The League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) adopted a resolution calling for local, state and federal entities to investigate UNM for violating New Mexico state law and previous agreements with the Hispanic community and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The resolution, adopted over the summer, came as a response four days after University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes selected Dr. Assata Zerai for the position of Vice President for Equity and Inclusion.
President Stokes selected Dr. Zerai on June 4, filling the position that Lawrence Roybal had been serving in on an interim basis for two years. Roybal has been a member of the UNM community for over 40 years — first as a student and then later professionally. He had broad approval within the University during his tenure.
While he served as the Interim Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, UNM ranked 11th in the nation as an LGBTQ-friendly institution. He currently serves as the statewide executive director of ENLACE (Engaging Latino Communities for Education).
"(Roybal) always made an effort to get to know my students and learn what they were doing. He always made an effort to be present, to get to know what it is we do and who we are as a community," said Alejandro Mendiaz Rivera, a student programs specialist at El Centro de la Raza, who has known Roybal since he was an undergraduate at UNM.
"I don’t think that was specific to our students here at El Centro. I think it’s just who he is." Mendiaz continued. "He’s always been very accessible and very willing to help and contribute."
LULAC’s resolution alleges that "community leaders were ignored, disrespected and excluded as part of a critical search for leadership to advance diversity, equity and inclusion" and that "(President Stokes) has reneged on her commitment of including LULAC, the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA) and many other community organizations in the search committee for the Vice President for the Division of Equity and Inclusion (at UNM)."
The resolution also alleges that hiring practices for different administrative positions were inconsistent across the University.
Cinnamon Blair, chief marketing and communications officer for the Office of the President, said her office is aware of the resolution and has met with Hispanic community leaders to discuss the issues raised. She also stated that UNM adheres to state law, federal law and University policy applicable to hiring practices, including recent executive searches.
"We’ve given (President Stokes) a lot of opportunities to work with us," said Ralph Arellanes, executive director of New Mexico LULAC and chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico. "I think that UNM’s relationship with the Hispanic community and the community as a whole is at an all-time low today."
Arellanes has served on UNM search committees and was interviewed for a position on the Board of Regents.
He also accused Richard Wood — the former interim provost who was also appointed by Stokes — of silencing Hispanic voices when the requirements for the position of Vice President of Equity and Inclusion were being considered.
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"He called me and said, 'the meeting’s at 2 o’clock.' I said, 'okay, I’ll be there at 2 o’clock' — myself and Irma Ruiz, the chairwoman of the Hispanic Heritage Committee. So, we walk in, the room’s already full, they had already met at 1 o’clock and voted to retain the tenured faculty requirements," Arellanes said.
He described the meeting as devolving into a shouting match between himself and several faculty members.
"At the end, Irma Ruiz said, 'I’ve never been invited to the University of New Mexico and I never want to come back again, because the people were so rude," Arellanes said.
Arellanes believes the tenured faculty requirement was added to the requirements for VP of Equity and Inclusion specifically to exclude Dr. Roybal from the position.
"(President Stokes) has not addressed our concerns that we laid out in the proclamation," Arellanes said. "We’re still waiting for an implementation plan about how they (the University) are going to meet the goals and objectives of the Hispanic Statement of Cooperation agreement."
The Hispanic Statement of Cooperation (HSOC) agreement agrees to "address critical issues facing the Hispanic community in areas such as education, employment, business development and cultural celebration." It was signed in 1998 by institutions across the community including UNM, the City of Albuquerque and Sandia National Laboratories, to name a few.
The HSOC was requested by the U.S. Department of Justice, along with the LULAC resolution and a list of demands Arellanes presented to Stokes earlier this summer, which includes quarterly meetings with UNM leadership and confirmation of ENLACE as a community entity autonomous from UNM.
The list of demands presented to Stokes said the Department of Justice sees the HSOC agreement as closely tied to its current investigation of UNM and that "they will integrate the HSOC agreement into their work as much as possible."
The appointment of Zerai as the VP of Equity and Inclusion furthers a recent trend at UNM of hiring administrators from outside of the UNM community with limited or nonexistent connections to New Mexico. Zerai hadn’t been to New Mexico prior to being interviewed for the position. James Holloway, the newly appointed provost, came to UNM from the University of Michigan.
These are some of the highest-paid administrative positions at UNM. The Vice President of Equity and Inclusion is paid $215,000 annually.
"The national search process encourages applications from candidates with a broad range of backgrounds, practice and perspectives," said Blair in a statement. She added that UNM has been successful in hiring talented and diverse leaders over the past few months.
"You would think (UNM) would learn from all the golden parachutes they’ve had to pay out in the past," Arellanes said. "But they don’t learn. Why are you holding down Hispanics from moving up while you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on searches, needless national searches?"
Mendiaz, the El Centro program specialist, also noted the lack of diversity in the University administration’s recent hires.
"It was very good to see a person of color hired for the position of equity and inclusion, but it was disappointing that that was the only person of color that was hired for any of those positions," said Mendiaz. "We are a Hispanic serving institution, and I think that our administration should be reflective of our student body."
Mendiaz added that now that Zerai is in the position, he is "(looking) forward to seeing what she can bring to the table and how she can continue to make our campus more inclusive for communities of color."
In August, Holloway announced Dan Garcia as the vice president for enrollment management. However, for Arellanes, the damage has already been done.
"The Hispanic community was better represented at UNM in 1998 than we are today," he said.
"Where there’s no accountability, the performance is going to be low. Right now, UNM is on a negative trajectory," Arellanes continued. "They’re not monitoring this president, and they’re not holding her accountable."
Ralph Arellanes has clarified that his views represent the community and not anyone at UNM. His comments reflect the feeling of LULAC and the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico.
Alex Hiett is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nmal1123