Political rumors cloud the logic behind the UNM Regents’ decision to reintegrate the Health Sciences Center with main campus. To clarify, the vote essentially returned the HSC Governing Board from a semi-autonomous entity back to a sub-committee of the Regents. This adjustment is a state Constitution requisite, and is identical to how HSC was managed for many years prior to a change in 2010. Like every other major enterprise on campus, HSC now has its own specific sub-committee for all of its academic, clinical and financial affairs.
By a majority vote, the Regents unified all of UNM’s operations under a clear hierarchical structure. As an institution, we’re facing difficult financial times. State allocations for higher education institutions were cut by $19.6 million this year. Because of this, UNM had an approximate $8 million shortfall.
Historically, this shortfall would’ve been addressed solely with a tuition increase and a wide-spread reduction in force. A 1 percent increase in tuition equates to approximately a $1 million influx into the school budget. However, rather than solely taxing the students, myself included, we voted down an original 3 percent proposal to a 2.5 percent increase, asking all departments and the administration to make cuts and condense employee positions.
While this tuition increase is a temporary budget cushion, it is not a long-term solution. Cutting academic programs, student resources and employees is never in the best interest of the University. Rather than strictly cutting the budget, we decided to take a multi-prong approach, with an initial step being the reunification of UNM. A unified University allows for common and perhaps duplicated functions to be consolidated, with the ultimate goal being to save fiscally and to minimize the financial stress on students, staff, faculty and programs.
These budget decisions are part of the Regents’ fiduciary responsibility to the University granted by the New Mexico Constitution under Article XII. The Constitution states that the Board of Regents is responsible for the governance of UNM and has the sole fiduciary responsibility for all of the assets and programs of our institution.
It is imperative for all to remember that no other parties at the University have this unique responsibility. The president of the University does not, the chief financial officer does not, nor do any specific departments. The previous HSC Board diluted the Regents' fiduciary responsibility to outside parties. This conflict in constitutional authority was the principal driver behind my decision.
While many are concerned with the speed of this decision, my vote for the restructuring was based on the immediate needs of our state and University. For years, UNM has contemplated the construction of a new hospital to replace the existing 1950s structure. Not only would a new medical facility benefit all of our medical students who are educated at the state’s only academic medical center, but it would also allow UNM to better serve the citizens of our community. This reintegration allows for all of the assets of the University to be leveraged for financing while also considering all existing systemic liabilities. A project with an estimated minimum cost of $600 million requires the entire University to work together with due diligence.
The Regents may now assess the feasibility of this project and its effects on the entire UNM system. In January, the Regents unanimously approved architecture selection for the new hospital. The clinical chairs at HSC will play an active role in the design and programing for the new healthcare facility.
My decision to vote for the restructuring was not driven by political theater, but based on the potential for an improved, efficient budget and the healthcare needs of New Mexico. Together, we are New Mexico’s Flagship University.
Ryan Berryman is the Student Regent on the UNM Board of Regents. He can be reached on Twitter @StudentRegent or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.