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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Students demand involvement

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM graduate student Manuel Lopez marches with at least 100 other UNM students around campus on Monday afternoon while chanting against tuition increases. The march started in front of the UNM Bookstore and continued into Scholes Hall, where protesters handed over a list of demands.

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On Wednesday, UNM students marched into the offices of both the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico and UNM President Robert Frank to demand transparency, accountability and more student involvement.

Manuel Lopez, one of the co-founders of the Our UNM movement, said the movement began a few weeks ago in order to protest recent decisions which have been made both by the University’s administration as well as ASUNM without the input of the student population.

“UNM has been doing a lot of things that we believe are shady and not inclusive of the student population when it comes to making decisions,” Lopez said.“I think this last year was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back because of the different decisions that were made by administration without listening to ASUNM, and then the decisions made by ASUNM without listening to students.”

More than 50 students gathered in front of the UNM Bookstore carrying posters and shouting for reform.

From the bookstore, the group Our UNM marched to the ASUNM office and handed a letter detailing their demands to ASUNM Attorney General Matthew Fleischer, who said that he would make sure it got to ASUNM President Isaac Romero.

Lopez said the three main demands of the movement were communication with students, accountability for past actions and involvement of the student body.

From the Student Union Building, the demonstration continued to Scholes Hall, where the group entered the Office of President Frank and handed over a second copy of the letter to Chief of Staff Amy Wohlert. Wohlert said she would see that the letter reached President Frank, and they would be sure to follow up. All concerns of the University’s student body are heard and taken seriously, Wohlert said.

Priscila Poliana, the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association at the University, said one of these instances of executive decision making occurred recently when President Frank went back on his word that he would not make any changes to the Student Fee Review Board without GPSA and ASUNM input. The SFRB annually evaluates funding requests and recommends how to distribute student fees to the UNM Board of Regents. Poliana said the President agreed with student leaders that changes would not be made for some time.

“I’m here today because President Frank brokered a deal with student leaders, shook hands on it, and he just went back on this deal,” Poliana said. “They have been talking for some time about making changes to the Student Fee Review Board. The deal was that we needed more time to evaluate areas of improvement in order to make any changes and the President had agreed with Isaac and I to create a collaborative working group to analyze these areas of improvement and then only implement changes, if any, by late fall.”

Poliana said this did not happen, and that recently both she and ASUNM President Isaac Romero received information from Frank that he had decided to move forward without collaboration.

“To our surprise, he called us Thursday and let us know that he had just decided to make the changes,” Poliana said. “Isaac and I were led to believe that we were only going to make those changes next semester. Our voices as students have been completely silenced, and that is very concerning.”

Poliana said this lack of transparency and student integration will turn into a huge problem for the University if it is not soon remedied. She said communication between administration, student government and student body is key to a successful institution.

“It is important for a University like UNM to have processes that are inclusive and demonstrate that the true spirit of a Lobo is being effective, being courageous, but also being ethical,” Poliana said. “This is something that students live and we would like to see that more in administration.”