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Editorial: UNM regents’ expensive cloak-and-dagger drama

In 2013, University of New Mexico President Bob Frank was doing such a good job increasing student retention rates in his first year running UNM that regents paid him a bonus on top of his annual $360K-plus salary.

In September, when Frank announced he would not seek to renew his contract, which ends May 31, regents credited him with increasing graduation rates (a record number of degrees were handed out last year) and successfully linking the university to Albuquerque’s economic development (Innovate ABQ). And rather than sever ties, they offered him the option of taking a $350,000 job in the university’s Health Sciences Center.

That deal, which would create a new position in the wake of a nine-figure state budget crisis, drew outcry from a taxpaying public that has watched UNM repeatedly pay big bucks after contracting a bad case of coach/athletic director/president buyer’s remorse: Mike Locksley $750,000, Louis Caldera $713,000, Rocky Long $677,500, Ritchie McKay $600,000 and Fran Fraschilla $305,300.

And so now, just weeks after that $350,000 promise, not one but two reports casting Frank in a negative light have dominated hours of closed regents’ meetings, with another scheduled Wednesday.

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• There’s the Nov. 11 internal audit that found Frank was over-reimbursed on expenses. Read the fine print and it comes out to roughly $5,500 out of $227,000 – which Frank has since paid back to UNM.

• And there’s the Nov. 29 outside review by attorney Alice Kilborn saying that under Frank there’s evidence of “shades of a hostile working environment.” Read the fine print and find Kilborn talked to just eight of the university’s 1,250 full-time faculty and 3,000-or-so staff members and found Frank can be “impatient, bitingly sarcastic, condescending, and rude to members of his office staff and to other individuals within the university” – and that’s after regents hired him a job coach to try to improve his “communication skills.”

The timing of the reports and the $350K offer is curious, to say the least. Why offer him a plum job, then do your alleged due diligence, if you knew things were bad enough to require a personal manners coach? Unless, of course, you are looking for 350,000 reasons to undo your offer.

Tomorrow regents are scheduled to discuss “limited personnel matters” involving Frank, specifically whether to place him on “administrative leave with pay” pending an internal investigation or provide him with “notice of proposed termination for just cause.”

They sent out notice of the meeting Sunday even though they had yet to give Frank a copy of the 10-page report that paints him as short-tempered and bad-mannered.

And even if more than a whopping eight employees feel that’s the case, being a rude jerk is not grounds for firing – just cause for firing includes “dishonesty, willful misconduct, insubordination,” or “conduct that involves moral turpitude or that would tend to bring public disrespect or contempt or ridicule upon the university” or “deliberate or serious” violation of university policy or law.

The crux of the entire expensive, cloak-and-dagger drama could be that in addition to that unpopular $350K offer to do a job other than be president, Frank also had “perceived unprofessional communication with the Governor (Susana Martinez) and her chief of staff,” according to the report.

It takes four of the seven regents to fire Frank and negate the job offer. Come May, the university is already losing Frank – a president who spent his entire four years in office improving students’ chances of graduating (by streamlining credits needed for degrees, increasing student support services and requiring faculty to be more engaged in the process) and the local economy’s chances of succeeding (via public-private tech transfer and support for entrepreneurship). Both are essential for UNM to become a more competitive university.

It’s up to those regents – who are political appointees of Martinez – to decide if some hurt feelings, even a very important someone’s hurt feelings, are worth losing even more.

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.

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