Regents are not Apolitical
On May 6, 1997, Editor in Chief of the Daily Lobo, Susan Montoya, wrote an editorial denouncing the endorsement of Republican congressional candidate Bill Redmond by Richard Toliver, a Regent of UNM. Montoya said the problem was “a university official has endorsed a political candidate.” (I have written on Toliver before. While not giving substantially monetarily, he was a major campaigner for Gary Johnson, who became governor. Had some social capital as director of United We Stand America, and generally hard conservative view, would not be a surprise he endorsed the far right Redmond. )
First of all I would expect Ms. Montoya, as an editor in chief of a campus newspaper, to have a better awareness of the role of the Board of Regents. Or, with access to public records, know that the Regents come from campaign contributors of the governor of the state of the time, and the governor appoints the same Regents. So the process is already political.
Some of us in progressive student politics noted that if the regents are already a politically based appointment, they should be elected by voters. We did secondary campaigns that linked the regents as positions of power on issues such as tuition. We even tried to put in a resolution through the student senate about it, but it didn’t go anywhere.
This brings up another issue with positions of power at UNM, the undergraduate student senate. Called ASUNM for Associated Students of UNM, it has its share of corruption. The abuse of it was shown starting in 1996. That year in the Spring elections were held for student government, and a slate of candidates won, made up of student athletes. Back then candidates could run only as individuals and not as slates of groups. That year a flyer was circulated urging athletes and supporters to vote for a list of candidates. And they won. The election was challenged on the slate rule. The current ASUNM senate voted to nullify the election. Yet they do not have final say, the regents do. The decision was sent to the regents and the election was upheld despite the rule breaking.
So the athletic slate was in power and the election rules are then changed. It was significant because when they came to power, one thing the Senate has power over is the committee that allocates student fee money, the Student Fee Review Board. The next year it voted on cutting many programs that were funded such as tutoring and child care, and giving a major increase to the Athletic department. The slate was created to get a new policy of increasing athletics funding. (The role of athletics at UNM has been talked about before here too.) This galvanized many constituencies at UNM, and a coalition was formed, SAVE UNM, for Students Activating Voicing Empowering UNM (we were suckers for acronyms). The Progressive Student Alliance played a key role in it, as well as a number of other student organizations like Raza en Accion and about 20 others, and a number of unaffiliated students who wanted to do something on this issue. SAVE UNM held meetings, organized an open forum, and even crashed a town hall held by President Peck. They got a lot of press in the Daily Lobo. The campaign lasted through the semester. But as with other decisions at UNM, the real decision was left to the administration. They made a lesser increase to the allocation to Athletics and slight increases to other programs. After this the momentum died down.
Another thing that affected the coalition was the action against Peck’s town hall. The main issue was hearing student voices, and they wanted him to move it to a time that was more convenient for students on campus to make. The president rejected it, and SAVE UNM decided to stage a protest on it. The plan was to attend the meeting and then walk out. The plan after that was not as clear. So after the walkout of the town hall, about 25 people marched to Scholes Hall, the administrative building, and marched inside. UNM campus police were called in, and then the protest went to the president’s house nearby. Afterward it dispersed. There was criticisms of the protest not only by the President, but by the Lobo, and students both outside and inside the coalition. There was some attempts to justify it, but it was clear it was not well thought and consensus was not met on it.
Later that semester SAVE UNM died out, and the PSA did a protest against tuition. (I wrote about this too). They held an outdoor concert by a local rock band, and did some speeched about tuition. A smaller protest was held from the year before when students got arrested and had demonstrators of nearly 100. About 25 students protested and spoke at the Regents meeting that voted on another tuition hike. One issue was whether to expand SAVE UNM’s mission to deal with tuition. Looking back, if tuition was an issue that affected all students, wouldn’t it have made sense to have them do it? Also that year student government elections were held, and a Progressive slate was run, but none of the candidates were elected.
Those were the activist happenings at UNM around 1996 and 1997. One thing all present student activists should realize is that it is not just activism but organizing, not just campaign against issues but get people involved in the process. To build community. There is a stereotype of university communities full of ready activists, but the reality is far different. One has to put in work to organize people there, especially at campuses not known for activism. It has its own contradictions too, such as the rapid pace of university life, but these contradictions have to be acknowledged and worked out in any situation. Not only look at the structures of power in any institution but work to build your community’s power too.