Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that John Lavelle criticized the Faculty Ethics and Advisory Committee. He was actually criticizing the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee. It also stated he had criticized the Board of Regents for Open Meetings Act violations, which he did not. The errors have been corrected and the Daily Lobo apologizes for these errors.
It seemed all the big topics at the University of New Mexico made an appearance at the final forum for the Higher Learning Commission site visit: low wages for professors, the state budget, staff-hiring moratorium, athletics funding, and transparency concerns.
The last of three sessions was held at 10 a.m. in the Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education on North Campus.
The final forum focused on the last two criteria: evaluations and then resources, the mission and the how effective University institutions are.
The forum was moderated by visiting HLC team members. The discussion was mostly led by Jason Hornberger, University of Kansas’ associate vice provost for finance. Follow-up questions were asked by his colleague Sandra Gautt, professor emerita at Kansas.
According to attendees, the final forum had fewer people than the other two, but included input from Main Campus faculty, the UNM School of Law and the Health Sciences Center. Other faculty and a grad student attended remotely through video conferencing.
Also in attendance were Barbara Rodriguez — a professor and interim senior vice-provost — Dean Mark Peceny of Arts and Sciences and Renia Ehrenfeucht, chair of community and regional planning development in the School of Architecture and Planning.
The discussion started with the budget and planning process, which delved into topics like funding for auxiliary programs and salaries. The Daily Lobo previously reported a 7.17 percent drop in enrollment from 2017 to 2018 cost the University nearly $10 million in revenue, cutting some program budgets as much as 19 percent.
Ehrenfeucht said the incertitude of the University's budget is negatively affecting her and the faculty she oversees, specifically in terms of their ability to do their job. She said the mindset was not to panic people, and that translated to doubt of where the programs stand financially.
"There's a sense that things are not great, and getting a lot worse." Ehrenfeucht said. "But (the faculty) don't really have the specifics to really look at that, and I don't feel I have the specifics."
Ehrenfeucht also brought up the concern of salary compression. Jessica Dyer of the Albuquerque Journal previously reported UNM’s total campus faculty numbers have fallen 9.2 percent in the last four years, driven by associate professor departures. In that report it was found that 80 percent of faculty in Fine Arts are reported as earning less than 25 percent of the national average.
The Daily Lobo reported UNM's salaries are far smaller compared to UNM’s 22 peer institutions — which are also competitors for hiring. Salaries for professors are 18 percent less than the national average, 12 percent less for associate professors and 6 percent less for assistant professors.
Equity schedules are provided to combat some of those pressures but Ehrenfeucht said that process is not very transparent.
"And there's some equity adjustments and it's not very clear who gets them or why. Or when there's money for adjustments and when requests have been denied, and that's something where I think more communication is needed," she said.
Professor Sever Bordeianu in University Libraries and Learning Services said he's concerned with "a lack of transparency" in funding services outside of academic mission at UNM. He's worked at UNM for more than 30 years and is currently chair of the committee on governance, he said he's attended many meetings, but there's not much clarity on the situation.
"(The committee on governance) We get reports, but they don't really mean much to us, the faculty," he said. "I want to talk about subsides for non-academic programs like athletics, the UNM Press and others. They come straight out of the I&G budget competing directly with salaries for faculty and staff, teaching and other resources."
I&G stands for Instructional and General Units, one of the largest pools of money for the University budget. In 2018 it measured at $318 million.
"There's a whole lot of competition," Bordeianu said. "And there seem to be programs that are protected, even when tuition goes up, fees go up — their subsidies stay the same. And I don't understand how that money is allocated."
Hornberger summarized the points around the budget transparency and moved the conversation along. He asked the room if the faculty felt "supported as an employee community" at UNM, despite lower resources for expenses like travel.
Rodriguez praised the Arts and Sciences program for attempting to cover travel despite cuts. She also brought up the suspension of hiring staff and the challenges of professional development that have put burdens on existing staff and faculty.
Jonathan Davis-Secord, an associate professor in the English department, said Peceny and the College of Arts and Sciences is trying to support faculty but that travel is the first target of cuts.
"The College is trying to give us funding, but it's usually generally restricted to the point that the way we deal with as faculty is we pay out of pocket," Davis-Secord said. "And that means I'm paying out of my paycheck to do part of my job."
Other topics included facility resources not receiving enough capital fund through the state, and that evaluations for graduate student successes have increased, but the strategies for collecting data need to be reworked.
One of the final topics of the meeting was regarding inclusion and transparency of governance on campus, a topic that the New Mexico Attorney General's office has repeatedly cited the University, including the Board of Regents.
John LaVelle, a UNM law professor, brought up public meeting and record-keeping concerns at various administrative levels in what he called a "closed level of governance." He cited the Policy Committee, which has all closed meetings and no longer publishes agendas or minutes from meetings.
According to their records website, UNM's Policy Committee has not published minutes since Nov. 2, 2016 and have not published an agenda since March 8, 2017. The other committee he cited was Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, whose duties include investigating unethical behavior. LaVelle suggested part of those meetings be open, and could go into closed session for personnel matters.
"I think it's important for me, as a member of the faculty to raise a red flag about our internal processes," LaVelle said. "I think that we have plenty of opportunities to fix these problems, to ensure that these committees are in compliance with the Open Meetings Act."
Last Friday, a session was held at UNM Branch Campuses in Gallup and Taos. There were two sessions — a morning and afternoon — at main campus on Monday and a final morning session on North Campus.
There was an estimated 30 to 40 attendees at Main Campus sessions according to University Accreditation Program ManagerJoe Suilmann, who was in charge of coordinating the forums. He also estimated that about 20-25 people participated in the video conferencing in each session.
Also submitted to the HLC team was a document containing responses to a student survey which had 1,399 student responses. However, student presence at the forums was limited. Suilmann said that they had advertised through the Associated Students of UNM and Graduate and Professional Students Association, but only saw “maybe one or two students” at the forums.
UNM’s last accreditation came in 2009 and was approved for ten years. The Daily Lobo previously reported when HLC approved UNM for accreditation, concerns were raised about advisement and state governance. In 2009, the University was hit at the time with around $25 million in state budgetary cuts, due in part to the Great Recession.
A full report from the HLC is expected sometime in April.
Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.