On Thursday, Jan. 21, University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes released her pre-recorded 2021 State of the University address, reflecting on last year’s major events like the pandemic and community protests.
“We have endured one of the most disruptive eras in our nation’s history, from a global (sic) pandemic to a summer of social unrest to a recent shocking assault on the seat of our government,” Stokes said. “The past 12 months have challenged all of us and have further exposed the divisions and inequities in our society.”
Stokes covered the University’s response to the summer’s protests and counter-protests, COVID-19 and the resulting financial crises in which the University found itself.
She also highlighted the many achievements from this past year, including philanthropy, new hires and titles received by the University, including the “Innovation Impact of U.S. Universities,” which ranked UNM 27th of 195.
Public safety and structural racism
After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and the summer months of Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, Stokes addressed the University’s response and what she has heard from the student community.
“Our students need assurances that their voices have been heard,” Stokes said.
Stokes also commented on the search for a new chief of police for the UNM Police Department. Former Chief of Police Kevin McCabe retired on June 30, 2020, and 40-year UNMPD veteran officer Joseph Silva has since been serving in an interim capacity as the head of the department. Stokes acknowledged that “law enforcement policies and practices are under scrutiny nationwide, and it is no different here at the University of New Mexico.”
She neglected to comment on the officer who took part in a racist video last semester. However, she did make a point to say that the University supports the Black Lives Matter movement, and it “compels us to implement meaningful and fundamental change.”
Stokes also mentioned other programs the University has been working on to make the campus safer and described a “rapid response protocol for faculty and staff facing harassment, bullying, racially-based threats and even online attacks” that is currently being drafted on campus.
Amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and given the UNM Hospital’s top ranking in the state, Stokes listed a number of things the institution has done to combat the coronavirus.
“UNM Health services have been pivotal to the pandemic, truly delivering more with compassionate, high-quality health care across the state and around the world,” Stokes said.
Stokes said that the UNM Health Sciences Center has identified potentially life-saving therapies to treat COVID-positive patients, sequenced the genetic code of the coronavirus in order to better anticipate where it will mutate and migrate and has been using 3D printing technology to make masks and shields.
Stokes also made a point to highlight Project ECHO, which last year received $237 million in federal funding, “to help train local staff to fight outbreaks of COVID in nursing homes.”
Budget crisis leads to $44 million cut, more “reductions” incoming
Despite an influx of CARES Act money and increased enrollment, Stokes painted the financial outlook for the University as one of impending doom.
“Given the current economic outlook, it is likely we should brace for additional reductions,” Stokes said.
“To meet the new fiscal realities, the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget was revised to cut spending by $415 million. Those cuts crash landed here at the University of New Mexico, with UNM and our Health Sciences Center starting the year with almost $44 million less in the budget than originally planned,” Stokes said, adding that the University also lost the funding for a 4% increase for employee salaries this year.
To deal with these pandemic related losses, Stokes said the Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve a budget readjustment, causing the University to slow hiring and restructure offices and budgets to save costs.
Suha Musa, the undergraduate student government president pro tempore, felt the speech negated the fact many students have tried to talk to faculty about issues they find important but have been ignored.
“She mentioned wanting student input, and I thought that was a little absurd considering that with both BLM issues and grad worker union efforts students have been iced out from communication with admin, myself included,” Musa said.
Lilly O’Connor, an English, philosophy and Spanish major at UNM, thought the speech was a well-rounded interpretation of the hectic year.
“I think the speech was a perfect blend of expressing the grief we’ve felt over the course of the year while simultaneously demonstrating everything we have achieved and making plans for future achievements,” O’Connor said.
Other UNM students thought the speech was good in nature but worried about the plan presented to fix the budget crisis, fearing it will fall on the backs of students.
“I still worry that a higher financial burden will continue to be placed on students due to — among other things — rising administrative costs and low enrollment,” Andrew Schumann, the freshman chair of the Pre Law Society, said. “Let us remember that these budget woes, while certainly exacerbated by the pandemic, have existed for some time now and that it's up to all of us to hold the administration accountable for how our tuition dollars are spent.“
As of 6:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon — six hours after the speech was posted — only 304 people had watched the recording.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite