University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes made a guest appearance at Wednesday’s Associated Students of UNM full Senate meeting immediately following the ASUNM Senate election results.
Stokes answered questions from the 16 present senators about a variety of questions, ranging from issues with UNM’s enrollment to advertising initiatives.
Stokes began her introduction by saying she was "not sure what all has happened (in ASUNM)" since she had last visited because she has been busy hiring new administrators. The last time Stokes visited ASUNM was February of 2019.
"Hiring these new leaders was among the most important things I needed to do with the turnover that was going on (at UNM)," Stokes said. Provost James Holloway and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Assata Zerai are among Stokes’ new hires.
Senator Michel Rivera questioned Stokes on UNM’s enrollment. Stokes said that although UNM has seen a drop in enrollment, it's "a national issue, and not many people have been paying attention (to the national trend)."
Rivera went on to assert that part of the blame for the enrollment decrease can be attributed to UNM’s inadequate use of resources and lack of vision.
"UNM doesn’t have a vision, and the reason I say this is because we are a commuter university. This enrollment drop — at least how I see it — is partly because we can’t retain the students. We don’t engage them well enough," Rivera said. "We have so many resources here at UNM, and we don’t utilize them."
Stokes refuted Rivera’s perception of the University’s leadership.
"I’m going to disagree with you. Flat out disagree. Not that we don’t have our work cut out for us, because we absolutely do," Stokes said.
She went on to describe the more "homogenous" campuses where she's been, contrasting it with the diversity of UNM’s campus.
"What we have is a place where people come to us with very different expectations," Stokes said. "We need to meet their needs, and I’m interested to see that you would think of that as a lack of vision, rather than recognizing that there’s not a 'one size fits all.'"
Rivera defended his opinion and said advertisements for UNM don't tend to focus on diversity, leading students to choose UNM because it’s "cheap" in comparison to other universities.
"Tell me we are more than that," Stokes said. Rivera agreed.
"Exactly — we are more than that, but it needs to be advertised more," Rivera said.
Stokes also touched on Chancellor of Health Sciences Paul Roth’s retirement announcement earlier in the day. Roth currently holds the title of highest paid UNM employee.
"I’ll have one more very big search to do for UNM, and it’s really important for UNM’s future," Stokes said.
In the hour Stokes spoke, she made no mention of the recent death of UNM student and football player Nahje Flowers, whose passing was publicized and mourned the day prior.
ASUNM President Adam Biederwolf began his presidential report with a moment of silence for Flowers, acknowledging that the tragedy has affected several senators, the entire University and the City of Albuquerque. Senators Daevon Vigilant and Dequez Irving, both absent from the meeting, were teammates with Flowers.
Biederwolf shared plans for an indigenous peoples’ event, similar to el Centro’s Día de la Raza, and commended Executive Director of ASUNM’s Election Commission Todd Moe’s outreach to student resource centers before the election last week.
"The numbers show that there is going to be a breath of fresh air on this Senate," Biederwolf said. "Next semester, we are going to represent every group on campus."
He also shared with senators the Student Fee Review Board’s (SFRB) recommendation for a proposed student fee increase next school year.
"Our recommendation that we will be presenting to the BLT — the Budget Leadership Team — on Nov. 14 will be a 7.77% increase in student fees," said Biederwolf.
The SFRB allocates funding to 32 departments across UNM, including KUNM, Athletics and Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). According to Biederwolf, the BLT will hear the SFRB’s recommendation later this month, make changes and present the information to the Board of Regents at the Budget Summit in May of next year. Biederwolf is the vice-chair of SFRB.
Biederwolf also told senators that the BLT is preparing for a 6% decrease in enrollment in the next academic year.
"I know this sounds a little scary, looks a little scary," Biederwolf said on the proposed increase, but he stressed that these are "preliminary recommendations."
Senator Ashley Varela questioned how the increase would help with the University’s enrollment problems.
"Although (raising student fees) will fund departments around campus, it will not get more students to be enrolled on campus," Varela said.
Biederwolf defended the recommendation he and his team arrived at.
"You say that a 7.77% increase to student fees does not help enrollment. Unfortunately, I’m not the vice president of enrollment management — I wish I was, that’d be a really cool job," Biederwolf said. "That’s why this is a recommendation board — we send these recommendations to the professionals, to the BLT, and later on to the Board of Regents. When I say preliminary, I mean preliminary."
In addition to the discussion around student fee increases, senators also passed a bill to create a $4,000 per year scholarship for student advocacy. The scholarships would be awarded to four students who write winning essays about how they are improving UNM. This was passed with only a single vote against it, in the midst of what senators have frequently described as a "budget crisis."
Senator Matthew Zank said he will rewrite his bill to remove the required 8.5% budget allocation to Student Publications, including the Daily Lobo, one last time. Zank was not re-elected for another Senate term.
The last full Senate meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 20, and the final committee meetings of the semester will be this Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Alyssa Martinez is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447
Alex Hiett is a beat news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Nmal1123