Here is a modified article I originally wrote back in 2002 for the Lobotomy, a short-lived alternative publication based around UNM. I publish it here in the urgency of the current presidential search at University of New Mexico to use by democracy activists around UNM. -elloborojo
The spectacle of the presidential search once again befalls the UNM community. With UNM being the flagship institution of the state of New Mexico, many people and groups want to have a voice into who is ultimately selected as the new president. Yet what is missed is an important point: the university president is chosen and appointed solely by the Board of Regents, who also have absolute authority over this and just about every other decision affecting the university. The presidential search is one visible example of how the Regents exert undemocratic authority over the university acting against the interests of the rest of the community based there.
The Presidential Search: A Sordid History
“During the ’80’s, UNM had four presidents, a major financial scandal in the athletic department and a national reputation as a school run by politicians.”
-Albuquerque Journal; January 2, 1995
Previous presidential searches conducted by the UNM Regents have been rocked by scandals and allegations of secrecy. In 1982 the Regents deadlocked on a presidential choice after a nationwide search. An announcement was made during a football game that year that John Perovich, then interim preisdent, would be given a permanent appointment. In 1984 the Regents conducted a secret search and offered the job to Washington bank economist John Elac, who turned it down after the appointment met much opposition on campus. In the search process that led to the hiring of Richard Peck, the regents interviewed five semi-finalists in Dallas before bringing two nominees to Albuquerque for interviews. This prompted Albuquerque media outlets to sue the university to make the semi-finalists names public. The settlement of this lawsuit in 1991 was made when UNM promised to make future presidential searches public at the time any candidate is interviewed by more than one member of the search committee. (1)
The next presidential search that led to the appointment of former provost William Gordon in 1998 was also rocked with charges of secrecy and pre-selection. To bypass the selection rules, interviews with 14 candidates were tape-recorded by individual regents on the search committee and played to other search committee members when they got back. Since they were interviewed by only one member, the Regents argued, the names of the candidates did not need to be released, even though the interviews were played for the entire search committee. The Regents have become experts in bending the rules to their purposes. Needless to say, UNM was sued again, and a judge ruled that they did violate the consent degree set by the last lawsuit. The Regents then canceled the president search that year.
During this time provost William Gordon was appointed as interim president. He was also one of three finalists from that search. Statements made by Regents hinted toward a rigged search where Gordon was pre-selected. Then-Regent Penny Rembe said to the media that Gordon was their choice from the start, and thus another search was “a waste of time.”(2)
That last search fiasco resulted in an amendment to the state Inspection of Public Records Act that says that the regents, in conducting a president search, must identify five finalists at least 21 days before they choose a new president. In the resulting search done after this new rule was put in, they complied and released five names, of which Gordon was again a finalist. In the end the job went to Gordon.
Newsflash: The Board of Regents Chooses the President
The Board of Regents is given legal authority to run the daily affairs of the university, and that includes choosing a president. It traditionally hires corporate search firms to conduct searches of potential candidates. In the 1998 search that chose Gordon the Regents spent $165,000 to hire two private companies to run those searches.
The Regents also create a search committee to help in this process. It usually includes members of the university community, with a disproportionate number of Regents themselves involved. Yet they are not legally bound by the search committee’s recommendations, because according to the Board of Regents Policy Manual (BRPM), “The Board will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations before taking final action but cannot be bound by those recommendations, because the Board has sole legal responsibility for appointing a President of the University. (BRPM Section 1.4, http://www.unm.edu/~brpm/r14.htm).
So why go through this whole search process if the Regents will choose the president at the end? Because otherwise it would unmask how the community has no real voice in the affairs of the university. In fact the balance of power of the university is spelled out in the Board of Regents Policy Manual. One of the duties and functions of the Board of Regents is stated in the Policy Manual: “Appoint a President of the University who serves as Chief Executive Officer; and delegate authority to the President for effective operation of the University.” (BRPM, Section 1.1; http://www.unm.edu/~brpm/r11.htm). Thus, as the university president is the CEO, the Board of Regents is the board of directors. Just like any top-down corporation. And in the university factory, students are products and faculty and staff are the tools.
The university is an institution that serves the interests of the system of exploitation of the world, and is structured like those institutions. One must understand the structure of power of the university in order to change it.
In part 2, I will continue to examine the power structure of the board of Regents. Stay tuned.
1. Tipton, Nancy. “Outgoing Regent Points to Changes.” Albuquerque Journal. January 2, 1995. Pg. B8.
2. Novak, Shonda. “UNM Regent Considers New Presidential Search A Waste of Time.” Albuquerque Tribune. October 28, 1998. http://www.abqtrib.com/arc1/news102898_unm.htm (Accessed January 22, 2000).