COMMENTARY: Many people were surprised at the recent controversy about New Mexico State University needing to save $12 million because of a budget shortfall. There are many hard feelings from people being cut and the pushback against any cuts is enormous.
What the administration of NMSU wanted was to make no cuts and force the students to cover the budget shortfall by another tuition increase.
They want that even though enrollment is dropping because of the tuition increases over 20 years that raised tuition and fees from $600 a semester to over $4,000 a semester.
The NMSU Regents would not go for another increase, so the budget axe has fallen on several programs, with the resultant howls of outrage.
Budget problems have been a continuing problem at NMSU, starting with the institution’s first classes in January 1890 clear up to today. Often something was done to shrink the budget.
In June 1997 here is part of what I wrote in a column:
There is a battle going on at New Mexico State University – not a noisy battle with clanking swords, it is a battle of wills. As with most battles there’s winners and losers. Some employees will gain, some will lose. It was started by a June 18, 1997 report from the NMSU Strategic Planning Academic Programs subcommittee which rated academic programs and recommended some academic programs be eliminated.
What effect will this have on the citizens of New Mexico? I don’t know but this scuffling is good for NMSU and New Mexico. It forces the NMSU leaders to accept they cannot be all things to all people. A priority must be established for the NMSU core programs.
Three perceptions: First, it’s good someone started the process of aligning the academic programs to NMSU’s mission; secondly, the committee members are going to be flamed vigorously by employees who stand to lose; and this is just a report, the NMSU Administration and Regents will make the decisions.
The mission of NMSU is to benefit the citizens of New Mexico. The output of NMSU is graduates, research done and the service that NMSU’s faculty, staff and students provide New Mexico’s citizens.
One of the recommendations was that the Philosophy Department be eliminated. Those professors did not take that recommendation philosophically. There was a call to eliminate the Engineering Technology Department. The people in these departments will be injured by these decisions, if they are made.
Still, there comes a time when the injury to a few must be accepted. NMSU is not some employment agency that seeks to employ the most people possible regardless of need – even if that is what it seems.
NMSU has a job to do in this time of declining budgets. They must insure NMSU is of benefit to the citizens of New Mexico above any personal interests of NMSU’s employees.
It is a battle of priorities – personal and professional. There will be winners and losers. Hopefully, the losers won’t be the citizens of New Mexico.
Amazingly the issues today are much the same as in 1997, while the NMSU Philosophy Department remains with seven professors. Nineteen years after they were identified as not a priority they remain — nor were they cut this time.
The University of New Mexico has 13 faculty members in its Philosophy Department. In good financial times both NMSU and UNM can duplicate each other’s programs to no harm. But when money is tight, as was noted in 1997, this is one place to cut.
The notion is that once a program is started using public money, once the first person is hired by the government in some form or another, there can be no shrinkage of the size of government. In fact, there is a notion that all government must cost more every year, even with money becoming tight.
Having worked at both UNM and NMSU at different times over the last 40 years, I have experienced the budget-crunch syndrome at both institutions. In every case I have said, “Guess now we will see what our core priorities are at this institution.”
Often the priorities are the employees rather than the citizens of New Mexico. We should change that.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.