UNM Regents and Administration are having a difficult time finding $6 million to give UNM staff a 2 percent raise and faculty a 3 percent raise without raising student tuition rates again. According to New Mexico Watchdog, over the past 15 years UNM tuition rates for New Mexico residents have increased by a whopping 170 percent. In order to fund staff raises, the Regents and Administration have proposed targeting employee health benefits by doubling the cost of deductibles and the out-of-pocket maximum. Last week, UNM President Bob Frank stated, “this is the only way we can come up with the funding,” and repeatedly reminded the panel just how lean UNM’s budget is.
UNM seems to be extremely fiscally responsible when it comes to compensating staff and faculty, but fiscally irresponsible when it comes to spending on capital projects. According to the UNM Capital Projects website, iss.unm.edu/ocp/, which has not been updated since Fiscal Year 2010-2011, their annual UNM budget of pending and completed projects was $453,235,084. UNM recently spent over $100 million to build the 206,432 square foot Cancer Treatment and Clinical Research Facility, yet the building remains only half finished, including the 4th floor infusion suite, the 2nd floor clinic space and a café for patients. After spending $100 million, one would think the bathroom doors in a clinic frequented by patients in wheelchairs would be powered for handicapped patients.
Last March the UNM Health Science Center requested and easily received $5 million to complete renovations on what they call the Darth Vader Building on University Boulevard, for a final purchase of $14.5 million. Back in 2008, after the financial collapse of the United States, I asked Ava Lovell, the Executive Officer of Finance and Administration, how UNM could justify spending nearly $70 million to renovate The Pit, but could not afford to give its staff and faculty pay raises. Lovell responded that UNM is basically at the mercy of the State Legislature, which determines how the budget is allocated. I still have a hard time believing that UNM can’t lobby the Legislature much more aggressively for staff compensation.
It is important that a University has first-class buildings, modern facilities and stylish furnishings. But there is nothing more important about retaining a well-trained, competent and contented workforce than adequate employee compensation for cost of living increases and especially performance-based raises when they are warranted. The UNM Regents and Administration need to find a balance between these two things.