State legislators have made reinstating the four sports cut by the University of New Mexico a mandatory condition in order for the UNM Athletics Departments to receive any state funding this legislative session.
House Bill 2, the general appropriations bill for the legislative session, includes a clause stating that the $4.6 million to be appropriated to the UNM Athletics Department “is contingent on the reinstatement” of men’s soccer, men’s skiing, women’s skiing and beach volleyball — all of which were cut by the Board of Regents last August.
The clause also states the Higher Education Department would have to certify to the Department of Finance and Administration and the Legislative Finance Committee that the sports have been reinstated for Fiscal Year 2020.
The bill was passed in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Monday, and is currently waiting to be voted on the House floor. If it passes, it will move on to the Senate.
Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and oversees all appropriations that go through the Senate floor. Smith said the language of the bill micromanages UNM, something senators in his caucus oppose.
“I have a clear message from my caucus and also from the minority caucus… that the New Mexico State Senate will not be subscribing to micromanaging the University of New Mexico,” Smith said in an interview with the Daily Lobo.
This statement puts the future of the contingency to bring the four sports back in doubt.
Many University administrators have pointed out what they see as the adverse effects of bringing the sports back.
Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez said having to bring back the cut sports would make it difficult for the department to pay back their accumulated deficit.
“While it has been an incredibly difficult and painful process to eliminate the four sport offerings, we have determined that this direction is the only one to ensure fiscal responsibility and Title IX compliance for both the short and long-term future of Lobo Athletics,” Nuñez said.
President Garnett Stokes echoed those sentiments, telling the Daily Lobo about the financial implications that reinstating the sports would bring.
“I think we’ve put the facts out there about what it is we actually need to be able to restore the sports,” Stokes said. “Obviously, this really creates some serious financial jeopardy for us.”
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The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the body in charge of accrediting the University, will be performing a site visit on March 4. One of its requirements for accreditation is for University leaders to remain autonomous from elected officials.
Interim Provost Richard Wood said HB 2 could present a governance issue with HLC if passed in its current state.
“It is not best practice for legislatures to determine university priorities,” Wood said. “The American university system is premised on universities having autonomous control on their own decision making. We would like to maintain that autonomy.”
In a November 2018 interview, Wood said HLC would examine both state governance at UNM and financial issues with the Athletics Department.
Danielle Prokop contributed reporting to this article.
Kyle Land is the editor-in-chief for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.