After 200 days, the University of New Mexico no longer has a “new” President.
UNM President Garnett Stokes gave her first State of the University address Monday to a crowd of 200 people. She was introduced by Faculty President Pamela Pyle, and spoke for nearly half an hour.
Framed on each side by arrangements of red and white gladiolas, Stokes touted University success in healthcare programs, teaching educators, research initiatives, and student entrepreneurs and startups.
However, Stokes conceded it has been a rough start.
“After some of the decisions I had to make over the summer I can no longer consider myself your new President,” Stokes quipped at the end of her speech.
The decisions included the cutting of four sports from the University’s Department of Athletics. UNM has faced backlash from both state lawmakers and the public for cutting men’s and women’s skiing, men’s soccer and women’s beach volleyball. Stokes and Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez jointly presented the plan, which was approved in August (for the second time) to alleviate financial concerns within the department and Title IX violations.
Stokes also recognized other grievances with the University. She said the public has asked for greater transparency, better wages, faculty retention, changes to the political environment and inclusion. She also reaffirmed her administration’s focus will be on campus safety and financial solvability — neither of which Stokes has finalized a plan for.
Stokes alluded to the 2014 Department of Justice investigation into the sexual harassment and campus climate that required radial changes to University policy.
“As the Department of Justice investigation and other lessons have shown us, the University must urgently focus on taking concrete actions to create the most welcoming, secure and positive environment for our entire community to live, learn, work and visit,” Stokes said.
What is the first step to concrete actions? Advisory boards.
Stokes’ plan is to implement boards directing the University’s outreach, or internal processes. Stokes proposed each board will have a focused goal, such as health sciences, research or ethics. She said the Administration already has some ideas as to who will head the boards.
When asked after the address what the scope of the advisory board on ethics would be, she told the Daily Lobo:
“Including people internal and external to the University to really think about what it means to be an ethical university and to do our work everyday in line with our expectation of ethical leadership.”
When asked for more detail, Stokes said the proposed board’s function still needed development.
“Could we address that question a little bit later? As we actually put together the full charge for that group,” Stokes said.
Another advisory board will focus on filling the vacancies by the retirement of Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris, who is also Chief Financial Officer, among other positions.
A serious concern in the past few weeks has been transparency. Earlier this month, the Attorney General's office published a report stating UNM has a “pattern and practice of neglecting their responsibility to allow access to public information.” The document included 11 of the most recent complaints made against the University since 2015 regrading two transparency laws.
The Daily Lobo asked Stokes what the University is doing as a response to the report. Stokes said UNM has opened another position in the office of the custodian to address the rising requests for public records.
“We need to work on the education of our community about IPRA and institutional expectations for responsiveness,” Stokes said. “We’re going to look at the whole system, it’s in part understanding where things fall through the cracks.”
Christine Landavazo, former Senior Operations Manager and who is now acting as Interim Custodian of Public Records.
There was no formal press conference following the address. Instead, Stokes mingled with UNM officials, state lawmakers, media, faculty and student government over refreshments.
This is the first event in a weeklong series showcasing different aspects of the University. Tuesday there will be a luncheon with graduate students displaying their work, Thursday will host lectures and musical performances by select faculty. The week ends with a University walking tour and a staff reception at the University Club.
Associated Students of UNM President Becka Myers said it’s important for Stokes to continue making overtures in the community.
“There are a lot of good things in spite of everything that has been going on in the past,” Myers said. “We’re doing so much for the state and I think conveying that message is important.”
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.