Committee deadlock may doom reform proposal for this year
A proposed constitutional amendment to elect nearly half the regents of UNM and New Mexico State University hit a roadblock Tuesday that may kill it.
Members of the House Voters and Elections Committee deadlocked 5-5 on state Rep. Jeff Steinborn’s proposal, meaning it did not advance to the full House of Representatives.
Rep. Debbie Rodella, right, D-Espanola, and four Republicans on the committee voted against Steinborn’s initiative. The other five Democrats on the committee supported it.
Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said afterward he would speak to those who opposed the amendment in hopes of persuading them to reconsider before the legislative session ends March 16.
Currently, the governor appoints all the regents, seven at UNM and five at New Mexico State.
Steinborn said this process long has enabled governors to choose as regents their friends, political associates or campaign donors, often without regard to qualifications. Doling out regent appointments like ambassadorships weakens the universities, he said.
Electing some of the regents would create public interest in the positions and improve accountability, Steinborn said.
Timothy Ketelaar, an associate professor of psychology at New Mexico State, was among a handful of people who testified for Steinborn’s proposal.
“In my capacity as faculty senate chair, I have never had a substantive conversation with the board of regents on academic matters,” Ketelaar told the committee.
A persistent criticism of Steinborn’s initiative from the committee was why it focused only on UNM and New Mexico State. A handful of members questioned why other universities were not part of the reform plan for boards of regents.
Steinborn said UNM and New Mexico State are by far the state’s largest universities, and the two account for more than half of the budget for higher education. He said they were a reasonable starting point to reform regent panels.
His resolution would have added two regents to the board at New Mexico State, to give it seven like UNM. Three regents at each school would have been elected by congressional district in nonpartisan races.
In addition, one faculty member at UNM and New Mexico State would have been named to the board by the other sitting regents. The same practice would have been used to select the student regents. Faculty members are not included now on boards of regents.
The governor would have retained appointment powers for the remaining regents at both UNM and New Mexico State.
Had both the House and Senate approved Steinborn’s proposal, it would have gone on the general election ballot in 2014. The proposal was House Joint Resolution 9.
Still alive in the House of Representatives is Steinborn’s second proposed constitutional amendment to tighten who can serve as a regent.
It would create a nominating commission to screen candidates for regents at all four-year colleges and universities. Finalists for regent seats would be forwarded to the governor, who would make her selections from the commission’s short list.
That proposal, House Joint Resolution 8, would face a vote of the people next year if it clears both the House and the Senate.