The University of New Mexico is facing an accreditation check next year, and will have to reconcile with past choices made by its most controversial department — athletics.
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which grants accreditation to post-secondary institutions across 19 states, will be going through the process of reevaluating UNM’s accreditation. Accreditation, along with securing federal funding, ensures that universities are meeting certain standards of curriculum and services. In other words, it’s what makes a degree worth something in the real world.
In an interview with the Daily Lobo, Interim Provost Richard Wood highlighted areas the HLC will be looking at next semester, including advisement, state governance and budgetary issues at the UNM Athletics Department.
Recently, the Athletics Department has faced an extraordinary amount of scrutiny after it was revealed last semester that the department had accumulated around $7.5 million in budget deficits at its peak, doubling its deficit from the previous year.
That’s more than the total operating budget of the football team, which sits around $6.4 million.
“Clearly (HLC is) going to look at the Athletics budget, they’ve notified us about that,” Wood said.
The Athletics Department, along with other entities at UNM, was the subject of a New Mexico Attorney General’s report released in September that revealed “a disturbing pattern of concealment and deliberate misrepresentation” in terms of transparency at the University. It discusses former Athletics Director Paul Krebs, who is currently under criminal investigation for sending an anonymous check to the UNM Foundation to cover up an unapproved golf trip to Scotland that took place in 2015.
Wood said that because of this report, the HLC may consider UNM “under governmental investigation.” Wood said this is a mislabel.
“It’s not a government investigation of the University, it’s of a particular piece,” he said.
In the report, Attorney General Hector Balderas also mentions transparency concerns involving the Board of Regents and the UNM Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) Office, which handles all public records requests at UNM.
Athletics has also been lambasted for its removal of four sports (men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and beach volleyball) from its program in August.
Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham and a few state legislators, including Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, have promised to bring the sports back during the next legislative session, which begins in January.
“We’re not exactly sure which option we’re going to select, but men’s soccer is coming back,” Egolf said in an interview with the Daily Lobo on Nov. 6.
Wood said that any plan to bring the sports back will have to address Title IX compliance, deficits in Athletics and the academic needs of UNM. He said a plan that addresses all of these factors “remains to be seen.”
“Right now, it’s a discourse, it’s people talking to the press about their commitments,” Wood said in reference to legislators saying they will bring sports back. “That’s great, but at the end of the day it’s got to come down to how it’s done, the hard dollars on the table.”
He also stressed the need for state funds to be recurring, adding that “one-time dollars don’t solve this problem.”
UNM’s last accreditation came in 2009 and was approved for ten years. Wood said that while the HLC approved UNM for accreditation, concerns were raised about advisement and state governance. According to Wood, the University was hit at the time with around $25 million in state budgetary cuts, due in part to the Great Recession. He also said advisement at UNM has greatly improved since 2009.
HLC will perform a site visit to UNM sometime in March and will produce its final report later in the year.
Kyle Land is the editor in chief for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.