Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
University of New Mexico President Bob Frank is seeking an independent investigation into what his lawyers call the “unlawful disclosure” of confidential and “defamatory” records relating to his employment, and demanding that UNM provide him reports of all investigations regarding him that were initiated by the regents.
Frank’s attorney filed the tort claims notice Tuesday, the day before the UNM Board of Regents is scheduled to discuss the possibility of suspending or firing Frank.
Last week, several documents critical of Frank were obtained by media outlets, including the Journal.
“The disclosure and publication of these defamatory reports was intended to harm Dr. Frank’s reputation, and in direct violation of UNM policy and New Mexico law,” according to the tort claim notice served to the regents.
Attorney Travis Jackson of the Foster, Reider and Jackson firm wrote in the notice that one or more regents initiated multiple investigations into “Dr. Frank’s conduct to create a pretext for the termination of his employee contract.”
The president is seeking an independent investigation to find the source of the document leaks to the media, while calling on the school to preserve documentation, such as emails or recordings, from the regents or any UNM employees regarding the documents.
In the claim sent out Tuesday, Frank again asked the board for a copy of attorney Alice Kilborn’s report, which was critical of Frank’s managerial style.
Last week, the Journal obtained a copy of Kilborn’s report, which was ordered by the regents. In it, some employees interviewed said Frank was condescending and rude, while others described him as generally affable and pleasant in most interactions.
Kilborn also said in her report she did not see Frank’s behavior rising to the level of a hostile work environment as defined under law, but she did see evidence of “shades of a hostile working environment.”
Meanwhile, local community leaders contacted by the Journal said their interactions with Frank have been positive.
Mayor Richard Berry said he and Frank were both “passionate” about UNM, Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico, and that they “worked well together” and “improved educational and economic opportunities for the people we serve.”
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is not privy to internal matters at UNM, but she said Frank “had a good relationship with the business community. He has worked hard to bring synergy between higher education, technology and business.”
Frank played a key role in the Innovate ABQ project, the high-tech research and development hub the university is building at Central and Broadway with the city, the county and private partners.
Pamela Pyle, the UNM Faculty Senate president, said on Tuesday she did not have enough information to comment at this time. Chris Sanchez, a spokesman with the Governor’s Office, did not respond to the Journal’s attempt to reach him Tuesday.
The Kilborn report mentioned Frank in connection to “perceived unprofessional communication with the Governor (Susana Martinez) and her chief of staff.” The regents are political appointees of Martinez.
Term ends in May
Frank, whose salary is $362,136, announced in September that he would not seek to renew his contract, which ends May 31. As part of his resignation agreement, regents promised him a tenured faculty position at the school’s Health Sciences Center with a $350,000 salary.
Last Thursday, the regents held a closed-door meeting to discuss the Kilborn report. The day prior, the Journal received the report and parts of an audit of Frank’s expenses. The audit said Frank reimbursed himself an extra $5,500 out of a total of more than $200,000 in expenses, and that he repaid it.
On Sunday, the regents issued a notice that they would meet today to discuss the termination or suspension of Frank.
According to Frank’s contract, he loses his faculty appointment if his contract is terminated with just cause.
If termination is pursued, Frank would receive a statement explaining the grounds for his termination and be given a chance to respond in writing to the notice within 30 days, according to his contract. Following his response or failure to do so, the board would vote.
Grounds for a just-cause firing include “dishonesty, willful misconduct, insubordination” and “conduct that involves moral turpitude or that would tend to bring public disrespect or contempt or ridicule upon the university.”