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Editorial: UNM regents go 0-2 in dealings with president

It would be helpful – and responsible – if University of New Mexico regents would let the people of this state in on their thinking about why President Bob Frank won’t serve another five-year term.

Yes, Frank announced last week that he won’t seek another term. But it seems obvious that the regents weren’t going to give him that chance.

On paper, there appears to be no good reason for Frank not to have had his contract renewed for another five-year term, as the university has moved the needle in the right direction in several very important areas during his tenure.

Last year the four-year graduation rate exceeded 20 percent for the first time in years, despite declining enrollment. And in the last academic year, UNM awarded an all-time record number of degrees – 5,674.

The university has taken steps to keep students from dropping out, including increased student support services, a revamp of how remedial needs are addressed and encouraging faculty to be more engaged.

Frank, along with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, has also been critical in the development of Innovate ABQ, an important technology initiative still in its infancy, but progressing nicely.

A former provost at Kent State University, Frank made an excellent choice in picking Chaouki Abdallah as provost at UNM and has lived in relative harmony with the faculty, which had voted no confidence in his predecessor.

And Frank, at the direction of a majority of regents, brought the Health Sciences Center into the main university fold – where it belongs. This wasn’t a new concept and overseeing the HSC was part of the job posting that was published when Frank was hired.

Perhaps the regents didn’t evaluate his performance because he had done what he was tasked with.

But instead of stepping up and laying out their reasoning – if they have any – the regents roll out a sweet $350,000 deal under which Frank announces he won’t seek a second term.

Played to conclusion, UNM would have a very expensive tenured professor at Health Sciences making nearly as much as he made as president of the state’s flagship university ($362,136) with a vague title, duties that have not yet been determined, full benefits, six months paid professional leave and state pension eligible.

All in the middle of a budget crisis.

You can’t blame Frank for negotiating the best deal he could under the circumstances, but this one – on the heels of an announced hiring freeze and other dire financial forecasts – shows just how tone deaf the Board of Regents is. University officials already are anticipating a budget reduction of about $22.5 million, even before the Legislature meets to deal with a $589 million state budget shortfall.

No UNM president has served more than five years since 1988. It would be good for UNM to have some continuity in leadership, especially when things appear to be moving in the right direction.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.