UNM’s Ethnic Centers on the Budget Chopping Block
Christopher Ramirez is a first-generation college student doing graduate work at UNM. He is one of about 25,000 students at the university, according to a Fall 2008 enrollment report.
Ramirez, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, says he found a family at El Centro de la Raza, a Latino student services center on UNM campus. "You can go there, and if you're having a good day, you can celebrate with them," he says. "If you're having a bad day, they can support you." Student services such as El Centro help the university recruit and retain students, he adds.
Last week, Ramirez and representatives of El Centro, African American Student Services and American Indian Student Services took the Rail Runner to Santa Fe to tell legislators not to cut their funding.
Some of these decisions were very arbitrary. They're making these decisions based on politics.
Christopher Ramirez, GPSA president
"We understand with the economic situation that New Mexico's in, the university's in, the country's in, that there's going to be some budget cuts next year," he says. "We just don't want them to be as deep as what's been proposed."
Though the numbers are shifting in Santa Fe, the Legislature is considering gouging the ethnic student center's budgets. It's hard to say exactly how much will be scooped out because as UNM spokesperson Susan McKinsey says, the money's a "moving target."
A few programs could be eliminated entirely, says Ramirez. Funding might be yanked from American Indian research at Zimmerman Library or an after-school tutoring program that partners African American Student Services with the Ralph Bunche Academy charter school.
Thousands at UNM will feel the effects if the Legislature cuts the $35,000 allocated yearly for free student bus passes. "Some of these decisions were very arbitrary," says Ramirez. "They're making these decisions based on politics."
Part of the problem, he adds, is that funding for these services is considered "soft money," which is cash that has to be reconsidered and re-allocated every year. "One of these things we heard from legislators was that these programs should be funded by the university and not by the state."
The Women's Resource Center does not get legislative funds, says Director Sandrea Gonzales, but she knows what it's like to feel compelled to defend your value. "I always feel like we have to justify our existence at the Women's Resource Center, even though we're 37 years old this year, just because we are looked at in the same way they look at the ethnic centers," she says.
The Women's Resource Center has operated on the same supply budget since 1985, she adds. "It just tells you how we're all struggling all of the time to do as much as we can with the crumbs."
Her center often partners with the ethnic student services, and Gonzales says they've all been responsible for contributing to the success of an untold number of students. "We've done that by offering support and a safe and familiar place to go when things get tough. We've helped build self-esteem. We mentor."
Ramirez says tensions between UNM faculty and administration aren't helping the money debates in the state capital. "They're concerned about administrative pay," Ramirez says. "Santa Fe is trying to say, We're not sure we want to give you guys any money, your pay is so high. You guys can't even get along."
If all aspects of the university don't figure out how to work together quickly, he adds, "the students are going to lose."