They call it a crisis of confidence. About 500 University of New Mexico faculty members attended a meeting last week to make their dissatisfaction loud and clear.
They voted no confidence in UNM's President David Schmidly and Executive Vice President David Harris and requested Regents President Jamie Koch not be nominated for a new term.
Over the course of two hours, faculty in the audience painted a picture of a swollen administration that hired its friends and skimmed money from departments without transparency. Enrollment was going up and more students' money was rolling in, but funding for academics stayed the same and the university's top grew heavier, said Physics and Astronomy Professor Carlton Caves.
Schmidly attempted to slow the boil and defend his actions. "There are questions concerning the disproportionate use of funds for bloated administration," he said. "You might be surprised to learn I agree with them." He's had his job for 20 months, he pointed out, the sixth president in 10 years. "This university cannot go to the next level with a revolving door on the President's Office."
History Professor Jane Slaughter said the faculty has no avenue of impeachment. "We have the right to question," she said. The faculty's vote, though significant as a token of its frustration, doesn't carry a direct penalty for the three who were called out. Schmidly, Harris and Koch still have jobs at UNM and have said they intend to keep them regardless of the vote.
Faculty Senate President Howard Snell read a statement from the Senate that spoke of mounting tensions in past months. "We are here because many of us feel our previous efforts to communicate this concern and work collaboratively to restore the University of New Mexico have not been met with enthusiasm, support and welcome by our administration," he said.
The vote of no confidence, I view it personally as the last communication faculty should resort to when they feel they've exhausted other avenues.
Faculty Senate President Howard Snell
How do you think it came to the point where a vote like this needs to happen?
One of my colleagues has made the point several times that the faculty are not the revolutionaries in this instance. They're the conservatives. We're trying to promote a tried-and-true method of governance at universities that has existed for several hundred years. The radical, perhaps more revolutionary, position is trying to adopt a corporate structure for universities, which I think might have been at the core of most of the frustration.
What's the difference between the two models?
Many of the highest levels of the administration perhaps aren't people with academic experience. They come in with a business model. They may have tremendous skills at running a for-profit business where your currency is money and you do the best with your currency by reducing costs as much as possible and whatnot.
The problem in the faculty's view with that kind of a structure is that a university's currency is not money, it's not profit. It's knowledge. And knowledge is this really tender thing. But I don't want to portray faculty as so innocent that they would not understand that there are business components to a university.
How would a vote of no confidence go about helping the university maintain its more traditional structure?
With a traditional university structure, the faculty are empowered to set goals. And, in fact, the faculty at UNM are empowered to set goals and do things by the handbook and the constitution, which, in the opinion of many faculty, hasn't been observed completely. The vote of no confidence, I view it personally as the last communication faculty should resort to when they feel they've exhausted other avenues.
Do you think problems at UNM were set in motion before Schmidly got to UNM? Or do you think they're directly related to his management?
That is why there were three motions for votes of no confidence—some of the issues occurred before President Schmidly was hired, and those were treated in the votes of no confidence in Regent [Koch] and Executive Vice President Harris. Thus, the overall situation that has developed is not the sole responsibility of President Schmidly. In fact, many faculty looked to him to turn the situation around when he was hired.
You said there has been a "systematic weakening" of UNM's ability to work closely with students. Can you expand on that?
Close contact with faculty means a student-faculty ratio where students actually interact with faculty rather than sit in a lecture room faced by one faculty member lecturing to hundreds of students. The student-faculty ratio at UNM in the last 10 years has gone from 14:1 to 20:1, and all indications are that it's going to continue to increase. That's because the hiring of tenure-track faculty has not kept pace with enrollment.
Do you think the vote affects student morale?
It's hard to answer that. There's not a single student morale. Many students have been very supportive. I know the graduate students association is planning a resolution in support of the faculty. It's probably a varied response for students, depending on which students you speak with.
Do you think this action will negatively affect UNM’s efforts at the Roundhouse to obtain funding?
I suspect you need to ask somebody at the Roundhouse about that. I would hope that it would not. It's obviously a very important responsibility to discuss and debate these things. If somehow the fact that that happened affected funding, I would be disappointed. This is what the university does to govern itself.
The faculty meeting was filmed, and you can view it online here.