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Possible change in governance has UNM Faculty Senate upset

From March 13

In a move that surprised members of the UNM Faculty Senate and Health Sciences Center, the Board of Regents announced on Friday a proposal to absorb the HSC Board of Directors, a decision that will be discussed at Monday’s Regents meeting.

In addition to relegating the HSC Board of Directors to a committee under the Regents, the proposed change in policy would also demote HSC Chancellor Paul Roth to an executive vice president position that reports to University President Bob Frank.

The HSC Board of Directors – of which the chair and vice-chair are current Regents Robert Doughty and Marron Lee, respectively – governs the Health Sciences Center and UNM Health System, including research and educational operations, according to its website.

It is not to be confused with the HSC Council, the largest of several councils that make up the Faculty Senate, which assists in an advisory role on behalf of HSC faculty.

The HSC Board of Directors is a fairly new organization, having only been around since 2010, HSC Council Chair and UNM Medicine Professor Lee Brown said. It was born out of a need to de-burden the Board of Regents with an entity focused singularly on HSC matters.

“Health care these days is a very fast-changing, fast-moving business and you have to be able to react quickly to changes that are being made on the federal, state and local levels. You can’t wait for main campus bureaucrats to ratify your decisions,” Brown said. “Particularly when they’re not particularly well informed about health care issues and health care education, because that’s not where they come from.”

Since the Boards creation, various heath care clinics in the area as well as Sandoval Regional Medical Center have been created.

Brown also said that other major institutions such as Vanderbilt and Penn State have gone on to emulate the HSC’s governance model.

What bothers Brown, as well as Faculty Senate President Stefan Posse, is the Regents’ decision to exclude HSC faculty in the discussion, a move that Posse said is not congruent with how the Board of Regents has conducted business before.

“This is something that is very unusual, and on such short notice to bear upon this fairly drastic change in the governance structure of the HSC,” Posse said.

Brown said that while there is no evidence of the factors that led to the proposal, or the sense of urgency of the, he said there is speculation that the move may be due to ongoing budget constraints as well as administrative power.

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One of the results of creating an HSC Committee under the Board of Regents, Brown said, would be to allow Frank the capability to access certain funds from HSC accounts, which could total in the millions.

“(By) harvesting all of those accounts, I imagine, the projected budget deficit would be made better,” Brown said.

Doughty – who, along with Lee, will introduce the proposal on Monday – said the sense of urgency is due to the deadline for preparing for the new fiscal year set to begin in July as well as long-term plans of the University.

“The timing is very appropriate,” Doughty said. “What we are suggesting offers revisions to current policy that will create more efficiencies and better streamline University operations.”

Doughty said that, despite the fact that having separate HSC governance expedites certain decisions, it prevents “enterprise level decisions” from being made.

Going back to the previous way of doing things would make it easier for all University facets, including non-clinical areas, he said.

Additionally, the proposal seeks to “clarify leadership and reporting structure” and “remove any conflict of interest in the management of the University as a whole,” according to the document.

Posse said “bits and pieces” of the proposal in its early stages had made its way to the Senate beforehand, but it was not aware of the broad spectrum of Regents’ policies that may be revised until Friday morning’s official announcement on the Regents’ website.

That announcement was made available at essentially the latest possible time – 72 hours – before Monday’s meeting, in accordance with Regents policy.

Following the announcement, Posse, Brown and the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Governance came together to draft a joint statement outlining concerns about the proposal and its timing, which has since been sent to the Regents as well as Frank.

“We expressed concerns regarding our role as faculty governance leaders to be involved in processes of this magnitude,” he said. “I’m very proud of all faculty governance leadership to be able to work together in such a tight time frame.”

Brown sent an additional letter, in which he calls the decision to speedily include the proposal in Monday’s meeting deceptive and disrespectful, as well as highlights the origins of the current governance structure as well as the lack of appropriate communication concerning the possible changes.

“UNM HSC is part of the lifeblood of New Mexico and cannot and should not be subject to arbitrary changes in governance,” states the letter sent to the Regents and Frank, and approved unanimously by the HSC Council.

Section 5 of the Regent’s Policy Manual dictates that University faculty be involved in, among other things, discussion and review of “formulation of institutional aims,” “matters which…affect the institution as a whole,” and “general faculty welfare.”

Section 1 of the policy, however, explicitly lists the Faculty Senate president as an advisor to the Regents.

Posse said the Regents’ actions are not congruent with that policy or the tradition of “shared governance.”

“We have a role as faculty leaders to be informed and to provide consultation to the Regents,” Posse said. “In particular myself as president; I have a role as an advisor to the Board of Regents … which I was unable to exercise.”

Posse said the Senate couldn’t think of any factors that could have led to the Regents’ sense of urgency with the proposal, and that faculty otherwise works rather closely with administration on most issues from the onset.

But because of the Regents’ decision to rush the proposal, they have not been able to do that this time around.

“The speed at which this is being presented is a serious concern,” Posse said.

Brown called the decision not to include the various stakeholders in the proposal “very unwise and very suspicious.”

“The two things that are most irksome to us is the secrecy with which this was carried out and speed with which it’s being attempted to be implemented,” Brown said.

As a comparison, the HSC Board of Directors’ creation in 2010 was a result of two years of planning .

Posse said that Senate members will voice their concerns to the Regents on Monday, albeit with an open mind so as to hopefully produce more inclusive discussion.

“It would be helpful for facilitating the process if we were to go into this tomorrow with an open mind, and with a collegial and collaborative attitude,” Posse said. “So that we can move forward in terms of addressing the situation together.”

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