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Following the Money in New Mexico

April 2, 2009

At the University of New Mexico, the salary budget for upper administrators and associated professional positions, including directors, grew by 71 percent – in raw numbers an increase of more than $4 million – from 2002 to 2008. Compensation just for those positions above the level of dean (i.e. associate vice presidents and above) grew 42.1 percent between 2002 and 2007, and another 12.3 percent by 2008.

That’s all according to an institutional report on administrative growth that many professors feel underestimates the total because it only accounts for base salary. “The administration and the faculty argue about how much growth there’s been. But the investment in upper administration both in terms of total investment and individual investment appears to the faculty to be disproportionate with the investment in academic programs,” said Howard Snell, the Faculty Senate president and a professor of biology.

Snell put it diplomatically, but variations on that theme are at the heart of tensions at New Mexico's flagship, where faculty took overwhelming votes of no confidence in the president, executive vice president for administration and (now-former) board chair in February, and approved a motion requesting an independent audit to establish where certain categories of funds have been spent since 2003. Many faculty point to languishing academic units – chemistry and math, in particular – or drops in the reputations of prominent programs, as administrative spending grew.

“The fundamental issues really have been financial issues – how money has been spent in the past and how money is going to be managed now,” said Ursula Shepherd, co-chair of the university’s committee on faculty governance and an associate professor of biology in the honors program. “Certainly the salary issue, [growth in] upper administration, that presents a place where we can find where money went, so in some ways that’s the most transparent thing. But the call for the audit I think is a very serious call.”

Shepherd cited a 19 percent increase in instructional expenditures (a statistic that comports with a five-year figure from that same institutional report on administrative growth), accompanied by about a 50 percent rise in undergraduate tuition. UNM's overall revenues, according to the report, rose by 60 percent from fiscal year 2003 to 2009.

Shepherd asked, “Where has the rest of the money gone?”

"Frankly, the president could be paid what he's paid if everything were going well," Shepherd said. (What he's paid is $587,000 if you include deferred compensation, housing and car allowances). "I have issues around who gets increases ... but really one of the big issues is our libraries are in a terrible state. We are always being asked how many more journals can we get rid of. That's ridiculous. We have not been poor," said Shepherd, stressing that the problems stretch back to a time when economic circumstances were rosy.

Citing statistics published in UNM’s academic ledger, “If you look and see over the last five years, you will find that faculty salaries have increased 23 percent,” said David J. Schmidly, the university's president. “You will find that instruction and general funds have increased 24 percent. You will find that all total current fund expenditures have increased about 25 percent. So clearly some money has gone into academics. The question of course is how much has gone to academics and how much has gone to administration and that’s what we’re going to answer through this audit.”

“We’re going to answer the financial questions the faculty have. I have no problem with those questions because most of them relate to where funds went before I got here and I would like to know the answers as well,” said Schmidly, president since October 2007. Indeed, 2003 seems to be a watershed year at UNM, as many faculty trace their woes at least in part to changes in the Board of Regents ushered in by Gov. Bill Richardson.

“I think the real challenge at this university is there’s been no stability in leadership,” said Schmidly. “In the last decade I think there have been six presidents and seven provosts trying to lead the university.”

“There is a lot of anxiety at the University of New Mexico. I recognize that; I’m frankly not surprised by it. I’ve been around the block long enough to know that when there are a lot of leadership changes at the top, a climate evolves in that circumstance where there’s not enough trust -- and communication can frankly be, in some cases, not effective.”

Amid the anxiety, however, there is a sense of optimism – in some cases quite cautious optimism – and also of limbo at UNM these days. In mid-March, Governor Richardson announced that board chair Jamie Koch – in whom faculty voted no confidence by a margin of 482 to 7, with 3 abstentions – would step down (he remains a board member). Raymond Sanchez, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives who is viewed more favorably by the faculty, is the new chair. (Sanchez declined an interview for this article through UNM's public relations consultant.)

“We’re very much at a crossroads, a crossroads where there’s enormous opportunity here. Faculty are paying attention to the governance of the university in a way that has not been true in the past,” said Richard L. Wood, an associate professor of sociology and director of the Southwest Institute for Religion and Civil Society. The unanswered question, Wood said, is: "Can the university community come around to a much stronger, appropriate governance model?”

