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UNM regents meet to discuss report critical of Frank

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents has scheduled a closed-door meeting today to discuss a report critical of President Bob Frank’s interactions with staff.

In the report, ordered by the regents, an outside investigator said she did not see Frank’s behavior rising to the level of hostile work environment as defined under law, but she did see evidence of “shades of a hostile working environment.”

The report says, “Frank’s treatment of faculty and staff is not appropriate and may rise to the level of bullying.”

Some staff members said Frank had a temper, would yell at people and would be condescending, but some also said he cared about his staff, was “generally affable” and the bulk of their interactions “are pleasant.”

UNM President Bob Frank is the subject of an outside report that looked into his interactions with staff. The regents will discuss the report today. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

UNM President Bob Frank is the subject of an outside report that looked into his interactions with staff. The regents will discuss the report today. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Frank said in a statement late Wednesday that he had not seen the report and couldn’t comment on specifics within it.

“In fact, I did not know until this evening that a report had been issued. My first notice of the issuance of the report was from the Journal,” Frank said. “While the work in the president’s office is fast paced, and at times intense and stressful, it would be inaccurate to describe it as a hostile work environment.”

The Journal obtained two reports Wednesday – the outside review and an internal UNM audit into Frank’s spending.

That audit, dated Nov. 11, found Frank was over-reimbursed for roughly $5,500 out of $227,000 covered by the audit. Frank has since paid that money back to UNM, according to his attorney and the documents.

Frank, whose salary is $362,136, announced in September that he would not seek to renew his contract as the university’s president. His contract ends May 31.

At the time, Frank did not give a reason and the regents signed an exit agreement that gives him the option of taking a position in the Health Sciences Center with a salary of $350,000.

At the time, the regents said they were “grateful to President Frank for the work he has done to move the university forward over the past four years.”

And Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle said UNM 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. In 2013, Frank earned a bonus for increasing student retention rates.

Regents President Rob Doughty said Wednesday that the report is not related to an annual performance review and that he couldn’t discuss the specifics because it’s a personnel matter.

“Some personnel-related concerns that came to light during an audit initiated by a whistleblower complaint prompted the regents to appoint an independent, outside investigator to explore the matter,” Doughty said in a statement to the Journal.

The cover page of the report by attorney Alice Kilborn says it was initiated Nov. 3 to review the conduct of Frank.

UNM employs about 1,250 full-time faculty and about 3,000 staff members, serving about 27,000 students on its main campus.

‘Bitingly sarcastic’

Kilborn interviewed eight people and Frank between Nov. 3 and 21. The report is dated Nov. 29.

Seven had concerns about Frank’s management or communication style.

Some “were hesitant to bring issues to him because they were fearful that he would become angry with them,” Kilborn wrote. “The most common descriptions of his leadership communication style are that he is impatient, bitingly sarcastic, condescending, and rude to members of his office staff and to other individuals within the university.”

In one case, after asking for coffee twice and never getting it, Frank placed his coffee cup on the floor of the doorway and said, “See if you can get it from here.”

That manner of interaction, according to those interviewed, also extended to those outside of the university, including “perceived unprofessional communication with the Governor (Susana Martinez) and her chief of staff.” The regents are political appointees of Martinez.

The report also said the regents hired a job coach two years after Frank became president to try to improve his “communication skills.”

Frank told Kilborn he felt he benefited from the coach. Some of those interviewed said he did, but others said they saw no change in his behavior.

In his interview with the investigator, Frank praised his staff and said he believes he works well with people.

He said previous reports of staff being unhappy were tied to a former chief of staff who “struggled to get along with the staff and was not a good fit for the position.”

Audit

According to the internal audit, Frank was over-reimbursed for a combined total of roughly $5,500 between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, from the university and the University Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that raises money for UNM.

The auditor’s office wrote that “nothing came to the Internal Audit Department’s attention to indicate that funds disbursed from discretionary funds of the Foundation did not meet donor designation to support core priorities of the University.”

It did say Frank’s use of a personal account to make purchases and then request reimbursements created an “undocumented process.” He would then instruct his staff to handle the reimbursements.

Kilborn’s report said it was not appropriate for the president’s staff to handle his private accounts and suggested it no longer do so.

Per a regent policy, the president’s travel and entertainment expenses are regularly audited.

But the audit also said UNM had received an anonymous complaint from someone who said they overheard someone claim Frank had made purchases that “may not be allowable.”

Out of the more than $227,000 audited, Frank was asked to reimburse the $5,500 and his office was told it should establish procedures to track his purchases.

Frank’s attorney, Jaymeson Pegue, said he paid back the money and is following the auditor’s recommendation on the handling of personal accounts.

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