UNM President Robert Frank has taken away the Student Fee Review Board’s ability to make student fee recommendations for the Athletics Department and University Libraries.
Frank made the decision to rewrite the SFRB policy in late March to take Athletics and Libraries outside of the jurisdiction of the SFRB. He recently rewrote Policy 1310, the policy that addresses SFRB procedure, to ensure the changes were made.
Frank said he made the changes because the current student fee allocation process was occasionally confusing and unproductive.
“It’s been a contentious process at times, and not terribly productive, from what I’ve seen in the past,” he said. “We think there’d be other ways to do it where we can have just as much transparency and just as much engagement from key stakeholders.”
Associated Students of the University of New Mexico President Isaac Romero said he believed the process was healthy. He said the SFRB was able to meet with all the different entities on campus and learn about what they contribute to the University.
“We believed that we were asking questions and being as deliberate with the entire committee and board, when going through not only Athletics and Libraries, but all of the organizations,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we were thorough and making sure that we had justification for our students.”
Last academic year, the SFRB recommended a per-student fee of $131.75 for Athletics in FY14. The regents increased the student fees to $165.20.
During their session this year, the SFRB decided to fund Athletics at $4 million, which amounted to about $169 per student, according to the Daily Lobo. Some members of the board were reluctant to fund Athletics that amount, but were willing to recommend the amount because they knew the Board of Regents would approve it, according to the article.
Romero said he and Graduate and Professional Student Association President Priscila Poliana were called in for a meeting with Frank on Thursday. He said neither he nor Poliana knew what the meeting was about.
“President Frank kind of started off the conversation, and then he handed us these documents, which pretty much said that he decided to follow through with removing Libraries and Athletics from the SFRB’s purview,” he said.
This year, Athletics requested $4 million and Libraries requested about $1.33 million, according to a document of the SFRB requests and recommendations.
Kevin Stevenson, director of strategic projects for the president, said Frank had meetings scheduled with Poliana and Romero to discuss the changes earlier in March, but extra regents meetings that came out of the budget cycle had forced the administration to postpone the meetings with student leadership.
Poliana said the changes came as a surprise because she thought her and Romero had agreed with Frank not to make changes to the policy yet. She said they had agreed to create a collaborative working group that would work on these changes through the summer and fall.
“We talked to President Frank about our suggestions and recommendations, and what we agreed upon was that more involvement and more time was necessary in order to come up with recommendations that were more rounded,” she said.
Poliana said she and Romero had met with Frank to discuss concerns that the process had grown too antagonistic. She said that during the Finance and Facilities meeting in November, Regent James Koch and Regent Gene Gallegos expressed similar concerns.
Poliana said administrators decided to call a special meeting with students to try to come up with changes to policy that could address the president’s and the regents’ concerns.
Poliana said after the meeting Romero and she submitted recommendations to SFRB policy. She said they spoke with Frank and agreed a collaborative working group should be made to try to work on the policy through the summer and fall.
Romero and Poliana had drafted a joint statement to be presented to the UNM Board of Regents on behalf of themselves and Frank, Stevenson said.
“As to the timeframe, we concluded that changes during summer and early fall would not allow enough time for meaningful input,” according to the statement. “Consequently, both parties are confident that the collaborative working group can present a thoughtful recommendation to the Board of Regents by November 2014.”
Stevenson said he and Frank had looked over the draft and thought it looked good, but it was never presented to the regents. He said he doesn’t know why the draft was not finalized.
But Frank said he had not agreed to make changes during the summer.
“I had asked them for their recommendations earlier in the year, and we agreed that I wouldn’t make a change during the summer,” he said. “That’s why I met with them at this point and said I was making this recommendation now, which is not the summer. I’m not sure they had quite the same take on our earlier conversation that I had.”
Romero said he and Poliana were under the impression that the process would continue until fall.
“Priscila and my understanding was that we were going to work on this through the end of the semester, through the summer until sometime in the fall,” he said.
Poliana said regardless of the subject, she thinks there should be open and inclusive dialogue at the University.
“We wish we were involved in this dialogue, and we understood that he was ready to make the decisions now because, once again, we were quite surprised at his decision,” she said.
ASUNM President-elect Rachel Williams said she was not involved in the dialogue or decision-making, and she doesn’t yet know how Frank’s decision will affect her term.
“The question right now is maybe some miscommunication and some confusion and the way that this has been handled,” she said. “I think if anything, how it would affect the way my term or (GPSA President-elect) Texanna (Martin)’s term goes, I think it’s just a matter of how important communication is.”
In an email statement to the Lobo, Martin said she was also uninvolved with the process and does not now have a stance on the changing policy. She said she did have an understanding that student leaders had an agreement to keep the policy as it was for the time being.
“Of greatest concern at this time is the perceived lack of transparency and implementation of policy before sitting down with the student leaders to discuss possible alternatives,” she said.
During her campaign, one of Martin’s platforms was increasing transparency.
Williams and Martin said they plan to communicate with Frank about the SFRB during their terms.
Frank said that if he had waited until the beginning of next academic year to make the changes, it would have caused confusion during the process.
“As we go into the next cycle, it will be crystal clear,” he said. “If I had waited next year and done it at the beginning of year, there would have been a whole bunch of confusion.”
Frank said the change in SFRB is part of a plan to start the budget process earlier in the year. He said according to the new policy, the administration will meet with student leadership next school year before November to talk about Athletics and Library budgeting.
“What we’re proposing to do is meet students earlier in the semester, have conversations with them about these two areas, libraries and athletics and seek their input,” he said. “And then we’ll make recommendations according to those conversations.”
Frank said it was possible that he might change his mind. But he said student leadership has so far not presented a more sustainable solution.
“I wouldn’t say the door is locked and bolted and chained,” he said. “I’m just saying I made a decision, but I’m not going to say I would never reconsider it. But I waited a long time for them to give me a proposal that I thought would address these needs, and they gave me some proposals that I thought were not substantive.”
Poliana said it is important that the University remain transparent and inclusive in dialogue that involves any matter on campus.
“Regardless of this being the SFRB process or any other process on campus, what is important for us is to make sure all this dialogue is inclusive and stakeholders are made aware and included in this conversation,” she said.