After he spoke, nearly every parent at last Tuesday’s New Student Orientation shook Finnie Coleman’s hand.
Now, Coleman, an English professor, is set to become the next Faculty-Senate President at the University of New Mexico. Coleman also has a doctorate degree in literature and a bachelors in economics. He is replacing the outgoing president Pamala Pyle and coming into the position at a tricky time.
After years of stagnant wages, many UNM professors, both adjunct and associate, are attempting to form a union to better bargain with the University, as reported in the Daily Lobo. A May Committee on Governance meeting featured a line for public comment that was dozens of professors long. Many faculty members at the public meeting supported the union, but some did not. The meeting was immediately followed by a march around campus.
That’s not all.
In 2018, former Board of Regent Tom Clifford accused Pyle and the rest of the faculty leadership of being “cowardly” following the Regents’ vote to cut four sports and for not forgiving the athletic department debt, which was something that the faculty had requested last winter, as reported in the Daily Lobo. Clifford’s term ended in 2018.
Additionally, multiple Hispanic groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, criticized the University and President Garnett Stokes for not hiring more Hispanic people in high-level positions.
Coleman, however, said he sees all this as an opportunity.
“I believe, especially here at UNM, and I’ve said this since 2005, that UNM, especially because of its demographics and location, is poised to lead the rest of the nation in demonstrating today what education is going to look like tomorrow,” Coleman said.
He added that the work of creating an inclusive campus was something that drew him to the position of president in the first place.
As for the union, he declined to give his personal opinion about whether the faculty should form a union but said, “I support whatever our faculty collectively choose to do.”
He said good people were trying to make the union happen and that he recognized “their passion” in that project. Coleman also said he believed that the faculty should make their own decision on the requirement that splits faculty into two separate bargaining units for adjunct and associate professors.
From the University of Virginia to the University of New Mexico
“I was told before I ever came out (from college) that I would be in administration at some point. I didn’t believe that at first,” Coleman said.
At UNM alone, Coleman has been a Special Assistant to the Provost, Director of Africana Studies and Interim Dean of University College. Before that, Coleman directed the honors program at Texas A&M.
During his NSO lecture, Coleman told incoming freshmen and their parents the story of Joshua Fleming. Fleming was a soldier stationed with Coleman at Blackhorse Camp in Doha, Kuwait. To Coleman, Fleming represents a personal sacrifice.
In 1991, a fire injured some 56 soldiers stationed at Doha, as reported by the New York Times. The fire saw a chain reaction engulfing motor pool and raining shrapnel over the base. In the aftermath, Fleming was carrying a crate of grenades that exploded and killed the 19-year-old PFC Joshua Flemming, along with two other soldiers, as reported in The Seattle Times.
“Very few of us get to sit in the seats that we are sitting in just because of our own efforts. Typically someone else gave up something so that you can do that,” Colemansaid.
In every classroom Coleman teaches in, he saves a seat for Flemming, who Coleman said enlisted in the army to pay for college.
Coleman describes this as his cost of attendance.
Jusitn Garcia is the editor in chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Just516garc.