University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes addressed three significant campuswide issues in the first of a series of town halls hosted by the President’s office Monday.
The town halls are an opportunity for members of the UNM community to share ideas and observations and engage in a university-centered dialogue. Stokes’ goal in the town halls is to develop themes and establish firm priorities and deadlines for getting projects completed.
Some of the issues discussed in the main campus town hall included campus safety, athletics and free speech. The conversations surrounding each have intensified at UNM in the months prior to Stokes’ arrival. Campus safety was the initial topic on the agenda, which folds into the larger issue of being an urban residential campus.
“I'm very much aware that as an urban university we have to deal with the challenges of living in the community that we do,” Stokes said. “I had a meeting with Tim Keller, our new mayor about how I want to be sure that we continue to partner. It has to involve working with the city of Albuquerque and the County in thinking about how we create safer environments for really everyone in the city.”
One of the ways the Albuquerque Police Department is addressing the crime issue is through a community policing model, which Stokes sees as something very positive for the community and positive for the UNM campus.
Stokes also recently made an announcement on the investment of $10,000 towards UNM’s campus safety week in early-September. “I want us to have a really good opportunity as a community to learn all about issues associated with safety on our campus,” she said.
More than $500,000 is earmarked for campus safety measures including an additional $125,800 in capital outlay funds from a student-led push at the Legislature. That includes an additional $415,000 from tuition and students for campus safety measures including cameras and lighting, a security director within the UNM Police Department, staff and programming for the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center and an online therapy service.
Athletics and its budget deficit and concerns were also discussed. Stokes said that, along with Director of Athletics Eddie Nunez, they are looking into all areas of the budget to develop criteria to evaluate the athletics programs to help develop parameters of the new proposal to “right size” athletics department. Together, they are developing a process where the program can be sustained without burdening the institution.
Stokes reiterated her position saying no decisions have been made regarding Athletics. “We’re looking at a whole range of data so we can then engage the campus community and the types of criteria that we would use and consider using to figuring out what the next steps could be," she said. "We're not quite ready to put out some possibilities of parameters for how we're going to do this, but we're not far away from being able to share more. I think this is going to be really tough no matter which side of this (issue) you're sitting on. We know that there are many supporters of every sport that we carry.”
Free speech was the last of the three topics Stokes chose to address in the hour-long town hall. Stokes noted that one of UNM’s guiding principles is the freedom of inquiry.
“I found this to be one of those important issues across the county,” Stokes said. “Across the country universities are grappling with the issues of free speech and the ways in which institutions set parameters around controversial topics. UNM doesn’t hide from these issues.”
UNM recently started a new experiment of sorts putting out big signs that say “Free Speech Zone Ahead.” The signs indicate that a potential controversial speaker is ahead and that the topic may be uncomfortable for some. The signs are put out so the campus community can make a choice on what to experience during their day.”
Stokes asked for feedback on this particular experiment and looks forward to hearing what the campus community has to say on this issue.
One of the questions that came up during an open question and answer period was the ongoing discussion regarding the "Redesigning the University" initiative, a comprehensive initiative taking a look at six different areas across campus.
The initiative has begun with the appointment of a chair and team of participants to each of six task forces. Each task force will rely on its collective expertise to identify external forces facing UNM and to generate recommendations intended to position UNM for financially sustainable academic success for the next 25 years.
“I think this conversation is important for any public university,” Stokes said. “I was really pleased to see that the conversation was getting started before I arrived because if we're not thinking about our future, we are just going to get left behind.”
Stokes’ next town hall is set for Thursday, May 3 from 12 to 1 p.m. in the Domenici Auditorium at the UNM Health Sciences Center. It will be live-streamed on the UNM HSC Facebook page.
For those unable to attend or listen to the town hall today, it is available on the UNM Facebook page.