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Jamie Koch
09.21.06/email from Jaime Dispenza/Jamie Koch/Jamie Koch President UNM Board of Regents

Veteran regent retires from service to University

After 13 years of service to the University, UNM Regent James Koch announced his retirement from the position earlier this week, effective Dec. 31.

In his letter of resignation to Governor Martinez – who appoints the regents – Koch said he has been honored to serve New Mexicans, and thanked Martinez, and former Governor Bill Richardson, for the trust they showed in appointing him three times.

“I have made many friends. I have shared challenges, victories and setbacks. But, not once did I ever regret servicing the people of this great state,” he states in the letter.

Koch’s retirement is a culmination of sorts to a long career at UNM, one which began when he arrived on a football and wrestling scholarship his sophomore year, according to a UNM press release.

He achieved a degree in arts in education, and went on to serve the state in a variety of facets, including the House of Representatives and in being one of the original authors of the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, according to the release. 

Koch said that he would have liked to vacate the seat at the end of his second term, during which he sat on the finance committee and which ended last fall. 

However, due to two other regents finishing their terms, and a third vacating his position after winning a seat on the state legislature, the entire finance committee was essentially gone after being in place for four years, Koch said. It also represented a majority of the board, which seats seven.

As a result, Martinez asked him to return for another term, in large part because of his experience in finance for the board. But, he said, he always planned to return for just a year – something he kept between his wife and himself.

“If Conrad had not won the election, I would not have been there. I wouldn’t have asked, I wouldn’t have accepted if (Martinez) asked,” he said.

Over the course of that year, Koch educated the new finance committee members – made up of regents Marron Lee, Bob Doughty and Student Regent Ryan Berryman – so that they could carry on after his resignation.

“The three of them understand finances pretty darn well, and that’s what I planned,” Koch said.

Koch said that during his time on the board, he and his fellow regents have approved over $200 million in new buildings on campus.

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Additionally, the board, in collaboration with UNMH, sponsored the beginnings of Project SEARCH at UNM and in the state.

Project SEARCH helps people with mental disabilities get a job through training education. This year the program graduated ten individuals who all got jobs.

“I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” Koch said. “I’m really pleased that we did that.”

Koch also had a hand to play in decreasing the amount it takes for students to earn their degree, championing incentives to finish in four years, according to the UNM release.

Koch said that although he believes he has had a role in most of the changes at UNM over his tenure as a regent, he stressed that it was in conjunction with the other regents he has worked with.

Those same regents, in collaboration with University President Bob Frank, will have to navigate some stormy waters that the University finds itself in, in the form of a drastic drop in enrollment and an ensuing $3.5 million budget deficit.

“For every one percent drop in enrollment, it’s a million dollars (lost),” Koch said. “If we don’t turn that around, it’s going to be even harder (in the future).”

He said that the other board members are up to the task.

“If we do not turn that tide in the drop of enrollment, there are going to have to be very drastic cuts,” he said. “The regents that are there now all understand that, and I think they are all prepared to do what’s right.”

Martinez will nominate a replacement to serve the remainder of Koch’s term, and that individual will be confirmed during the spring legislate session. He said he hopes she chooses someone that would bring greater diversity – something the University prides itself in – to the board.

“I would hope that they appoint a Hispanic. I would hope that they appoint somebody who’s in business. I know a lot of people might not like that, but we have a number of attorneys, and we don’t have a Hispanic on the regents,” he said.

Fellow regent Suzanne Quillen called Koch the unofficial historian of the board, saying that he can recall deliberations and votes from 10 years ago.

“Not much gets by him,” Quillen said. “One has never really been questioned until they have been questioned by Regent Koch.”

Anyone who has attended a Baord of Regents meeting with Koch can attest to that; he takes care to question almost every speaker in order to clarify every necessary detail for the board.

Quillen said that direct approach will be missed, and that his loss will “definitely impact” the board.

“I don’t think I have ever met anyone as committed to excellence at UNM as (Koch), and I hope he will continued to be involved in the University in some capacity,” she said.

David Lynch is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

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