Northern New Mexico College teachers vote ‘no confidence’ in administrators

Nancy ‘Rusty’ Barcelo, president of Northern New Mexico College, is shown at the Española campus on July 1, 2010, her first day on the job. A recently faculty letter charges Barcelo and others with fostering a state of ‘financial chaos, doubt, uncertainty, and fear of retaliation,’ and faculty members took a vote of no confidence in top administrators Wednesday. New Mexican file photo

Northern New Mexico College faculty, in a vote Wednesday, expressed no confidence in five leaders at the Española school.

The action comes on the heels of a faculty letter charging President Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo and others with fostering a state of “financial chaos, doubt, uncertainty, and fear of retaliation” and citing concerns about declining enrollment, overspending, a lack of pay raises and management of the budget.

To some degree, the move mirrors events at Santa Fe Community College over the past year, when staff and faculty voiced concern about decisions made under former president Ana “Cha” Gúzman at that campus. That board last year voted to terminate Gúzman’s contract, eventually paying her a $500,000 settlement.

Tim Crone, a faculty member who has taught at the Española campus for about 40 years, said the vote — as well as a recent Student Senate vote of no confidence in two of the same five administrators — is a clear message to the Northern New Mexico College Board of Regents that the school community “does not have confidence in this administration’s ability to take care of business.” He said tension and declining morale have been building over the past several years.

Ricky Serna, vice president for advancement at Northern — and one of the five administrators targeted by the vote — said Wednesday afternoon that the school’s leaders question the validity of many of the accusations. “Some of them are completely untruthful,” he said. “Some are opinions at best. Others are misrepresentations of what is actually happening.”

Rosario “Chayo” Garcia, who chairs the Board of Regents, said in a phone interview that the faculty’s concerns “do not ring true,” except for those regarding increased tuition and declining enrollment. She said the board is “very confident” in Barcelo’s leadership and that the tension may be a result of growing pains as the college looks to expand programming and grow into a “true university.”

“It’s something typical,” she said of the faculty’s action.

Barcelo came on board as Northern’s president in 2010. Staff and faculty criticisms of the school’s leadership started as early as 2012. And in the spring of 2013, many of the school’s staff and students joined forces to stage a public protest in response to rising tuition rates, layoffs of about 20 employees and declining enrollment.

Serna acknowledged student enrollment has dropped in past years — to about 750 full-time students now — and that the school raised tuition by more than 13 percent this year. But he said the school is working on a plan to level out tuition and service fees, and to decrease fees to save students about $115 per semester. But the Board of Regents would have to approve such a plan before it could go into effect.

He said other accusations are untrue, such as the charge that the school has overspent in the past five years or has raised administrative salaries while ignoring the need to raise staff and faculty salaries. He said audits of the school’s finances before 2010 indicate the school had overspent in the past, and school leaders had to address those financial gaps over the past few years.

Joel Martinez and Samuel Ledoux, who lead the Student Senate on campus, said Wednesday that student services have been decreasing and that the college continues to drop popular programs, decreasing options for students. Both said rising tuition has driven some students away.

Serna said the college has dropped some classes, but only those that have few students enrolled — sometimes fewer than five.

Ledoux said Serna attended a Student Senate meeting several weeks ago and told the assembly, “If you don’t have anything good to say about the college, don’t say anything at all.” Both he and Martinez said Barcelo does not encourage an open-door policy and is rarely seen by students on campus.

Serna disputed Ledoux’s comments. He said following a disagreement over some online posts Ledoux made about the college to stir up student dissent, he asked Ledoux to sometimes promote the college. When Ledoux said he would not use his position to promote the college, Serna said he told Ledoux, “Then it is not fair to put it down.”

Crone said there are more than 50 faculty members at the college, and about 67.5 percent of them voted Wednesday, with 85 percent of those voting “no confidence” and 11 percent abstaining. Just one staffer voted “with confidence,” he said. Crone said some staff members indicated they would not vote out of fear of retaliation.

Serna said the college employs about 200 people.