"The academic mission should be steering the university."

Corporatization and Administrative Pay

The current governance model, many faculty say, is top-down, like that of a corporation. “We’d like to see our leaders be promoting a traditional system of university governance,” said Snell, the Faculty Senate president, “which places great emphasis on the contributions of deans and department chairs and less emphasis on the contributions of vice presidents.”

In 2004, the board approved changes in UNM's leadership structure, including the creation of three executive vice presidential positions reporting directly to the president (also called the CEO), with the number of vice presidents and associate vice presidents below that expected to increase. It has done so, under three presidents and most recently with the elevation of four positions to VP-level under President Schmidly -- in athletics, branch campus operations, diversity and enrollment management. Schmidly adamantly defends each of those positions, stressing that he pledged to create them before he was hired.

On enrollment management, for instance, Schmidly said, "The institution had not been growing and it graduates less than 45 percent of its students in six years, and I felt that we need to make major changes in how we recruit, admit and graduate students." The administration provided numbers showing that fall applications were up by 27 percent this year and admissions by 15 percent, and applications from National Achievement, Hispanic and Merit Scholars about tripled, to 148.

Schmidly has promised to cut administrative spending by 15 percent over three years, and said that $3 million in last year’s budget – his first since arriving at UNM – was reallocated from non-academic to academic purposes. He added, too, that 78 percent of funds saved during a round of mid-year budget cuts last fall came from non-academic accounts. “We were able to continue all 40-something faculty searches and also three dean searches,” said Schmidly, who said that the budget being discussed for the coming year proposes $800,000 for new faculty hires and $500,000 in funds for teaching needs associated with enrollment increases.

As for corporatization of the university, Schmidly said, “I’ve never worked at a corporation in my life; I don’t know what a corporate structure is. ... My take on their concern has been, there’s too much top-down decision-making and that gets to the issue of shared governance. And I think that’s what‘s driving a lot of concern here.”

“Along with the corporatization, it’s the centralization of power,” said Christopher Ramírez, president of the Graduate & Professional Student Association and a Ph.D. student in American studies. The association's council took a no-confidence vote in Koch, the former board chair, in February, and is asking all graduate students to vote this month on no-confidence resolutions regarding Schmidly and the executive vice president for administration, David W. Harris.

“There’s still this mentality. ... We’re the professionals; we know best. … It really hit a nerve with this particular new president," Ramírez said. “I do think the president has heard [us] and I do think there is that sense of cautious optimism but at the same time who knows how quickly that cockiness can come back?

“Why cautious optimism? I’m not sure how much we can slow it down. It just seems like a national trend of the corporatization of higher education.”

Meanwhile, the undergraduate student government originally proposed a motion of confidence in President Schmidly, but took it off the docket amid concerns that it would appear students were undermining the faculty, explained the president, Ashley Fate. There was a sense, she said, that if all this debate is about better serving the students, the students shouldn’t pick sides.

On Academics

Amid the discussion of what money went where, a couple of academic departments are held up as illustrative of where the money's not going, at least. Faculty contacted for this article repeatedly mentioned the depleted states of the chemistry and math departments. "I call chemistry and math and want to talk science and I just get an earful of pain," said Maggie Werner-Washburne, a professor of biology. "If you don't have math and chemistry, you feel like you don't have your right and left arm, at least I do, so I just finally had to speak out."

Both departments have steadily lost faculty, although neither got there overnight or even just in the six years that have been the focus of debate (Werner-Washburne recently wrote a column for the student newspaper titled "The past six years: UNM's demise").

Jens Lorenz, interim chair of mathematics and statistics, said that when he came to the department in 1991, there were 40 full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty. In 1995, the department had 36, in 1997, 35, in 1999, 33, in 2005, 32, and now they're listed as having 28. "But actually of those 28, there are three on leave without pay who will not return, one has announced his retirement for the fall and one is on medical leave, not likely to come back, so it's really only 23," Lorenz said. Two searches are open.

The math department has come to rely heavily on poorly-paid part-time instructors -- including, most disturbingly for Lorenz, for 300-level courses. "I don't know where the funding problems come from," he said.

