Outgoing UNM president deserved a better fate

Much of the news about the University of New Mexico in recent months is troubling, but most troubling of all is the vilification of a good and honorable man and UNM’s dedicated president, Bob Frank.

In his relatively brief time as head of UNM, Frank tackled some of the university’s most challenging goals, including: integrating the Health Sciences Center’s governance structure into that of the university as a whole (a campus equivalent of world war); reassessing UNM’s central information technologies services operations; resolving the U.S. Dept. of Justice concerns about UNM’s sexual harassment/sexual violence policies and procedures; raising student retention rates; raising the six-year graduation rate of undergraduates; advancing UNM in the face of multi-million-dollar decreases in state budget allocations; increasing UNM’s fundraising effectiveness; and engaging UNM more fully with local, state and national constituencies (as evidenced in the launch of Innovate ABQ).

Frank is the first to acknowledge that all accomplishments in these and other areas are the result of a team effort, but it takes an extraordinary leader in today’s academic environment to effectively harness the energies of hard-working, dedicated, strong-willed university administrators, faculty and staff to achieve major goals and move the institution forward on behalf of students and other stakeholders.

President Frank also would be the first to note that the nimble decision-making needed in today’s university cannot always be accomplished by the collaborative, often painfully slow, process that most university stakeholders, especially faculty, cherish.

So what thanks does Frank receive for his leadership in advancing UNM?

Apparently a Board of Regents turned Star Chamber that – after Frank had publicly announced he would not seek a second term as UNM president – initiates, receives and discusses a personnel evaluation of him in his absence and without having given him a copy of the report!

Human resource professionals, including the report’s author, as well as others who respect fair dealing in the workplace will inevitably cringe at such behavior by the Regents.

Did any adult involved with UNM really think a president could accomplish difficult goals like those mentioned above without leaving even some hard-working, dedicated, strong-willed university constituents disgruntled and unhappy?

Those who hold power or autonomy in any organization – especially the fiercest Lobos and their allies – rarely give it up cheerfully.

As Dr. Frank reportedly said when confronted with negative comments from the secret report, the work in his office was “fast paced, and at times intense and stressful.” How could it be otherwise in the 21st century, given UNM’s purported mission and goals?

The Albuquerque Journal and other respected media also tackle a difficult job when trying to report on academic institutions. Even well-meaning and experienced journalists who regularly cover universities cannot always get answers to the very questions that most fully explain events.

As a result, journalists rarely can assess the motives of anonymous sources and those who leak documents, particularly documents including personnel evaluations.

Among the questions not directly asked or answered by the recent reports in the Journal and elsewhere: Who wanted to smear, singe and take retribution against the record and distinguished reputation of a loyal son of New Mexico and generous, effective president of his alma mater?

UNM has now failed four consecutive times to retain a newly hired university president longer than five years. How do this Board of Regents and other political leaders statewide and on campus expect to attract a visionary, innovative, risk-taking and effective leader like Bob Frank in the future when they treat a leader of his caliber so shabbily?

Terry Hynes, of Sarasota, Fla., also is a dean emerita with the University of Florida and a professor emerita with California State University, Fullerton.

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