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Faculty, administration at war over University of New Mexico's future

By Martin Salazar
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Two students stood before university leaders urging mutual respect and asking everyone to put differences aside for the good of the school.
        The large glass windows facing the students provided a view of the nasty winter storm raging outside on Feb. 10, as regents and other university officials were gathered in a Student Union ballroom.
        Inside, another kind of storm brewed, one set off by an unprecedented no-confidence vote faculty leaders had authorized against the University of New Mexico's top leaders.
        The plea for a truce came from Ashley Fate, president of the undergraduate student government, and Christopher Ramirez, president of the graduate students.
        Moments earlier, Staff Council President Loyola Chastain and President David Schmidly had been trading verbal jabs, she calling him an autocratic leader who says one thing and does another, and he saying it would take him the rest of the day to correct her misstatements.
        Such is the state of affairs at UNM, where staff, regents and students are picking sides as faculty prepare to take their no-confidence vote at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Popejoy Hall.
        University archivist Terry Gugliotta said that, to her knowledge, it would be the first such vote against a UNM president in the school's nearly 120-year history.
        Roughly 1,800 faculty are eligible to cast ballots, but the outcome would largely be a symbolic gesture, having no legal impact on whether Schmidly, Executive Vice President David Harris and regent President Jamie Koch remain at UNM.
        Money plays a key role in the turmoil.
        While Health Sciences, or north campus, has lined up in support of Schmidly, Koch and Harris, a number of respected faculty on the main campus say the current administration has shortchanged the core academic mission of UNM while spending big dollars on a bigger and well-paid bureaucracy.
        Chaouki Abdallah, a professor and chairman of UNM's Electrical & Computer Engineering Department, contends that financial decisions are being made without regard for how budget cuts will hurt academic units. He said several departments, including math and chemistry, "are (cut) to the bone" and are no longer able to function at the appropriate level for a flagship university.
        "It doesn't do me any good if I have a very strong department but math, chemistry, physics are weak, because those are the departments that teach my freshmen students," said Abdallah, who has taught at UNM for 20 years. "If they don't have the resources to do a good job, then what do I do?"
        In addition to pushing a no confidence vote in Schmidly, the dissident faculty is fighting Koch's reappointment to the board of regents.
        While Schmidly has, at times, added fuel to the fire by losing his temper in public, he has also tried to quell the uprising, appealing to the university community to show unity while the Legislature is in session.
        "In the midst of a deep recession ... this is no time for the UNM community to be a house divided against itself," he wrote in an open letter after a faculty petition was submitted expressing a "crisis of confidence" in Schmidly, Koch and Harris.
        "Instead, we should be pulling together as one to remind the Legislature of UNM's importance and to urge Congress to move forward with aid to higher education as part of the fiscal stimulus."
        Koch, whom Gov. Bill Richardson has reappointed to a second term on the UNM board, is awaiting Senate confirmation. A number of faculty are opposing his appointment and taking their fight to the Senate.
        A UNM study last year found that the university had spent $4.1 million more on executive salaries than it did in 2002, a 71 percent increase. The increase brings to $9.8 million the amount UNM is spending on salaries for its president, two executive vice presidents, nine vice presidents, 13 associate vice presidents, 44 directors of major divisions and others with similar titles.
        The study didn't include salaries for the Health Sciences Center, Athletics or the UNM Foundation, nor did it reflect deferred compensation and other perks for UNM executives.
        Schmidly has recently taken steps to address some of the concerns.
        After admitting that he didn't realize that his entire salary came out of the school's instruction and general budget, he promised that only $150,000 of his and Harris' salaries will come from that fund in future years. Schmidly's base salary is about $387,000, and Harris' is $293,500.
        Schmidly has also pledged to reduce nonacademic administrative spending on the main campus by 15 percent over the next three years, and promised to add at least 10 full-time, tenure-track faculty positions during that same period. He also announced a voluntary furlough program to save money and volunteered to take 15 days of unpaid leave himself.
        So far, Schmidly's attempts to quiet the unrest have been unsuccessful.
        Faculty concerns go beyond the number of vice presidents and their compensation.
        Sam Loker, chairman of the Biology Department, said he, too, is concerned about the integrity of the chemistry and math departments, which have lost a number of tenured or tenure-track faculty.
        "I'm a little uncomfortable pointing fingers at people. That's not my style," he said. "But where I feel that I do need to be an advocate is for the main campus academic and research mission."
        Donald Burge, a 27-year employee who works at Zimmerman Library's Center for Southwest Research, said that his biggest concern is that UNM is decreasing the faculty's role in university governance, which leads to decisions that hurt students.
        Those decisions, he said, include reducing the number of full-time faculty and increasing the number of adjunct faculty.
        "This time, there are noted conservatives, noted liberals, a huge section of noted middle-of-the-road-type faculty who are expressing concerns over the current administration and the way they've operated," he said.
        Koch initially fired back at faculty critics, pointing to a Princeton Review report that ranked UNM No. 1 for two years for inaccessible professors.
        A longtime Richardson supporter and former Democratic Party chairman, Koch expects to continue on the board. He said UNM has made much progress since he became a regent, including becoming much more open and transparent.
        Picking sides
        Supporting the administration
        • UNM regents approved resolutions supporting President David Schmidly, Regent President Jamie Koch and Executive Vice President David Harris.
        • The UNM Health Sciences Center's top official said that faculty and staff there don't perceive any crisis of confidence.
        Supporting the faculty
        • The Staff Council has been expressing the same concerns as faculty for some time.
        • The graduate student government is considering a resolution expressing support for UNM faculty.
        • The undergraduate Student Senate had planned to take a vote of confidence in Schmidly, but the resolution was tabled after an outcry from students, according to the Daily Lobo, UNM's student paper.

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