New Mexico law says the school in Española that grants two- and four-year degrees is a college. But campus administrators already have renamed it Northern New Mexico University.
Now, with five days remaining in this year’s legislative session, Northern’s management team is taking some heat as it pushes for a bill that would formally rename the school a university.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, has publicly criticized Northern for bestowing a loftier title on itself without receiving legislative approval. The school’s website, for instance, already lists it as a university. Campus phone operators also greet callers by saying “Northern New Mexico University.”
Ivey-Soto compared Northern to a graduate student who calls himself “doctor” before writing his dissertation.
Ricky Serna, Northern’s vice president for advancement, said the school isn’t misleading anyone with the university title.
“Academic dishonesty is a most inappropriate way to describe it,” he said Monday in a phone interview.
Serna said Northern’s university title has been recognized by an accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission. Northern’s board of regents voted to change the school’s name.
“There is no procedure or process spelled out about using the name [before legislation is approved],” Serna said. “We’re doing the same thing that’s been done historically.”
But for consistency, he said, the school is seeking approval of the bill that would legally change its name from a college to a university. That measure has cleared two Senate committees, though it received negative votes from four senators along the way. It now is before the full Senate.
Damian Martinez, who was confirmed Saturday by the Senate to Northern’s board of regents, said he agreed with Ivey-Soto that the school should not be calling itself a university unless the law is changed. Martinez is an attorney from Las Cruces.
Northern, with a full-time enrollment of 784, offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Serna said numerous other schools that do not confer graduate degrees have university titles.
But, he said, the school’s regents may have to revisit the question of the university title if the legislative session ends without the name change being approved.
The Legislature last changed the school’s name in 2005. It went from the Northern New Mexico State School to Northern New Mexico College.
Correction appended: The original version of this story incorrectly said that the Higher Learning Commission authorized the name change from college to university. The commission recognized the university title on its website, but did not play a role in the name change.