The New Mexico Senate unanimously confirmed all five nominees Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recommended to head the University of New Mexico Board of Regents on Friday.
Sandra Begay, Douglas “Doug” Brown, Kimberly Sanchez Rael, and Robert Schwartz were confirmed as full regents, while Melissa Henry was confirmed as the student regent.
Their terms start immediately.
Five of the seven seats of the board were open due to the state Senate not holding confirmation hearings on any of Martinez’s regent picks since 2017. The terms for Regents Thomas Clifford, Suzanne Quillen, Bradley Hosmer, Michael Brasher and student regent Garrett Adcock had ended previously or just completed.
Begay served as a UNM regent in 2005 and serves on the board of directors at the Science and Technology Corporation for UNM (STC UNM). Another former regent, Brown, was dean of UNM Anderson School of Management from 2010 to 2014. Both will be serving four-year terms that conclude in December of 2022.
Sanchez Rael and Schwartz were confirmed for six-year terms. Sanchez Rael worked on the New Mexico Board of Finance, which according to its website has “broad statutory responsibilities for general supervision of the fiscal affairs of the State, in addition to other regulatory and oversight functions.” Schwartz is a veteran law professor with a focus in Health Law and has a combined 40 years of teaching under his belt. He currently holds the Henry Weihofen Professor of Law Emeritus title at UNM where he has taught since 1976.
Lujan Grisham to facilitate interviews and vet candidates for regent positions across the state in late December 2018. Albuquerque attorney and former UNM regent, Roberta Ramo, led the search on UNM applicants. The advisory committees were described as a “first of its kind process.”
While the process for selecting regents was unorthodox, Senators on the Senate Rules Committee remarked many times that they were “impressed by the candidates.”
All of the candidates were introduced before the committee by a Senator on the Senate Rules Committee and faced questioning as a group. Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) asked the nominees to list any conflicts of interest they may hold or “any potential conflicts” for the public record.
Begay said she is a member of the Presbyterian Health Board. Presbyterian hospital is a competitor with the University of New Mexico Hospital. She said she served at (STC UNM) which had taught her to manage conflicts of interest between UNM and Sandia National Laboratories, where she also worked.
No other regents reported conflicts of interest except for Henry, who mentioned that she is employed by the University and will have to recuse herself from approval of matters related to salaries.
Other lines of questioning from the committee centered on two issues: fiscal management and transparency.
In 2018, both the University of New Mexico and the Board of Regents received letters from the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General regarding their lack of transparency in and . Henry said she believes it’s due to a disconnect between the regents and the community that causes transparency lapses.
“It’s really unfortunate we’re in the news and media for not being transparent,” Henry said. “If we had better relationships…this might not be an issue.”
In her statement before the committee, Sanchez Rael expressed her concern that University finances need more attention from the Board of Regents.
“The regents must take their fiduciary responsibility seriously — you cannot run an institution of this magnitude by comments in the press,” she said.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Bernalillo) said the legislature and board need to examine their financial relationship and possibly increase funding to UNM. He said his concern is that cuts to higher education have made costs too high.
“I think that (student) fees are out of control, it’s like a hidden tuition,” Ivey-Soto said.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo) disagreed with Ivey-Soto that more oversight would fix the University’s fiscal management.
“The reason fees are so high is that state government has gotten involved in internal university affairs that’s entirely inappropriate,” Ortiz y Pino said.
Only two regents on the board, Regent President Robert Doughty and Vice President Marron Lee, remain from former-Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointments. Their terms expire in December 2020.