ESPAÑOLA — Northern New Mexico College students joined forces with faculty members Thursday to protest plans to lay off 22 employees and raise tuition another 14 percent for the 2013-14 school year.
Juan Diaz, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, picketed with about a dozen others at the entrance to the Española campus.
“I am in opposition to this outrageous tuition rate increase,” he said. “The administration says it’s just going to be a 14 percent increase, which it’s not. They are not including the hidden fees.”
For example, he said, tuition for the one class he’s taking this summer costs $101, but the fees are $143.
Diaz said the higher tuition and fees are on top of steeper hikes in recent years. Tuition was $57 per credit hour in 2010, then almost doubled the next year, he said.
Samuel LeDoux, a Nambé resident who is working on his business administration degree while serving as acting chairman of the Santa Fe County Republican Party, said he was protesting the school’s lack of transparency.
Although school officials mentioned at previous public hearings that they would be cutting some programs, “never was this mentioned about cutting the jobs,” he said.
“The Republican Party usually doesn’t agree with unions on much. But our government needs to be as open as possible in order to benefit all the citizens because the government works for the citizens. We don’t work for the government.”
Heather Winterer, a professor of English and humanities, said she expects to get tenure after five years, but fears her outspokenness might jeopardize her position.
“There have been a lot of kind of capricious hirings and firings, all without rhyme or reason,” she said. “Sometimes there will be a search committee and sometimes someone will just show up for work hired by them. And, of course, you know that people have been fired here who are very, very valuable to the school.”
For example, administration employee Lisa Duran had a flawless record, but was let go in “pure retaliation” for speaking out against an administrator at a recent public meeting, Winterer said.
Tim Crone, who has taught sociology and anthropology at the school for nearly 40 years, is currently the president of the American Federation of Teachers union local. He said the last time faculty members picketed was in 1999 when the Public Employee Bargaining Act ended and the school elected to discontinue its union contract.
“Also that year, we either got an insignificant raise or no raise and the president at the time [Sigfredo Maestas] got a raise of 22.2 percent,” Crone said.
Thursday was orientation day for new students, so the current college president, Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, was not available for comment. But Ricky Serna, vice president for advancement, agreed to respond to the criticisms.
He said the school’s budget set to begin July 1 calls for eliminating 21 — not 22 — staff positions, but no faculty positions. These range from the dean of academic support services to lowest-tier jobs.
Asked whether Duran was fired in retaliation for speaking out, Serna said, “That’s never a driving force for any of the decisions we make. I won’t speak specifically to a single individual, but I will say broadly the administration … reserves the right, at the end of every fiscal year, to determine which contracts are going to be renewed and which are not.”
Serna said the school has tried to respond to some of the criticisms about the new budget. For example, he said, original plans called for shutting down a child-development center on campus and eliminating the woodworking program at El Rito. But after a town hall-style meeting a few weeks ago, both those programs were reinstated. Unfortunately, he added, keeping those programs means eliminating pay increases for teachers.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or email@example.com.