University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes struck an optimistic tone in her annual State of the University address this afternoon, lauding faculty, staff, and students for their leadership, sacrifice, and achievements in the face of “one of the most disruptive eras in our nation’s history.”
“The last twelve months have challenged all of us, and further exposed the divisions and inequities in our society,” said Stokes, who, due to COVID-related restrictions, delivered her remarks virtually from behind the desk in her Scholes Hall office instead of live from the SUB Ballroom. “Through it all, I’ve learned that even in the face of adversity and uncertainty, the state of our university continues to be one of resilience, optimism, curiosity, and extreme compassion.”
Stokes, who has served as the university’s 23rd president since 2018, opened by acknowledging the serious challenges of navigating the global pandemic, applauding the response of UNM’s Health Sciences Center and noting its vital role in providing “quality and compassionate” health care services around the globe. She also praised the university’s faculty and staff for “working tirelessly and creatively to ensure students remain educated and engaged as they adapted to their new circumstances,” and saluted the resilience of Lobo students “who not only had their academic journey unexpectedly disrupted, but also much of their Lobo experience.”
Conceding that she was “realistic” about the long-term impact COVID will have on student enrollment, Stokes nonetheless was pleased that graduation rates had risen slightly, as had freshmen enrollment on the Albuquerque campus. “Still, we remain concerned by the trends we, and all universities, face for future enrollment,” said Stokes. “We take our role as the University for New Mexico to heart, and are working hard to ensure every student has access, and the assistance they need, to attain a great education as a Lobo.”
Stokes also spoke at length about the vital role The University of New Mexico and its Health Sciences Center (HSC) must continue to play not only in leading the state’s COVID response, but also in improving and maintaining the overall health of New Mexicans. “I’m proud of the innovative approaches that our health professionals continue to develop to provide improved care,” said Stokes. She pointed to HSC’s Project ECHO, which received $237 million in federal funding to train staff to fight outbreaks of COVID in nursing homes, as an example of “delivering more” to communities around the state and the nation. “We are truly proud to be The University for a Healthy New Mexico,” said Stokes.
“Our outlook as Lobos and as The University of New Mexico remains bright. And as we slowly emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, I’m grateful we’re at each other’s sides, and have each other’s backs.” – President Garnett S. Stokes
The president also applauded the transformative research conducted at UNM as the state’s only R1 institution, noting that the university’s research centers and institutes provide countless opportunities for researchers to study and explore. “Our researchers have addressed water rights in indigenous communities and explored the causes of mass extinctions in the ocean,” said Stokes. “They’ve learned how stress affects the size of newborns and led the pack on innovative substance abuse disorder research initiatives.
“Clearly,” Stokes concluded, “Lobo researchers aren’t afraid to take on the big questions.”
The president also spotlighted UNM’s initiatives to strengthen the state’s economy, highlighting a recent 10-year MOU with Sandia National Laboratories, a federal CARES funded program to provide business with the expertise needed to rake their business activities online, and the recent convening of a business and economic summit with industry partners, business leaders, and elected officials from the region. Stokes also praised the efforts of UNM Rainforest Innovations for its creation of new and innovative economies, noting that UNM is now ranked 27th out of 195 prominent institutions as “a university with great innovation impact productivity.”
Stokes acknowledged the upcoming budget challenges facing UNM, and all state-funded institutions, in the wake of a COVID. She noted that state budget cuts had resulted in a loss of $44 million for UNM its Health Science Center, resulting in a reallocation of budgets to protect the core of the university’s academic mission. “These budget adjustments were, and remain, hard,” said Stokes.
“Moving forward,” said Stokes, “part of our job will be to reflect carefully on our budget . . . look[ing] carefully not only at what it is we can afford to do, but also what we can’t afford not to do.” She pointed to the new strategic plan, UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined, as an ideal place to look not only at long-term budgeting, but also research opportunities, diversity, and decision-making processes in the face of adverse economic circumstances. “And there is little doubt,” added Stokes, “that such circumstances did arise!”
Stokes concluded her remarks much as she had begun, with a note of optimism for the coming year. “Our outlook as Lobos and as The University of New Mexico remains bright,” she said. “And as we slowly emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, I’m grateful we’re at each other’s sides, and have each other’s backs.”