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Faculty, Administrators Bracing For More Budget Cuts

SOCORRO, N.M. November 18, 2010 – New Mexico Tech administrators are preparing for the worst-case scenario regarding potential budget cuts.

President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez reported to the Board of Regents on Tuesday that New Mexico Tech has accommodated a 16 percent budget cut from the state over the past two years by across-the-board reductions, largely by freezing wages and leaving many jobs vacant.

If the state mandates more cuts during the 2011 legislative session – which appears likely – Tech will begin scrutinizing individual departments to identify cost-saving measures.

Regent Richard Carpenter said, “We may be at the end of across-the-board reductions. We need to stay staffed to meet student needs. We’ve done it the easy way so far. Now, we need to look at each department.”

The academic mission has suffered the most over the past two years, largely because that function is largely funded by the state and outside funding is typically directed toward research activities. Dr. Peter Gerity, Vice President of Academic Affairs, said the academic departments have found creative ways to reduce costs, such as employing adjunct and part-time instructors.

At peak employment in 2008, New Mexico Tech had close to 1,300 employees. Now, the university has fewer than 1,000 people on the payroll.

The state has cut funding of higher education by $122 million over two years, with 97 percent of those cuts targeting four-year schools, Dr. Lopez said.

“We’re trying to sensitize policy-makers that we [the four-year schools] are bearing virtually all of the negative impact of these cuts, with two year schools not shouldering an equitable portion of the cuts” he said. “That’s an issue we’ll keep harping on.”

In recent weeks, the University of New Mexico earned its share of negative publicity by cutting funding for graduate students. Faculty Senate President Dr. Bill Stone asked board members and administrators about their position in respect to the matter. Dr. Lopez said his cabinet and the Faculty Senate’s budget committee have been tasked with developing a strategic plan for potential cuts.

“At some point, to meet the needs of the most productive areas, we may have to do away with some programs,” Lopez said. “We’ll have to have a process in place to do so.”

Meanwhile, the university is contending with its largest student body ever, and making changes to make sure all new freshmen can take the courses they need.

Early enrollment data for the fall 2011 semester indicate that the number of new students next fall will not be another record-setting class. However, the university is proceeding with plans to build a new dormitory.

After a lengthy discussion about procedure and technicalities, the Regents approved an amended resolution that authorizes two outside firms to gather information about a future bond issue that would generate $12 to $14 million to construct a new dorm.

Once a funding source is established, the university plans on building in two phases. The new facility will add 150 beds, while Baca Hall would be torn down. The net addition would be 90 beds.

In other agenda items:

  • The Regents learned that Dr. Dongwan Shin of the Computer Science and Engineering Department was approved for a six-month sabbatical. He will be working on an NSF grant to study user-controllable privacy in social networking sites.
  • Dr. Lopez reported that the university and Freeport MacMoRan are nearly ready to complete a donation of 2,200 acres of land near Playas, N.M. The donation will allow the university to expand the runway at the Playas Training and Research Center.
  • The Regents learned that the university had conferred 10 degrees in October – all master’s degrees.
  • Dr. Gerity reported that the Graduate Office has officially been renamed the Center for Graduate Studies. The change reflects a new focus in the Center, which has been helped by a $3.2 million Title V grant.
  • The Regents learned of four purchases greater than $100,000, all made with restricted funds:
  • EMRTC has contracted with Strategic Operations Inc. to support the Playas Training and Research Center. The company will provide role players and support staff for realistic exercises. The contract is for $183,431.
  • EMRTC issued a contract for $1.773 million to Strategic Operations Inc. for a training exercise program for the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Armored Division.
  • EMRTC is contracting with ManTech International to support the Playas Operation. The $842,000 contract is for training, programming and administrative support.
  • The Magdalena Ridge Observatory has entered a contract with the University of Cambridge for $486,621 to develop the fast-tip tilt system for the interferometry now under construction.
  • The Regents approved two changes to contract awards. EMRTC used state funding to repave Bravo Road. The estimate was $195,000, but the actual cost was $273,724, due to the need for additional asphalt because of the extremely poor condition of the road. This cost adjustment did not include a change in the unit price for the added asphalt material. Also, the Playas Research and Training Center revised a contract amount to ProForce Training for security services. The contract was increased from $205,360 to $343,131, due to the need to arm security personnel and because of a major increase in the number, size and scope of the new military training exercises, not contemplated in the original agreement.
  • The Board officially approved vice presidents Lonnie Marquez and Van Romero as members of the New Mexico Tech Research Park Corp.
– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech