We at UNM are living in an Alice-in-Wonderland reality right now. All of us, within UNM and in the wider community, need to understand that reality.

On one hand, we together have made real progress in aligning the faculty leadership, the regents and much of the administration in laying the groundwork for moving UNM forward. A lot of us on all sides care deeply about this institution, and are working long hours to strengthen UNM by redesigning decision-making processes, rebuilding the trust and competence needed to undergird those decisions, and putting together the best budget possible amidst a bad fiscal situation. We see fruits of that work already: new consultative relationships between administrators and the Faculty Senate, the regents' clear recent commitment to expanding the tenure-track faculty, and administrators, regents and faculty all talking about how to protect academic departments.

All that is extraordinarily important work, given where we have been.

On the other hand, the picture is atrocious at the front-line level of departments, where most students, staff and faculty spend their time. Not in all departments, but in far too many, students' classes are larger, so instructors are less able to give full individual attention; graduate students are spending more time teaching and less time completing their degrees; and front-line staff fear layoffs or furloughs and struggle under ever-greater workloads. Meanwhile, faculty struggle to hold departments together while staying focused on research and teaching – the heart and soul of the university and the bread and butter for UNM's main campus cash flow.

The truth on campus is a strange, double-sided story today. Depending on where you spend most of your time, you see a different reality. So we risk talking past each other. That will only get in the way of continuing to build trust and the decision-making processes we need, and of the urgent task of finding the resources we need to sustain front-line departmental life.

Having lost 15 percent of our state funding over the last 18 months, with more to come and with student demand rising, we have passed the point of absorbing cuts without damaging our students' experience. We now have to speak of limiting the damage to our academic mission, to our students. At the same time, this need not be all gloom and doom: We have begun to establish governance processes and relationships that can lead us forward. If we get it right, the way we approach our current challenges really can lay the groundwork for renewing our academic mission.

Column by Richard Wood