Despite an internal fiasco last month, the new director of UNM’s El Centro de la Raza is revving up for the spring semester.
Rosa Isela Cervantes, who had her first day in office Jan. 6, said that despite complaints against her appointment from some members of the El Centro community late last year, she is still excited for the semester to begin.

“I would have been surprised if there hadn’t been complaints because this place means a lot to different people,” she said. “What I can tell you is that I went into the interview process nervous and excited about it. I gave it my very best, so I hope that those who aren’t happy with my appointment will at least give me a chance.”

On Dec. 4, El Centro members emailed an anonymous letter to UNM’s human resources department that expressed discontent with the director search process. The letter stated that through community forums prior to Cervantes’ appointment, El Centro members expressed the most support to Senior Program Manager Jorge Garcia.

“It seems to us that they were not asked for a recommendation because, at the end of the day, all of this was a public performance at the expense of people’s time, resources and energy,” the complaint stated. “We are left wondering if the decision would have been the same if it had been a true open and democratic process.”

But Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, the vice president for student affairs who led the director search process, said all steps of the process went as planned.

Torres said a search committee was formed as early as April last year. He said the search process followed guidelines in the UNM Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual.

“The search committee interviewed five applicants and three were chosen for final interviews on campus with administrators, departments and the public,” he said. “All candidates had the same agenda for their interview process. Evaluations were distributed, collected, and all were reviewed. I reviewed the evaluations … and determined that Rosa was the best person for the position.”

To address the complaint, he immediately discussed it with human resources, which determined that the process followed the appropriate steps, Torres said.

Torres said he is optimistic that Cervantes will lead El Centro efficiently.

“I know that Rosa will give back and make a difference to current and future students,” he said. “She would like to ensure that Latinos have access and support in reaching their highest potential. She is a very hands-on person who interacts well with students and her staff. Rosa has the passion, diligence, dedication and knowledge to be a leader in these efforts.”

Originally from Las Vegas, N.M., Cervantes had served for more than five years as program operations director for UNM’s College Enrichment and Outreach Programs before snagging El Centro’s directorship.

Cervantes, 39, obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish and her master’s degree in family studies at UNM. She said she had her first encounter with El Centro as early as her junior year in high school.

“That day … I met (previous El Centro Director) Veronica (Mendez-Cruz). At the time, she was doing counseling,” she said. “While my dad and the director were catching up, I chatted with Veronica. She asked me, ‘Oh, what do you want to do?’ That’s my first real interaction with El Centro.”

Cervantes said she would focus on managing El Centro’s finances efficiently and on getting more grant funding during her directorship. She said she also aims to develop internship and fellowship resources for student members of El Centro.

But at the moment she is conducting a listening campaign among the El Centro community, she said.

“I want to find out want El Centro means to them, what it should and shouldn’t do, what it has and hasn’t done,” she said. “I think one of the things that I wouldn’t want to do is to assume what El Centro is just because I grew up here.”

Cervantes said she hopes to keep last year’s complaint in the past, but urges the anonymous complaint filers to speak to her about their concerns.

“My door is always open; I’d love to talk to folks to find out what their complaints are and how we move past that,” she said. “I’m here to serve students. That’s all I can do.”