UNM acting President Chaouki Abdallah held his first town hall Monday in the SUB, touching on the current University atmosphere and its budget situation.
The event only lasted about a half hour, and though only three questions were asked, Abdallah answered them all thoroughly.
Abdallah outlined three specific goals he has as acting president: focus on student academic success, work to improve the campus climate and the level of trust between students, faculty and administration, and to work with legislators and regents on UNM’s difficult financial situation.
He said the school needs to have united priorities when it comes to finances, and his job is to make legislators understand how much budget cuts to the University will hurt, and to try to minimize those budget cuts.
“Right now we hear anything from ‘cut one percent of higher education,’ to even more than that,” he said.
The first question posed to Abdallah inquired about his plan to improve the dialogue between students, faculty and administration.
Abdallah said many faculty are already engaged in such dialogue. He added that it is not only UNM dealing with a lack of trust within the school, but other universities as well. He also said, as an example, that people are worried about UNM’s undocumented population, and those students have resources in the University.
People also voice concerns about the size of the administration, he said, but University facets like its legal office have more obligations than they did 10 years ago, naturally leading to a bigger administration.
Abdallah said town halls are one way the administration is trying to repair trust between students, faculty and administration.
“The one thing I keep asking everybody is listen to the other side. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of the budget thing, that’s why I’ve asked faculty to think about re-engineering things,” he said.
Abdallah said discussions around budget cuts will take place for about the next year and a half, until they are able to create a plan for handling a tight budget moving forward.
The second question was from a student, who asked if the president has evaluated the impact of budget cuts to students.
Abdallah said they have not evaluated specifically what would be cut, and explained that the core budget for the University stands at about $330 million with $200 million coming from the state.
This means a one percent budget cut — which may sound miniscule at first — translates to about $2 million dollars.
However, Abdallah said the issue is not that the state may cut UNM’s budget, but that the state budget has been slashed repeatedly to the point that UNM might have to start putting programs on the chopping block.
That, combined with the current hiring freeze at UNM, is starting to hurt the University, he said. To compensate, administrators are looking for other streams of revenue.
The third question was if there will be another town hall. The man asking the question expressed appreciation for Abdallah’s “calming influence” around opposing viewpoints. The next town hall is currently scheduled to be held next week at the Health Sciences Center eon North Campus.
Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.