Can we welcome WNMU to the 21st century?


So, looks like the WNMU regents, absent their board president, decided to extend President John Counts’ contract another year. I remember when they gave him an extension in 04-05 (I was reporting for KNFT), great pains were made to indicate it would be the last time. The regents argued they needed to hike Counts’ pay so they could attract quality candidates to succeed him; they wanted to bring his salary in line with that of other New Mexico university presidents; and they wanted to give him a better retirement package.

Then, in 2006 (IIRC), they upped the salary again, extended the contract further, and even included a retention bonus.

Rinse, repeat, in 2008.

Faculty are likely upset, but that’s not even the most egregious part of the story. ((Honestly, they should be angry – they’re always drawing the short straw on the salary front, but Counts continues to receive raises and contract extensions. But that’s another blog post.))  The real news is that Board of Regents President Tony Trujillo was unaware that the contract extension would be on the agenda until the day of the vote:

“The first time I saw the agenda item under New Business … was this morning at the work session,” Trujillo said on Friday. “The item was not on the agenda we discussed a week ago.”
Trujillo said he had met with Counts a week earlier, on Friday, Dec. 5, to discuss the agenda before it was released, as per the Board of Regents’ handbook.
“I can’t participate in being railroaded into an agenda item I didn’t know about,” Trujillo said. “I’m not going to participate in a public forum where I have issues.”

Now, WNMU is going to say it violated no laws about public meetings and that it posted an amended agenda at the proper times, but you know what? If the board president doesn’t know in advance, how is the public supposed to know?

Time and again, the WNMU Board of Regents has stifled public comment, obfuscated when possible, and violated the public trust. Staff of the school (whom also serve the Board when it is in session) work diligently to ensure that state and federal open meetings and open records acts are followed to the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Holding quarterly meetings in Santa Fe, cramming work sessions into the tight conference room in the administration building, and limiting public input time during meetings are just a few of the measures that, when viewed together, seem to indicate an aversion to public dialogue and openness.

I haven’t really been around for the past two years, but reading stories like the one in today’s Daily Press sure doesn’t lead me to think that the school, its leaders, or staff have taken steps to involve the community or be more transparent. So, here are a few tips (specifically for Regents-related issues):

  1. Agendas should be published early and online, and include meeting materials (reports or presentations).
    • For something like the president’s contract exentsion, this should include information on salary ranges for comparable institutions within in the state and region. Faculty should have been consulted, and the results of any feedback they generate should be provided to Regents and the public. In addition, there should be a detailed plan in place to begin a search for a successor, and that should be an action item as well.
    • Other materials, like reports on asset disposal, tuition increases, etc., should also be prepared in advance and made available to the public in an electronic format.
  2. Then, encourage interested parties to provide advance feedback electronically (via e-mail) or in the form of a written letter. Give this feedback to the Regents during the work session. That way, a dialogue can exist that isn’t limited to 15 minutes at the end of a 2-hour meeting.
  3. WNMU constantly highlights its distance-learning initiatives – why not stream board meetings online so people can watch from across the state? It’s cheap and WNMU already has the tech (or should). That way, even if Regents have to meet in a small room or in Santa Fe (or elsewhere), interested parties and the public can see what’s happening.
  4. Audio recordings of board meetings and work sessions should be posted online in MP3 or similar format, so members of the community can review what happened.

These are all really, really easy to do, and would go a long way toward engaging the comunity in the University’s affairs in a positive and constructive way. But, I have a feeling it will be business as usual – like it’s been since 1993.

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