Petition to Remove Michael Branch as Northern New Mexico College Regent

Editor’s Note: La Jicarita has been following the controversial events at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) over the last few months as faculty and staff have been fired or quit over drastic changes being implemented by college president Nancy “Rusty” Barceló and the Board of Regents. A new Change.org petition is circulating to remove Regent Michael Branch from the college and replace him with a student regent. The text of the petition is included below.

 

A PETITION ASKING NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR SUSANA MARTINEZ TO HELP RESTORE ACCOUNTABILITY TO NORTHERN NEW MEXICO COLLEGE (NNMC) BY REMOVING MICHAEL BRANCH FROM THE NNMC BOARD OF REGENTS AND FILLING HIS SEAT WITH A STUDENT REGENT WHO WILL GENUINELY AND CAPABLY REPRESENT THE STUDENTS AND THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY WITHIN THE CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED STRUCTURE OF SHARED GOVERNANCE:

WHEREAS Michael Branch was reappointed by Governor Bill Richardson in 2008 to the Board of Regents of Northern New Mexico College, served as the President of the NNMC Board of Regents until 2014, and has been in office while  the Higher Education Department of the State of New Mexico has had NNMC placed on “Fiscal Watch” throughout the majority of his current term as Regent; and

WHEREAS the Higher Education Department has received “an unusually high number” of complaints about the NNMC administration, according to HED Cabinet Secretary Jose Garcia, on a wide range of topics, the most serious relating to the school’s financial situation; and

WHEREAS as recently as May 2, 2014, the Albuquerque Journal described NNMC as being in “dire financial straits” in light of the Board of Regents’ decision to eliminate several trades programs, 16 faculty and staff positions, and the college day care center in an effort to cut costs; and

WHEREAS the NNMC administration has overspent its budget for five consecutive years, according to the New Mexico State Auditor, and the increase in administrative expenditures—including raises for Administrative salaries and the addition of several new administrative employees—has resulted directly in cuts to courses for students, instructors, and student services; and

WHEREAS since the 2012 academic year more than 25 percent of NNMC’s full time faculty was either fired or resigned, including tenured professors, tenure track, and program directors, with most of the resignations reportedly due to frustration and dissatisfaction with the administration, in addition to frequent allegations of retaliation by the administration against faculty who express criticism against certain policies and actions; and

WHEREAS a general response by NNMC students to the climate of financial distress, cut programs and services, and experience of conflict on campus has been massive and unprecedented disenrollment, with student enrollment dropping over two-thirds from 1,254 full-time equivalent students in 2011 to a low of about 400 in mid-2014; and

WHEREAS in a campus-wide vote in April 2014, the faculty voted “no confidence” in top college officials, and the student senate also issued a no-confidence vote against NNMC administrators; and

WHEREAS over 750 people signed a petition against approval by the Higher Education Department of NNMC’s 2014-15 budget; and

WHEREAS in August 2014 a former Information Technology Director at the college filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit alleging financial indiscretions by the administration including misuse of federal funds, wasteful spending, gross mismanagement, and retaliation against employees; and

WHEREAS the federal Department of Education recently upheld a former NNMC employee’s claim that the college administration had improperly supplanted operational funds with grant money to pay his salary and that it must provide reimbursement for unauthorized use of federal funds; and

WHEREAS numerous allegations of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment have been made against members of NNMC’s executive leadership, and some of these claims have been taken through Northern’s Office of Equity and Diversity and they have been dismissed, therefore leading many of these claimants to have taken their claims to outside lawyers; and

WHEREAS Regent Michael Branch has repeatedly turned a blind eye to these and other serious allegations of corruption, unethical behavior, incompetence, and mismanagement by high-level administrators at Northern New Mexico College, and he has been the chief proponent on the Board of Regents for policies that are widely seen to be undermining and destroying the financial, academic, cultural and community foundations of the college; and

WHEREAS voters statewide in the November 2014 general election approved Constitutional Amendment 2 to create a student regent position on the NNMC Board of Regents; and

WHEREAS this voter-approved constitutional amendment requires that a student regent must be appointed by the Governor of New Mexico upon the occasion of the next vacancy on the NNMC Board of Regents, as the terms of office of current Board of Regents’ members expire; and

WHEREAS Regent Branch is one of two current regents whose term of office on the Board of Regents comes to an end on December 31, 2014,

We, the undersigned, therefore ask Governor Susana Martinez to remove Michael Branch from the NNMC Board of Regents, and to fill his seat with a student regent who will genuinely and capably represent the students of NNMC and the best interests of the campus community on all matters before the Board.

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