Tax Waste at UNM

With state revenues down, lobbyists from UNM are scrambling to secure funds from the legislature. Instead of working to cut a more crucial slice of the public pie this year, it might be a good time for citizens, legislators, and educators to come up with strategies for making higher education more self-sufficient.
In their ’08-’09 budget plans, University administrators diverted revenue and increased tuition to fund a series of projects with a $1,650,000 price tag. Under the guise of strengthening the University’s “core mission,” “enrollment management,” and “academic departments,” administrators made some expensive promises that deserve analysis.
$200,000 was allotted to keep Zimmerman Library open 24/7. This goal never saw the light of day, and librarians aren’t aware of any such plan. Instead of fulfilling their budget “goal,” University administrators decided to extend Parish Library’s operating hours, a smaller business library with fewer resources for the average student.
Almost half a million was portioned for “Enrollment Management,” which developed a “Parent Relations” website that helps parents understand the issues necessary for their youngsters’ college success, including suggestions for classes. It seems costly and excessive to encourage parents to continue pampering their children throughout college.
Another half million was diverted to offset the increasing costs of copying paper, telecom and other equipment, so the Provost’s office could hire more teachers instead of worrying about standard operational costs. Despite this goal, the University was forced to implement a hiring freeze because of funding shortfalls.
In November, New Mexico voters approved $7,000,000 in bonds to fund a new Science and Mathematics Learning Center. The University planned to break ground for the new facility during the fall semester, but even now, midway through the spring semester, no progress has been made.
These unfulfilled or superfluous projects represent only a tiny fraction of the University’s total budget. There are surely millions more taxpayer dollars funding broken promises and extraneous projects. High costs to the public could be countered if the University was encouraged to become more self-sufficient.
Although far from ideal, the UNM Health Sciences Center is an example of an educational enterprise that is far more sustainable than most at the University. With only a fraction of the total UNM student population pursuing a degree in a health-related field, the patient care services of UNM Hospitals provides 23% of UNM’s total revenue. However, the Health Sciences Center and UNM Hospitals combined account for 54% of UNM’s expenditures, so we can conclude that the medical programs at UNM are almost halfway self-sufficient. If these programs doubled their efficiency, they would be nearly sustainable and wouldn’t require billions in tax money to operate.
Professor Sharon Warner, former director of the Creative Writing program at UNM, organizes the annual Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, an entirely self-sufficient educational program. Warner’s program pays its own rent for the University property it utilizes, as well as pays well-known writers to teach at the conference. Her conference is a shining example of education that does not rely on taxes for funding. Students pay to attend because they know that the teachers have established reputations in the field, reputations that extend beyond the tangle of scholarly journals and the trappings of state run Universities. The product that these writers generate is paid for willingly, instead of through taxation.
When taxes meant for education are funneled through the bureaucratic machine it leaves way too much room, as we’ve seen, for mismanagement and dishonesty. Our educational system needs to reflect the more clear and direct trade that Professor Warner has been able to establish. Educators should be able to demonstrate more obviously that they possess knowledge that is monetarily valuable to students, instead of relying on a Ph.D. as an all-season pass to tax graft.