I know nothing about the situation at Northern New Mexico College beyond what has been posted on this blog, but here is an open letter from the institution’s president in which she attempts to identify and to address the issues there.
A Letter from Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló,
President of Northern New Mexico College,
To the community of northern New Mexico
May 7, 2014
Dear community members,
In light of the many changes Northern New Mexico College has undergone in the past year, I want to take this opportunity to clarify some of the recent decisions made at the College. It is true that Northern has experienced both successes and difficulties. Just as we celebrate our victories, we must also acknowledge areas where we have fallen short.
I understand that some are questioning the stability of the institution. Given recent publicity, I can understand how one might raise such questions, but I also recognize that much of the concern has been based on inaccurate information and misunderstanding. This contributes to an atmosphere that runs contrary to the best interests of our students, our region and the progress we are making as a college.
I embrace transparency and communication as part of my accountability to the community. I understand, however, that my openness about the College’s financial problems, many of which predate my tenure, creates a perception that such troubles began with my arrival.
When I took the reins, my charge was to nurture the accomplishment of Northern becoming a four-year comprehensive institution. Meeting the financial demands of transitioning to a four-year college that meets the needs of northern New Mexico is still a challenge we face today. This required hiring more full-time and doctoral level faculty, providing better student support services and creating structures within the college that ensure we continue the progress we have made in managing our finances.
As you may know, the College was placed on fiscal watch in 2007 in response to problems in its financial oversight. We have since carried out a financial recovery plan that included the completion of two past-due audits in ten months and the timely submission of the FY12 and FY13 audits. Also, for the first time in three years, the institution’s budget was approved for 2012 and approved again in 2013.
Despite our limited budget, we have been successful in increasing services for our students. For example, we developed the College’s first comprehensive Advisement Center last year, focusing on first-year retention, and began requiring every student to meet with an advisor before they register. Our work with lawmakers has yielded funding for an internal security department and renovation of the student game room, research laboratories, Student Senate chambers and the library. Our efforts to enhance quality of service also include hiring highly credentialed faculty from across the country. Each of these efforts were based on concerns faculty, staff and students have raised via ongoing discussions.
Last year, the Board of Regents charged the administration with the review of academic programs. We considered the College’s core mission, program enrollment, graduation rates and employment outlook for graduates. Based upon this analysis and with the assistance of an independent auditor and a committee comprised of faculty and staff, I recommended that three programs be discontinued in the upcoming year. These programs are Construction Management, Automotive Technology and Radiology. Please note that Construction Management does not include trades such as plumbing, electricity or welding. Considering the closure of any program is a difficult and unfortunate task, but one that is sometimes necessary in order to preserve our College. Rest assured that for students already enrolled in these programs, the College will continue to provide the necessary courses, resources and support services needed to complete their degree.
I respect that the automotive program plays a vital role in an art form unique to northern New Mexico. Therefore, we intend to explore the possibility of offering Automotive Technology as a continuing education program. Student feedback has shown that this model is a current success for the College’s Spanish Colonial Furniture program in El Rito.
We are still committed to providing associate degrees and certificates in the trades and helping students obtain their GED. We are also working to find solutions to student and community concerns, including affordability, access, workforce needs and academic quality. We revisited the impact of raising costs and consequently, beginning this summer, the College is implementing a community rate for studio arts courses. The new rate of $100 per credit hour is available to part-time, non-degree seeking students. There will be no tuition increase this year, despite the State encouraging us to explore the option in order to align with other comprehensive institutions.
We anticipate that housing will be available on our main campus next Fall, which will allow us to grow our enrollment, provide a better experience for our students and enrich the local economy. Campus housing will also accommodate Rio Arriba students who live too far for a daily commute. Currently, we are the only four-year institution in New Mexico that does not have a residence hall. Eventually, our hope is also to provide family housing for students with children.
Although we have done much to increase communication, I know we can do better. This was clear when 45 percent of full-time faculty expressed a vote of no confidence in the administration. Regardless of how people feel about myself, the current leadership, or recent decisions, the College’s reputation is something we all take part in. I believe that shared governance prompts the need for shared responsibility. Issues of quality instruction, retention and graduation rates are also an integral part of the faculty’s role.
