WNMU BoR Special Meeting Today

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So, it appears as though the Board of Regents are holding a special meeting today in Rio Rancho to again discuss President John Counts contract. According to this Daily Press article, several of the Regents realized their hasty decision extending the president’s contract might lead to unintended consequences: namely, Counts could receive a retention bonus twice!

This is an example of why the Regents should take the time to notify the community of their intentions, initiate a true dialog with residents in the area (and faculty and staff) and provide clear agendas with specific objectives. Something like this would have been avoided if others knowledgeable about contract issues had seen the proposal beforehand.

Sadly, the meeting will not be held in the Silver City-Grant County area – the Regents are meeting in Rio Rancho. IF you can manage to swing by the WNMU Administration building, and IF you can do that at the exact time of the meeting, and IF there’s enough room for you to sit in the ridiculously small Serna Conference Room, you can attend the meeting by phone. If not, you’ll have to hope a local reporter can make it to the meeting and report on it for you – they didn’t bother to implement any of my earlier suggestions.

Oh, and it looks like Regent President Tony Trujillo is still upset about the situation, and won’t attend the meeting. He questioned whether the original vote was legal (!) and said he thought the other regents may have discussed the vote before the Dec. 12 meeting.

I’ll have more on this when I hear about it.

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.

WNMU alumnus on the national stage


(Update below)
A former Western New Mexico University student, George Ambriz, asked a debate question ((transcript here)) during the Democratic showdown in Las Vegas Thursday night. Ambriz asked whether the candidates believe there is a connection between immigration and terrorism. Robert Lovato at the Huffington Post has a bit more about George’s question:

If you listened closely tonight, you could hear echoes of the voter bloc that will, in the long term, counterbalance the weakening pull of the angry white voter. The only Nevadan of Latino extraction who got to ask a question, UNLV student, George Ambriz, used his opportunity to finger debate CNN’s Lou Dobbs for “insinuating” a “linkage” between terrorism and security and immigration. “No terrorist threat has come from our southern border” he said before asking, “Are they (terrorism and immigration) “intrinsically related issues”?

Combined with the Democrats’ rightward turn on immigration, such questioning from an Angry Brown Voter bodes ill for a Democratic party that touted its decision to bring the debate—and a much-anticipated early primary—to Nevada as part of its efforts to be more inclusive of Latinos.

I flagged an American Prospect column last month on what the growing number of Latino voters could mean for politics in this country, and, indeed, the “Angry Brown Voter” may soon be a force to be reckoned with. This is the sort of thing to keep an eye out for.

Ambriz was just before my time at WNMU, but I later met him in Las Vegas at a model United Nations conference. Like me, Ambriz was heavily involved in student government and other clubs while at WNMU—he served as president of MEChA and was a member of the student government, the Associated Students of Western New Mexico University. That’s why it’s so hard to read this:

At the previous Senate meeting on September 12, the once recognized MECHA club of Western, a club since 1970, was denied for re-recognition by an 8 to 6 vote. The reason for the club’s denial was due to MECHA’s inability to adhere to rules stipulated in the student constitution. The primary reason the Senate did not pass the motion, according to ASWNMU, was that for the last two years MECHA did not participate in two student events specified in by-laws concerning recognized clubs; they did not help with homecoming or great race.

The article later cites Abraham Martinez, the current ASWNMU president, who says the students at Western helped lobby for $200,000 to renovate the MEChA building, and that the club hasn’t helped the students in return.

MEChA has had an incredible history at Western, and it’s members have been instrumental in many of the positive changes at the school in recent memory. Between 2003-06, I know members, working in conjunction with the Associated Students, were responsible for securing money for more than the MEChA building at the school. These students lobbied on behalf of the dorms, the natural sciences department, expressive arts, and athletics. In addition, they lobbied for a stronger Lottery Scholarship and against higher tuition increases.

The club’s building is the only student-owned facility on campus, and MEChA welcomed other student clubs to use the building for meetings and fundraising. Two such events were held there in 2005 to raise money for the family of slain WNMU football player Nick Arnold.

To be blunt, this is an area of ASWNMU law that needs to be rectified. The student government cited lack of participation in student events as the reason for denying the club’s recognition. However, if the club is not recognized, its members can’t be credited for participation in those events moving forward.

The best solution, in my opinion, would be a conditional recognition: withhold matching funds for the club (ASWNMU will match fundraising dollars for clubs on campus) during a probationary period, and require the club to participate in the required student events. That way, MEChA doesn’t receive any monetary gain for their club projects, while the students at WNMU are ensured the club is meeting it responsibilities. Everybody wins!

Well, unless somebody is trying to get their hands on MEChA’s building. If that’s the case, then recognition for MEChA can’t happen.

