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In its July 9 issue, the Albuquerque Journal-News reports that the administration at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) is now complaining about being inundated with public-records requests. Written by T.S. Last, the article “NNMC Claims That It Is Overburdened by IPRA Requests” is available at: http://www.abqjournal.com/426873/abqnewsseeker/nnmc-claims-its-overburdened-by-ipra-requests.html. (IPRA apparently is the acronym for Inspection of Public Records Requests; so why it would not be IPRR is ambiguous to me.)
According to the administration of NNMC, it has received 30 such requests in the past month—for copies of e-mails and of personnel and budget records. The administration asserts that the requests represent a substantial burden on the institution’s already strained finances and overburdened personnel: specifically, fulfilling the requests will cost $15,000 in legal fees and consume 200 work hours of college employees, some of whom are typically employed at other tasks; the internal cost has been estimated at $8,000.
Although I have no doubt that, as the administration asserts, the money being spent to fulfill these records requests could be better spent on other things, it also could very easily be spent on any number of less important things.
The college administration has abruptly terminated one quarter of the full-time instructional faculty, including some tenured faculty. If it did not anticipate that there would be legal costs—that there could be much more substantial legal costs than those already reported–resulting from that action, then it is incredibly naïve, incredibly over-confident, and/or incredibly incompetent.
The administration has emphasized that 20 of the 30 public records requests have been initiated by one “former employee” and the president, Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, felt it important to add, on the record with this reporter, “’Requests for emails and personnel folders are creating fear among staff and faculty, some of who [sic] have been personally harassed by former employees.”
So the strategy that is at work here is so plain that it is almost laughable. The “former employees” are being characterized as troublemakers and even, implicitly, as lawbreakers, and it is not their abrupt termination that has created terrible uneasiness among the continuing employees of the college but their failure to accept those terminations passively.
If President Barcelo is terminated, one wonders if she will accept her loss of employment as passively as she expects her “former employees” to accept theirs.
The article does provide several “new” details for those who have been following it from a distance on this blog.
If you recall, one of the commenters on my earlier post claimed to be a student and to be speaking for students in expressing unequivocal support for the Barcelo administration. Well, apparently that commenter was not speaking for a majority of the students at the college, or at least for their elected representatives. For this article reports: “In April, the student senate and faculty issued ‘no confidence’ votes against administration, claiming mismanagement of budgets and grant funds, filling positions by appointment rather than by search, and a lack of transparency.” That the student senate had also issued a vote of no confidence had not previously been noted in any of the reports that I and other contributors to this blog have cited.
This news article also clearly reports that the faculty voted no confidence in President Barcelo and her administration. So, that statement seems to confirm another commenter’s assertion that, in claiming that she had survived a vote of no confidence by the faculty, the president was cynically counting, as her supporters among the faculty, the slight majority of faculty who did not vote, but that, among those who did vote, the vast majority voted against her—despite efforts to intimidate faculty who chose to vote, such as photographing those who voted.
Two other notes of interest on the reported causes of the votes of no confidence: first, it is entirely consistent that someone who would abruptly terminate tenured faculty would also feel no obligation to fill faculty or other positions by search, rather than by appointment, and second, that a lack of transparency is identified as a major reason for the vote of no confidence makes the president’s assertions, in her open letter, that her complete transparency about the college’s problems has ironically led her to be blamed for those problems seem, even more, a very cynical inversion of one of the most conspicuous complaints against her.
The problems here are plain enough, and there is probably no need to reach for analogy that is in any way hyperbolic. But I can’t help but think that this management style seems very reminiscent of that practiced by tinhorn dictators in every unfortunate corner of the world: nothing is ever the regime’s fault, unless it can be framed as an unintended consequence of the regime’s splendid intentions; anyone who complains is an enemy of the state and either imprisoned or banished, and yet endemic problems are forever framed as the consequence of the continuing sinister influence of those malcontents; and votes are always reported to reaffirm the regime’s continuing popular support.
Under other circumstances, I might be reluctant to entertain such an analogy, but it is very clear that nothing said beyond the walls of this institution is going to have anywhere close to as much impact on its future as what has already been said and done—and continues to be said and done—by those at the institution itself. One cannot intensify—or be blamed for intensifying–a crisis that has already reached this stage.