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President Frank’s surprise decision raises issues of continuity at UNM

University of New Mexico President Bob Frank announced last week that he won't seek a renewal of his contract. Under his exit agreement with the Board of Regents, he would become the director of the Center for Innovation in Health and Education after his contract expires May 31. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

University of New Mexico President Bob Frank announced last week that he won’t seek a renewal of his contract. Under his exit agreement with the Board of Regents, he would become the director of the Center for Innovation in Health and Education after his contract expires May 31. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

It’s been nearly two decades since a president of the University of New Mexico has served a term lasting more than five years and questions continue to swirl around the surprise announcement that Bob Frank would join those ranks.

“It’s a revolving-door position,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, who often sponsors legislation related to higher education endowment funds, also expressed concern over another change in management.

“We have not seen the continuity that would be beneficial to the university,” Larrañaga told the Journal earlier this week.

Others questioned why Frank would receive a new faculty position at an annual salary of $350,000, nearly the same as his base presidential compensation.

FRANK: New $350K-a-year HSC role also questioned

FRANK: New $350K-a-year HSC role also questioned

Frank announced last week that he would not seek to renew his contract to remain president of UNM. He would become the director of the Center for Innovation in Health and Education within the Health Sciences Center after his current contract expires May 31.

Larrañaga pointed out that presidents who leave often retain a position working at the university, referencing David Schmidly’s former role as a biology professor and Louis Caldera as a professor at the law school.

The university will launch a presidential search to find a successor. In the past, the university has hired head-hunting firms to lead a national search for a replacement.

Board of Regents President Rob Doughty has said the search should start no later than spring 2017 and that an interim would be named if needed at the conclusion of Frank’s contract in June.

Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle said the university community could be proud of the university’s gains under Frank, such as increased graduation rates, many new hires and successful ties to Albuquerque’s economic development.

“We have to see this as an opportunity to go forward with a leader who will share President Frank’s positive vision for UNM and bring it farther down the road,” Pyle said in a statement. “The Faculty stand ready to help with the process of continuing to provide quality programs and realize creative visions, and also to help pick a leader who will build on our successes while encouraging new growth.”

Money woes

The president’s departure comes at a time when the university may be facing a $22.5 million budget cut and is in the middle of a staff hiring freeze.

Doughty indicated an evaluation by the regents was ongoing when Frank made his announcement. He said he couldn’t say whether the board would have renewed Frank’s contract had the president wanted to remain in his current position.

Former regent and state lawmaker Mel Eaves echoed concerns of continuity.

“We just haven’t had anyone who was able to bring all parts of the university together and achieve a relationship that made everyone want the president to continue,” he said. “I think that’s really unfortunate.”

Since Richard Peck’s presidency concluded in 1998, UNM presidents have had short, and sometimes tumultuous, tenures.

Faculty revolted against President David Schmidly, who served from 2007 to 2012, by voting no confidence in his presidency in 2009. President Louis Caldera, who served from 2003 to 2006, stepped down after he and the regents agreed it was time to leave his post before the conclusion of his contract.

And Presidents David Harris, 2006-07, and F. Chris Garcia, 2002-03, were appointed as interims. President William Gordon, 1998-2002, took a position with another university following the completion of his contract.

Eaves, who was appointed during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration in 2003 and served until 2008, was part of the board that hired Caldera and Schmidly. He believes the current model of recruiting presidents has done a good job of producing great presidents.

But Eaves fears Frank is not qualified to hold a position at the Health Sciences Center.

“That’s not his area of expertise,” he said. “He is under the complete control of the governor and her regent appointees. I fear that his appointment into that position is an effort to undermine the leadership at the HSC. I hope I am wrong.”

Frank has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from UNM. He served as the dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida and as the interim dean of the College of Public Health at Kent State University.

Bad timing

Ortiz y Pino challenged the timing of the announcement, given the state’s current budget woes. He also suggested the governor might be involved in Frank’s decision.

“He’s not an old man. There’s no reason for him to step aside,” Ortiz y Pino said.

Michael Lonergan, a spokesman with the Governor’s Office, said Eaves is upset he wasn’t reappointed as a regent and has “zero credibility.”

“The fact is, the governor and Dr. Frank worked well together on higher education reforms, including increasing graduation rates, establishing meta majors, and Innovate ABQ,” he wrote in an email to the Journal. “The governor appreciates Dr. Frank’s service, and she wishes him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Doughty said the governor or members of her staff did not contact him in connection with Frank’s future at UNM and said Frank’s position as a faculty member is guaranteed through the presidential contract, so it doesn’t represent a new hire.

Regent Jack Fortner, who is currently the longest-sitting regent, said guaranteeing tenure is a perk of the president’s job.

And Fortner said that, while people were surprised at the announcement, “no one has called me saying ‘hurray’ and no one has called me crying.”

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said it’s unusual to create a brand new position, pay an employee hundreds of thousands of dollars and provide him with six months of paid leave before he goes to work in the new job.

“It doesn’t seem like they’re being very wise with the deficit,” said Stewart, a retired educator.

Frank declined to answer questions from the Journal, such as whether the decision to work at the Health Sciences Center, per an agreement with the regents, runs contrary to a recently announced hiring freeze for all staff positions.

Dianne Anderson, a spokeswoman for the university, said Frank already has spent a lot of thought on the comments he made to the campus Friday and that he won’t comment further.

Frank previously said he chose to leave the presidency with mixed emotions and that he was proud of what had been accomplished since he started in 2012.

“He is returning his focus to what he plans to accomplish in the remaining eight months of his presidency and doesn’t plan to discuss his decision not to seek a second term any further,” Anderson said Tuesday.

As part of his exit agreement, Frank and the regents agreed to refrain from disparaging one another.

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