I’m too far removed from the situation to know exactly what’s going on, but I think one bit of the story is telling:

That night, [MEChA advisor Magdaleno] Manzanárez challenged the decision made by the Student Senate and requested an appeals process be put into action. Then he went on to state that he was aware that there was no current Supreme Court Committee in ASWNMU and also requested they bring one together for the appeals process concerning the eligibility of the club.

Looks like ASWNMU doesn’t exactly have its house in order either.

UPDATE: Sunday, 10:30 p.m. — Looks like the crazies are out in full force, concocting conspiracy theories about George and the other folks who asked questions during Thursday’s debate:

In a nutshell, CNN’s six “undecided voters” were:

A Democratic Party bigwig
An antiwar activist
A Union official
An Islamic leader
A Harry Reid staffer
A radical Chicano separatist

Here’s a simple thought: Americans participating in a Democratic primary election or caucus are more than likely going to be Democrats ((It works that way in Nevada and Iowa, and I would also assume that a primary election attracts voters from within the party)). And—horror of horrors—those Democrats might be undecided as to which Democratic candidate they would vote for! They might even attempt to, you know, find out more about the candidates, and even venture so far as to ask questions! I know, the audacity!

One could even presume that the best people to ask questions at a debate among candidates in the Democratic primary election would be actual Democrats.

And boy, MEChA, the “separatist” organization dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government. I’m not going to bother duplicating the work of Ted at Crooked Timbers, who had a lengthy post on MEChA way back in 2003.

Union Busting

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Art Levine’s article on a union-busting seminar reminded me of the good old days at WNMU:

But if everything failed, and we found ourselves negotiating with a newly formed union, then we still shouldn’t lose heart. Instead, we could continue to undermine the union by rejecting all of its demands during negotiations. (In fact, in about a third of the cases after a union victory, employers don’t even agree to a contract.) The trick was in how to word refusals. First, with a shout, Stief demonstrated what not to say in response to a demand for increased wages: “I’m not listening to no stinkin’ wage increases!” He resumed his normal voice: “Does that sound like good faith? No.” Then Stieff showed us the proper alternative: “I’m not inclined to agree to that proposal at this time.” He observed. “Does that sound like good faith? Yes, but I’m saying the same thing I did before.” The lesson? “You can say no to anything.”

Did I say “good old days?” Silly me. Sure, workers at WNMU voted to approve a collective bargaining unit last summer, but, to the best of my knowledge ((Now, I may be out of the loop on this, but I’ve asked some people who would know, and nobody’s heard of a contract being signed)), they still don’t have a contract. The last time I checked (around June), it was under negotiation, and that seems to be the case today.

With all the news recently about UAW and GM, it’s easy to forget that there are smaller collective bargaining units out there, like the one at WNMU. At the time of last year’s election, there were only 38 employees eligible for the union there. In addition, while UAW is seeking a measure of job protection (they don’t want to see their jobs outsourced) and health care benefits, WNMU workers were seeking a living wage and improved safety conditions on campus.

In other words, unions can still (and do still) play major role in protecting workers in this country. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t see companies spending billions of dollars a year trying to fight organized workers.

Hat tip to Kevin Drum for the link.

UPDATE: 9/96/07 6:50 a.m. — Looks like the UAW strike is over.

My aunt retires today


After 25 years at Western New Mexico University, my aunt Barbara is retiring from her position as assistant athletic director. Throughout the past four years, she has had a tremendous impact on my life; what’s more, I know she has had a similar effect on the countless students she has met in the last quarter-century. More than anybody else at the school, I know she truly cared for her student-athletes and her fellow workers.

Auntie Barb and I

I attended a ceremony at the school this afternoon, for finger food and cake, where her friends and colleagues honored her. It was a lot of fun, and the kind of low-key celebration she could enjoy.

I’m going to miss stopping by her office when I head up to WNMU, and the court-side seat I shared with her for several years at basketball and volleyball games.

It won’t be the same without her.

Who will the new WNMU regents be?

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Heath Haussamen reported recently that Gov. Bill Richardson has named a new student regent for New Mexico State University:

I haven’t heard anything about regent appointments at Western New Mexico University (click here to see the current make up of the board). Stephen Janos has served two four-year terms as a regent, and is not seeking an additional one. The current student regent, Jennie Montoya, will graduate this December, and her two-year term is up on Dec. 31 as well.

Traditionally, the Associated Students of WNMU will recommend a student regent to university President John Counts. According to Julie Morales, Western’s public information director, ASWNMU President Victor Carbajal recently asked for interested students to apply.

Richardson is required to appoint two non-Democrats, as, according to Morales, regents Tony Trujillo, Noreen Krewer-Scott and William ‘Bud’ Davis are Democrats. State law prohibits appointing more than three members of the same part affiliation. Janos is a Republican, while Montoya is a registered independent.

More when I hear something.