The school was founded in 1909 as the Spanish American Normal School and has gone through changes in both identity and mission over the past century. In 2005, the school received authority to offer bachelor’s degree programs. It has a branch campus in El Rito and has an annual operating budget of about $11 million.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

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(9) comments

Steven

El Rito is the main campus. There is where the land grant is and there is where the money goes through. Just one of the things this administration has done; disregarding the people and the communities it serves and apparently not knowing how to run a college. BRING BACK NNMCC!!!! Community College.

Heather Winterer

Twenty three people is not a "handful" and should be taken seriously. Also if one is in lock step with the current administration why would one fear retaliation for speaking out against this vote? In fact, in a system that values favoritism over merit, one might actually expect reward. As for third grade games, mine were a lot more fun, and I voted for the sake of my students who deserve much better and for the sake of my colleagues who have been living under a cloud of misinformation for years. Those of us who voted do not fear accountability. We crave it.

Heather Winterer, Associate Professor, Northern New Mexico College.

juan Diaz

really Mathew. Student senators didn't solicit students input?

John Jamison

I wonder if one of the Administrators is Domingo Sanchez III??? He left a financial mess everywhere he's been. Just look into Santa Fe County when he was County Manager, Highlands University, NMAC, and I think he even messed up the finances for St. Micheal's High School. And now he is on Mayor Gonzales' transition team. I wonder is the Mayor knows this. Maybe the New Mexican should start digging!

Patricio R. Downs

I thought of something while I was writing my previous post. Perhaps, as an idea, Northern could do as three of the universities in NM do: have a branch community college attached that offers certificates and associate degrees. NMSU has branch community colleges in Grants, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, and the Dona Ana branch in Las Cruces. UNM has branches in Gallup, Los Alamos, Valencia County, and Taos. The "closest-to-their-size" example I can think of is Eastern NM University. ENMU has branch campuses in Roswell and Ruidoso. Northern has two sites already - one in El Rito, and one in Espanola - so it wouldn't be a stretch to think it could be done.

Steve Salazar

Northern has been, at best, a community college. Maybe NMHU, or UNM should use Northern as a branch college.

deerdancer

A whopping 23 faculty voted No Confidence (not close to a majority of all faculty) and 4-5 student senators (who did not solicit any student input). As an Assistant Professor at Northern, I along with several other faculty members, chose not to vote and engage in these 3rd grade games. We are public about saying so and fear no retaliation. I'm concerned about the misinformation that continues to be fueled by a handful of disgruntled employees who are afraid of accountability. I hope if you continue to cover Northern stories that you can include other faculty voices. Thanks! Matthew J. Martinez

Patricio R. Downs

Three things I observe as a whole about NNMC:

1) People still view it as a local, community-type college. Local kids used to go there to get their "garbage" courses out of the way (how many engineers need "US History From 1877" in their everyday work?) to transfer out to UNM, NMSU, etc., since it was cheaper to go to Northern and get half of your coursework out of the way. Yes, it's still cheaper ($114.50 per credit hour vs NMSU's $247.90) than other places, but it's no bargain. (By way of comparison, an Espanola student who attends Santa Fe Community College pays $51.50 per hour)

2) Even though the school has expanded to grant bachelor's degrees, the pickings are pretty slim if you want to "stay local" and get one from NNMC. While I think it's great that they offer engineering degrees and are trying to get ABET accreditation, would you rather hire an engineering student from UNM/NMSU/NM Tech, or one from Northern to design that new bridge or electrical substation?

3) It would appear that the current NNMC administration is trying to "play with the big boys" on a community-college budget. It won't work. Essentially, you'll get students attending that can't get into a larger college, or that don't want to leave home to go to college. Mr. Crone, et.al., seem justified in that the administration isn't taking care of business. (Full Disclosure: I know a couple of people cited in this story. I do not work for NNMC, however.)

CM Williams

I remember Ricky Serna when he was at New Mexico Highlands University during the Manny Aragon reign. He basically said the same thing today as he said back then. When students approached him on several issues, including tenure, housing, tuition, and the loss of needed classes, he told us not to be stinkers. He also promoted a bill through Student Senate that no one could talk badly about NMHU, even though there were so many problems. That bill got shot down because many students saw it as censorship.

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