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Current UNM President Bob Frank sits in his office during an interview in late 2013. Earlier this semester Frank announced he would not seek a contract renewal following the end of this tenure in May, and the University is searching for his successor.

Current UNM President Bob Frank sits in his office during an interview in late 2013. Earlier this semester Frank announced he would not seek a contract renewal following the end of this tenure in May, and the University is searching for his successor.

Forum highlights need for diversity in next UNM president

UNM administration unofficially kicked off the search for Bob Frank’s successor as president of the University on Friday, with a public forum to solicit input on what qualities should be sought after for his replacement.

The forum was hosted by UNM Regent Jack Fortner, who alluded that the next president is one that locals want to represent the qualities of diversity that the University prides itself on.

“What we’ve learned is we need a president that can walk on water, that can speak three or four languages, that is very passionate, yet strong and emotional when he needs to be or she needs to be, and has skin that is hard to figure out what color it is,” Fortner said.

Fortner said the search committee for the next president — Frank’s contract expires at the end of May — is being chaired by Board of Regents President Robert Doughty, and includes Regents Marron Lee and Thomas Clifford, along with other individuals invited to join the committee by the regents.

Fortner said he met with other groups earlier in the day about what qualities a new president should embody to effectively lead UNM at a critical time when it is dealing with consistent budget shortfalls year after year.

The forum was dominated by staff and faculty input, with fewer comments from UNM students and community members.

One question that came up was whether the next president should have an academic or business background.

History Department Chair Melissa Bokovoy said she believed the next president should possess the qualities of an excellent teacher and have an academic background.

“I think experience within an organization, or within a particular industry, I actually think that matters,” she said.

Associated Students of UNM President Kyle Biederwolf agreed that a background in academia is important.

“Sometimes administrators never have the chance to work with students, but people that work in academics — that’s their career, that’s their job,” he said. “They work with students every day. They kind of see into the mind of the students.”

Marsha Baum, a professor at UNM’s Law School, said she began her career as an administrator, but didn’t understand the impact of administrative decisions on students until she moved over to teaching full-time.

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“I really think it needs to be someone who has come up through the ranks as a teacher,” she said.

Baum said she is also interested in seeing the University work towards true shared governance.

However, Alumni Association President James Lewis questioned the need for an academic background, saying the next president would need, above all, strong communication skills to interact with state legislators and the Albuquerque community.

Staff member Karen Gardner said she valued a business background over an academic one because of the tight budget situation UNM finds itself in, and the tough business decisions that will have to be made by Frank’s successor.

The question of whether the University should focus on serving New Mexican students or draw in out-of-state students also was a prevalent discussion in the forum.

Diana Martinez, who works for the College Assistance Migrant Program, said she would prefer someone who can maximize local resources.

“Sometimes I feel like UNM taps more into bringing revenue from out-of-state students or international students, but what about our New Mexicans?” she said.

But Timothy Ross, a professor from the school of engineering, said he wants to see the University focus on becoming more of a destination campus by growing some programs and cutting others.

“UNM has gotten quite broad and we just don’t have the money for that,” he said. “We can be mediocre and be broad or can divide off some areas of expertise and be really good at it.”

Diversity was another focus for many forum attendees.

Alejandro Mendiaz, who works at El Centro de la Raza, said he wants a president who has a proven track record of supporting diversity.

“We’re a minority/majority university, but that doesn’t mean that as a minority member that I feel safe. That doesn’t mean that as a staff member I feel safe,” he said.

Fortner agreed that the University needs a president who will champion diversity.

“We’d like the Muslims to be able to feel as comfortable here as the born-again Christian, for the Anglo to feel as comfortable as the first-generation (student) or the immigrant who is here,” he said.

In a similar vein, Mana de Albuquerque, a local nonprofit that works to empower Latinas, sent a representative to ask that the search committee focus on finding a qualified Latino.

Steve Cabaniss, a chemistry professor, offered a vision of the University that supports both art and scientific research.

“Art and history cannot be confined to a university, but they can be welcomed, nurtured and recognized by our students and faculty,” he said. “We need a president who will embrace the unique assets of our state and make UNM into a great university deeply rooted in New Mexico.”

Anyone who has comments on what characteristics they’d like to see in the next UNM president can email them to

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.

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