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Regents Report: Special Projects Suffer Biggest Budget Cuts

SOCORRO, N.M. March 29, 2011 – The economic outlook for higher education in 2011 is not as bad as previously expected, New Mexico Tech President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez reported to the Board of Regents on Tuesday.

The state has cut the Instruction and General Budget for New Mexico Tech by 0.71 percent, which is one of the smallest cutbacks since the state started experiencing economic woes in mid-2008. Not counting the latest cut, New Mexico Tech and other four-year schools have suffered a total of 16 percent cuts in state funding.

“That cut still is painful,” Lopez said. “That is $350,000 less than last year, but it could have been more. In that sense, that’s good news.”

The news was much worse for so-called “special projects,” Lopez said. The Bureau of Geology and the Petroleum Recovery Research Center are among the entities at Tech that are classified as “special projects.” The N.M. State Legislature approved a three-tiered approach to cutting budgets for these line items: 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent. The Geophysical Research Center, EMRTC, ICASA and the National Cave and Karst Research Institute all will see 15 percent budget cuts – on top of five rounds of budget cuts over the previous 30 months. Other line items, like Science Fair, Science Olympiad, the PRRC, the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources and the Office of the State Mine Inspector will see 5 percent budget reductions.

“We fought for these projects, but we could not prevail,” Lopez said.

Tech has requested funding for two capital projects, but a filibuster in the New Mexico Senate killed all such funding requests in the waning hours of the 2011 legislative session.

“None of Tech’s programs are on life support, but critical decisions have to be made as we head into the next legislative session,” he said.

Dr. Peter Scholle, the soon-to-be-retired director of the Bureau of Geology, said his staff is operating at barebones. Five senior staff people with more than 150 years of collective experience retired in 2010 – and none have been replaced.

“We’re keeping our heads above water,” he said. “But this impacts the depth and quality of the work we can do.”

He also reported that the Legislative Finance Committee has asked the state’s colleges and universities to devise a new funding formula by October 2011. Lopez said he hopes he can promote a new formula that is more equitable for four-year institutions.

The current formula lumps the two-year schools together with the four-year schools. In part, because of this, the formula is not equitable. The seven four-year schools have absorbed 96 percent of the cuts in state higher education funding, while the 22 two-year schools have only taken 4 percent of the budget cuts.

The situation, however, is much worse for higher education in other states, Lopez said. The University of Nevada-Las Vegas is considering declaring exigency, which would allow it to begin laying off tenure faculty. In Pennsylvania, state schools have seen a 52 percent cut in budgets.

In addition to funding, Lopez and his colleagues successfully fought off 57 other bills and memorials that would have, for the most part, had adverse affects on higher education. During Tuesday’s meeting, he listed about 10 of the items that he helped defeat.

“Most of those bills died in committee,” he said.

Some of the bills would have added new taxes to universities; others would have required costly restructuring or reporting; yet others would have instituted new policies that would have lead to new costs in the future.

Lopez also said that the state has taken a 3.1 percent credit that would require tuition increases across the board, which amounts to a 3.1 tuition increase by the state. He expects Tech to raise tuition about 7 to 8 percent for the 2011-2012 school year, which would be a net of 4 to 5 percent increase by Tech.

In other news:

  • The Regents approved tenure and promotion to associate professor for six faculty members:
  • Dr. Anders Jorgensen, electrical engineering
  • Dr. Nikolai Kalugin, materials engineering
  • Dr. Sharon Sessions, physics
  • Dr. Claudia Mara Dias Wilson, civil engineering
  • Dr. Andrei Zagrai, mechanical engineering
  • Dr. Raul Morales Juberias, physics
  • The Regents approved tenure and promotion to full professor for four faculty members:
  • Dr. Penny Boston, Earth and environmental science
  • Dr. Paul Fuierer, materials engineering
  • Dr. Peter Mozley, Earth and environmental science
  • Dr. Clint Richardson, civil engineering
  • The Regents denied tenure and promotion to Dr. Carlos Ulibarri in the Management Department.
  • Dr. Peter Gerity, Vice President of Academic Affairs, told the Regents that Dr. Diedre Hirschfeld has been granted sabbatical for the 2011-2012 school year. Hirschfeld will spend the year conducting research
  • Gerity present the Board with a sabbatical report form Dr. Brian Borchers, who spent last year at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA.
  • The Regents approved an amended list of surplus equipment to be sold at auction. A list of items from Optical Surface Technologies, or OST, was removed from the list because some academic departments have expressed an interest in that equipment. The company OST is partially owned by the university and makes optics, including those used at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. The remainder of the surplus equipment was approved for sale.
  • The Board elected Richard Carpenter as its chair and Jerry Armijo as the secretary treasurer.
  • Lopez introduced the two new regents: Deborah Peacock and student Omar Soliman. Peacock is no stranger to Tech; she was the university’s patent attorney in the 1980s when Tech and Dr. Frank Etscorn filed the patent on the nicotine patch. That invention provided a robust revenue stream of royalties for the university. An Albuquerque resident and intellectual rights attorney, she is also a graduate of Colorado School of Mines. Soliman is a senior in computer science engineering, with a minor in management. He is a Socorro High School graduate and the son of professor Dr. Hamdy Soliman.
  • Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez presented the financial analysis for February 2011. He said revenues and expenditures are within the expected range and that all departments are within budget.
  • Marquez also presented the Board with a proposed amended budget that takes into account the new state budget. The general fund is down $185,000 and the special projects fund is down $905,000. Marquez said these reductions were expected and accounted for in the official budget.
  • Vice President of Student and University Relations Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming reported that early enrollment figures for the fall 2011 semester continue to lag behind last year, which produced a record size freshman class in 2010. The early figures are still ahead of the fall 2009 and fall 2008 numbers, however.
  • Professor emeritus Dr. Allan Stavely announced to the Board that the New Mexico Tech Press is officially in business and has published its first book – Stavely’s own “Writing in Software Development.” He said the all-volunteer, independent non-profit organization has two more textbooks expected to be published later this year – one in physics and one in English composition.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech