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UNM Survey Uncovers Discord

By John Fleck
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          The University of New Mexico's faculty and staff don't trust the administration and feel excluded from budget decisions, according to a broad survey released Wednesday.
        The survey, done by an independent firm, found that 85 percent of the faculty believe that trust between faculty and administration has broken down, and 80 percent say collaborative decision-making does not exist at the state's flagship university.
        Just 7 percent of the faculty believe the university's budget decisions are being guided by its academic interests.
        The report documents widespread discontent with how the university writes its $482 million budget, with faculty complaining about emphasis on rising athletics and administrative costs over the past decade at the expense of funding for academics.
        "The administration is top-heavy, while faculty salaries have not kept up with our peer institutions," one unnamed faculty member said, according to the survey.
        "The report contains some very sobering results," said UNM Provost Suzanne Ortega, the university administration's top academic officer.
        But both administrators and faculty leadership said they see signs for optimism as steps are being taken try to fix the problems.
        "Some important changes are under way," said Faculty Senate President Richard Wood.
        The survey, which included more than 2,300 faculty members and staff, was launched last year after an outside review panel concluded that the relationship between the administration and staff was troubled.
        That review, by the Higher Learning Commission, found that "the institution is in the midst of a near complete breakdown in trust between the faculty and staff and the President."
        The commission's finding came months after an overwhelming and unprecedented faculty vote of "no confidence" in the administration.
        The commission is responsible for the university's formal accreditation every 10 years. It granted accreditation in 2009 but asked UNM to provide a follow-up report next year on dealing with the conflict between the administration and faculty and staff.
        The new report, by the local survey firm Research & Polling Inc., got high marks from faculty and administrators in interviews for the rigor with which it analyzed faculty and staff views.
        In addition to a scientific sampling of the university's workers, the company did follow-up work with focus groups to expand on the faculty and staff concerns about the university's management.
        The report focuses on what in the university world is called "shared governance" — the shared responsibility between the university and the faculty and staff for the institution's management.
        The report's findings highlight rifts in various parties' understanding of what shared governance means in practice at UNM.
        In areas where university policy explicitly gives the faculty a formal decision-making role — such as designing student curriculum and making tenure decisions for fellow faculty members — a majority of the faculty said it was satisfied.
        The dissatisfaction emerged in areas where the role of faculty is less clearly defined, especially in budgeting.
        The fact that UMN's policies do not make clear the role of "shared governance" in those areas is a problem, Ortega said.
        But on budgetary matters, the president and regents are in charge, Ortega said.
        Wood acknowledged that budget decisions are ultimately the prerogative of the president and regents but said the faculty should be given a meaningful role in the process.
        The survey reflected unhappiness with a lack of say in budget decisions, but Wood said steps are being taken this year to try to provide opportunities for more meaningful input as next year's UNM budget is developed.
        The survey results are posted on UNM's website: www.unm.edu/president/communication-survey/

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