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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Office of Equal Opportunity now under UNM law office

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UNM President Robert Frank shifted oversight of the Office of Equal Opportunity from Academic Affairs to University Counsel early last month.

Frank said he decided to move the OEO out of Academic Affairs because Provost Chaouki Abdallah was concerned that the office in its current location does not serve UNM’s north and south campuses.

“The provost approached me and said he thought it should be located out of Academic Affairs because he believed that Academic Affairs served a narrower interest in that the office actually had a broader mandate to serve the entire University,” he said.

The OEO is a UNM resource that aims to promote equal action and treatment for all and create an environment free of discrimination and inequity, according to the OEO website.

Frank said he met with several vice presidents from different offices across campus to determine where the best location for OEO would be. He said he eventually decided on the general counsel.

“At the end of that process, I felt it fit best in the general counsel’s office,” he said.

The Office of University Counsel is the University’s law office, according to the OUC website. The office provides legal advice and services and represents the University in legal matters.

But Virginia Necochea, a graduate student with the New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice, said the opposing duties of OEO and the counsel could result to a conflict of interest in the office. This would make the office less efficient, she said.

“If you think about why the OEO office is created in the first place, it’s for protection of individuals’ rights on campus,” she said. “If that’s the logic behind the creation of this office, then is University Counsel, which is basically the protective arm of the institution, the most appropriate place for that office?”

Necochea said she is disappointed that University administrators did not ask for the community’s opinions on the move before executing it. She said this lack of transparency among administrators has been a trend at UNM this school year.

“It really affects the morale of students and staff and faculty just to be aware of these closed-door decisions that are being made,” she said. “This year has been really hard, starting early on last semester with the whole Bridge Scholarship changes that were made. It happened behind closed doors, and we found out through Facebook, of all things.”

Last semester, UNM posted on its website that it had decided to raise the minimum GPA requirement for fall 2014 for the Bridge Scholarship from 2.5 to 3.0. This accompanies an ACT requirement of 23, which was not changed.

The decision was made by Abdallah and Frank in a closed-door meeting. Abdallah later apologized for UNM’s lack of transparency.

Necochea said to prevent any conflict of interest at OEO, the University should enforce concrete checks and balances regarding the office and to the counsel. She said she demands administrators to explain the move to the University community clearly.

“I don’t understand the process behind how that decision was made,” she said. “It would be good for the entire UNM community to know who ultimately made that decision, why they made that decision and how does that subsequently impact the student population.”

The reach of the OEO will be the only major change for the office, Frank said. He said the office will now be able to deal with issues that come out of other parts of the University, such as the Health Sciences Center.

“We carefully considered it, and I now think it’s located in the right part of our organization and I think it’s in the best interest of all involved,” he said.