UNM President David Schmidly has spent more time out of office than any other president since at least the 1930s, but University communication, policy making and budget discussions have continued on main campus while Schmidly recuperates.

Acting President Paul Roth said in a Nov. 1 campus-wide e-mail he began a series of luncheons that allow him to meet with students and faculty to discuss University issues.

“I’ve found this to be a fine way to share information and look forward to spending time with a number of you over the coming weeks,” he said.
Schmidly has been on extended medical leave since his Aug. 17 operation on a slow-growing abdominal tumor, and in mid-October, Schmidly appointed Roth, executive vice president of Health Sciences, as acting president until he is cleared to return.

University Spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said communication between Schmidly and Roth has been effective.

“It is really simple and straightforward,” she said. “They are in daily telephone contact.”

At a November Faculty Senate meeting, Senate President Richard Wood voiced support for Roth and the work he has done in Schmidly’s absence.

“He has been meeting with a lot of faculty … and I believe he is really listening,” Wood said. “The discourse of the University has shifted in a very important way. The tone and tenor of the meetings, and the kind of meetings that are happening, have changed in very important ways.”

And communication to students, faculty and staff has continued without a hitch through the Monday Morning Message, which University administrators, including Roth and Schmidly, collaborate on, McKinsey said.

Wood also said he supports Roth’s policies on impending budget cuts, though he was reluctant to compare Roth’s stance with Schmidly’s.

“Acting President Roth has adopted a lot of what I believe to be the right language,” Wood said at the November meeting. “Even in these hard budget times, he has said, ‘There will be no 5 percent, across-the-board cuts to academic departments; we will make better budget decisions.’”

The decision not to make across-the-board budget cuts is something that resonates with everyone on campus, McKinsey said, and she stressed that all decisions have been made jointly by Roth and Schmidly.

“Roth is not going to make any great big announcements without the president’s knowledge.” she said.

Schmidly’s recovery, however, is taking longer than expected.
A Nov. 12 Albuquerque Journal article reported that Schmidly is continuing to get full benefits despite his extended medical absence.

Schmidly was eligible for a maximum of three months sick leave, the Journal reported, but the three-month mark passed more than a week ago.

In a Nov. 22, University-wide e-mail, Roth contested “rumors” that Schmidly’s sick leave was coming to an end.

“Let me say that following: (After) his surgery in August, he suffered a very stormy and difficult post-operative course, resulting in a longer than expected convalescence,” Roth said in the e-mail “He is, however, continuing to make a strong recovery, and we fully expect his return to duty well before his maximum extended sick leave benefits expire in February 2011.”

Roth also said that Schmidly’s benefits and sick-leave allowances are governed by University policies. In addition to extended leave, Schmidly is allowed almost six weeks of annual leave, which could only extend his absence with benefits through the end of December, if he hasn’t already taken any personal leave.

University officials declined to release the amount of personal time Schmidly has used.

According to University policy, an employee returning to work after an extended medical leave must submit a physician’s statement certifying that the employee can safely return to work, something Schmidly is not yet able to do.

Phillip Gonzales, senior associate dean, said an employee’s medical leave can be renewed, but decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. He said he could not speak to Schmidly’s case.

“I can’t speak to any particular case, just general policy,” Gonzales said. “These are very personal matters.”

It has been almost 70 years since University officials have had to deal with such personal matters.

University archivist Terry Gugliotta said the only previous medical absence of a president she can recall was that of President Zimmerman who suffered a heart attack in 1939. Gugliotta said Zimmerman spent several weeks in the hospital and in recovery

during which his executive assistant, Tom Popejoy, took over. Zimmerman returned to his position, but died in office four years later.