

Frank brought attention again to the recent announcement of a hiring moratorium for staff positions on the main and branch campuses. The Health Sciences Center, home to the state’s only Level One trauma center hospital and medical school, is exempt from the hiring freeze.

Provost Chaouki Abdallah said at the meeting he has instructed his deans to reduce faculty hiring by 50 percent.

And Frank said it would be necessary for the university to reduce its financial footprint if it wants to survive in the future. That would necessitate, he said, a universitywide review of all its offerings to see if they match the school’s mission.

One employee did ask if staff would suffer a 1 to 3 percent salary reduction. Frank quelled that rumor, saying he had no such plans. He added the goal is to avoid layoffs completely.

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