In chemistry, "We're roughly half the size of where we were in terms of research-active faculty when I came here 16 years ago," said Martin L. Kirk, interim chair of chemistry and chemical biology. The story of faculty declines in chemistry has also been 20 years in the making, Kirk said, but efforts to rebuild "have been hampered" by frequent changes in administration.

That said, Kirk said that just in the past few weeks, there have been "significant breakthroughs. ... I think I can safely say that the president, the provost and the dean are now fully committed to rebuilding chemistry as a viable and forward-moving research entity on campus."

President Schmidly cited tensions between senior and junior professors as contributing to the department's decline but confirmed his commitment to chemistry. "The situation in chemistry really bothers me. In fact, when I heard about it, I asked for an immediate report and I've got the provost and the dean working on an action plan right now, to resolve the situation."

More generally, the proportion of tenured and tenure-track faculty has stayed fairly steady over time at UNM, down 3.3 percent over five years (according to the academic ledger). Non-tenure track faculty are up 16.1 percent. Faculty have noted a drop in the student-to-faculty ratio from 14:1 a decade ago to 20:1 today, but Mark Chisholm, director of institutional research, said the methodology for calculating the ratio changed over that time. To compare apples to apples, he said, the student-to-faculty ratio was 18.2:1 in 1998, and 18.6:1 now.

Moving Forward

Doug Thomas, a professor and associate dean in the Anderson School of Management, said he traces the tensions "to misunderstanding and maybe disagreement over use and allocation of resources."

"There were tensions based on resource constraints, so it kind of brings out the issues that people might have underlying. But I don't think they are irreconcilable differences or things that we can't overcome. We have an accreditation visit next week, we have students to teach, research to conduct. I'm anxious to get on and I believe others are with the business of education -- business not in the money-making sense," said Thomas, who last week joined a group of faculty to meet with President Schmidly.

In terms of tangible next steps, along with the no-confidence resolutions and the motion calling for an audit, the faculty approved a motion in February -- 463 to 23, with 12 abstentions -- recommending that university leaders immediately address six principles outlined in a Faculty Senate statement. The principles include changing the executive structure so that there would be two executive vice presidents, instead of three, with the office for facilities and finance reporting to executive vice presidents for academic affairs and the Health Sciences Center (to “return to a focus on academic programs”). Other Faculty Senate requests included instating a “360-degree” culture of evaluating upper administrators – i.e. their superiors and subordinates would evaluate them – developing an annual report of faculty retention and loss, and requiring that all searches for tenure-track faculty, deans, and upper-level administrators be national.

“There was concern about, well, the two words that are used are cronyism and nepotism at the university,” explained Doug Fields, an associate professor of physics and the president-elect of the Faculty Senate. “We want to make sure that searches are conducted in a nationwide, open way so that people understand the process and we get the best people we possibly can.” (Fields didn't mention this, but Schmidly came under fire this fall when his son was offered a $94,000 job as UNM's associate director of sustainability; the son turned it down amid faculty outcry).

“I have hope that the president has asked the Faculty Senate to put forward a road map on how to proceed on some of these issues,” said Fields. “Once we put that road map forward I hope they act on it.”

Schmidly said he was open to discussing each of the six recommendations and said that in some cases, pieces were already in place. For example, on 360-degree evaluation, if a vice president has 20 people reporting to him or her, he said an evaluation form would already be sent to all 20 of those people. The form could easily be posted on the Web to invite broader response, he said.

On changes in the administrative structure, he seems unlikely to follow the faculty's lead. “Obviously in this day and age it’s not likely that I’m going to have the vice president of finances not reporting directly to me. I am the person that is responsible for the fiduciary soundness of the institution, so I’m not foolish enough to go in a direction where I don’t have a vice president of finances reporting directly to me, but I will listen to what they say and I will consider what they have to say," he said.

At the same time, Schmidly made clear a message of his own -- he is in New Mexico to stay. “You need to know something about me too. I’m not going anywhere. The faculty vote [of no confidence] is the faculty vote. I acknowledge it. I pledge to work hard to improve. I’ve been a president or a CEO of higher education institutions since 1992 and so I’m experienced enough to know these kinds of things happen. But I moved to New Mexico for a reason. I was recruited here for a reason and it was to provide stability of leadership and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

 

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