Increasing our enrollment is a critical way the College can remain viable. Sadly, misinformation and attacks obstruct opportunities to have civil conversations to address these important issues. This ultimately harms our community relationships and our ability to serve students. I believe fundamentally that we all care about the future of Northern and although we may disagree on solutions, taking the time to find common ground goes a long way towards improving working relationships.
Despite doubts, there have also been many who have shared support for the direction I have taken the College. All input is valid, and I remain optimistic that we can move forward together. It will require all of us: the Board, students, faculty, staff and you, the community, to make Northern what this region deserves.
My thanks to all who support us. You bring much needed hope during this difficult time. I welcome critique and demand for accountability, but also encourage each of you to evaluate information in order to make sound judgments. Together, we have the power to make Northern New Mexico College great, for the sake of our students.
Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló
Comparing this letter to the information from a faculty website that Jonathan Rees has made available in his post, I notice several things:
(1) There is no mention in the president’s letter that some of the faculty who have been summarily dismissed with the sudden administrative elimination of their programs were tenured. In fact, the lack of any comment on the fact that some of the dismissed faculty were tenured suggests in itself a lack of respect for the concept of tenure.
The list of dismissed faculty presented on the faculty site does include faculty in the three eliminated programs, but it also includes others in a variety of disciplines.
So there appears to be a major disjunction between the president’s repeated assertions that the institution is hiring new full-time faculty and this list of abrupt terminations of current full-time faculty. And, of course, even if the tenure lines are being filled by new hires in other disciplines, there doesn’t seem to have been anywhere close to enough institutional discussion of or preparation for the dismissal of tenured faculty.
The faculty site asserts that a quarter of the full-time faculty have been dismissed. The latest information that I can find on faculty numbers indicates that there was a ratio of about 4:1, part-time to full-time (roughly 160:40). The dismissal of ten full-time faculty would shift the ratio to about 5.25:1.
(2) The president acknowledges that she has barely survived a vote of no confidence. Yet, she seems to attribute that vote to her own commitment to complete transparency about institutional issues, which has caused her to be blamed for issues that she has revealed rather than caused, and to misinformation spread by others.
Although it is possible that there is some truth to both of her assertions, it seems very improbable that the communication issues are as simple as she asserts or that her administration’s biggest shortcoming has been her indiscriminate openness about the institution’s problems.
Moreover, there is a disjunction between that claim and the complaint that public criticism of her administration amounts to creating negative publicity for the institution. Why should her openness about problems be constructive while the openness of others about problems is destructive?
Equally suspect is her assertion that she has worked meaningfully with faculty on institutional decisions and that she welcomes constructive input. Faculty very seldom go public with issues involving institutional leadership if they feel that their concerns are being heard and their interests are being considered.
So, it seems very likely that either the faculty from whom she is receiving the input are too selective a group or that they have been asked simply to rubber-stamp administrative decisions that have already been made.
(3) The last paragraph, in which the president shifts the focus from the “soundness” of her own decision-making to the unsoundness of the perspectives of those who have criticized her performance seems especially revealing. It is not the sort of message that suggests any sort of determination to address issues related to her own performance.
Indeed, in highlighting her gratitude to those who support her while questioning the motives and the veracity of those who have criticized her, the president does not seem to be trying to repair the divisions within the institution but, instead, to be actually magnifying them—attempting to insure that the balance of support remains, however narrowly, in her favor. This sort of strategy is very seldom effective in the longer term.
For her surviving a vote of no confidence so narrowly when one of the causes of the vote has been the abrupt termination of tenured faculty suggests that the margin of the vote must have included at least some votes gained through intimidation, whether direct or implicit—that is, votes from faculty who were afraid that voting against the administration could somehow lead to their own terminations.
(4) There is much of the usual rhetoric about the primary importance of serving the needs of students, but there is a disjunction between her assertions about the enhancements of student services and her critics’ assertions that very little of the budget has been allocated to such services. There is also a disjunction between her assertions about a tuition freeze and her critics assertions that tuition and fees have essentially quadrupled under her leadership, with an undue percentage of the revenue being allocated to administration: that is, I am almost certain that he critics would charge that the tuition freeze was necessitated by the size of the previous increases.
There is a list of fees on the institutional website, which is either among the most comprehensive—even exhaustive–that I have ever seen or which suggests that an unusual amount of revenue is being generated through fees: http://site.nnmc.edu/tuition-fees.