Notes from the Mar. 25, 2003 Regents Meeting

New Mexico Tech may become "co-owner" of Playas, NM

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., March 26, 2003 -- New Mexico Tech's first-responders and anti- terrorism programs may soon have a town to call their own.

The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents was informed at its March 25 meeting that Senator Pete Domenici is urging the U. S. Department of Homeland Security to consider buying the southwestern New Mexico town of Playas to use as a "real-world" training center for the research university's Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP) and other related training programs.

New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López further informed the regents that under Domenici's proposal New Mexico State University's (NMSU) "agro-terrorism" research programs would also find a home for associated field research activities on the 1,200 acres of adjoining land offered for sale as a package deal along with the town of Playas.

The Phelps Dodge Corporation recently put the 640-acre company town up for sale with a price tag of $3.2 million, after having closed its nearby copper-smelting operation in 1999.

Playas, which is located in the remote "bootheel" area of New Mexico, was once a thriving small town with a population of about 1,000 residents.

Even though it is now virtually a ghost town, a skeleton crew living in Playas continues to preserve village facilities which include 259 homes, six apartment buildings, community and fitness centers, a medical clinic, a bank, a post office, an airstrip, and a bowling alley.

In other announcements made to the Board of Regents, Tech President López provided a summary of recently passed state legislation that has direct bearing on New Mexico Tech.

López characterized the recently concluded legislative session as having been "extremely productive, with things having gone very well for New Mexico Tech."

A new funding formula for state universities that was adopted by the State Legislature, for instance, will mean an increase of $1.8 million for Tech's annual operating budget, which works out to a larger percentage gain than the other state universities got under the plan, López pointed out.

Also, the approved state budget for the next fiscal year includes salary increases for state employees up to a total of three percent.

"By providing an additional two percent from internal funding sources, I feel fairly confident that we will be able to give all our university employees a five percent salary increase this coming fiscal year," López told the university governing board. "This is a very important step, in my mind, to help build up employee morale."

The Tech President also reported that funding increases also were implemented at the state level to help cover inflationary costs associated with the university's increasing utility bills and library subscriptions.

In addition, several other funding bills for New Mexico Tech's various research organizations await Governor Richardson's signature to take effect, including $200,000 for the Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC), $200,000 for the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis (ICASA), and $100,000 for the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC).

A bill establishing endowed chairs at the state's three research universities also stands to benefit New Mexico Tech in the amount of $1 million, provided the university can match the endowment with $500,000 to be secured from outside sources.

A newly established educational outreach program for state science and math teachers being administered by NMSU also will add another $250,000 to New Mexico Tech's own operating budget for the supporting role Tech will play in the new program.

New Mexico Tech also has fared well with recent federally funded programs, López told the regents.

New Mexico Tech is poised to play a major role in EarthScope -- a continental-scale geophysics research project that will use arrays of ultra-sensitive seismometers to obtain detailed images of the Earth's inner workings, he said.

Last month, President Bush signed into law a 2003 Omnibus Spending Bill that includes $3 million to support new seismic instrumentation acquisition at the university's IRIS/PASSCAL Instrumentation Center and $30 million for the first year of operation of EarthScope.

In addition, $20 million in federal funding is coming to New Mexico Tech for its First-Responders training program, along with $8.2 million for EMRTC's new micro-electronics testing program.

Funding for all the federal programs received widespread bipartisan Congressional support, most notably from New Mexico's Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

During its March meeting, the New Mexico Tech Board of Regents also approved the following full-time, tenure-track faculty appointments:

In other official actions taken during its meeting, the Board of Regents also conferred emeritus status on longtime faculty members Carl J. Popp, professor of chemistry and former vice president of academic affairs at New Mexico Tech, and Vernon G. LeFebre, associate professor of physics.

The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents, in addition to its regular business, also went into executive session to discuss the possible renegotiation of the Tech President's contract.

Immediately following the executive session, Ann Murphy Daily, chair of the Tech Board of Regents, announced in open session that the Board had discussed and reached a concensus regarding an offer of new terms and extension of the President's contract.

An "emergency" meeting of the New Mexico Tech Board of Regents has been scheduled for noon on Tuesday, April 1, at Macey Center's Galena Room, for the Board to consider and vote on a new contract for the Tech President. An executive session is planned for part of the meeting.