In a sit down interview with SFR on Monday, Dec. 8, CSF president Stuart Kirk was coy about the direction of negotiations with the state. He hinted, but did not confirm the implications of Highlands president Jim Fries in the adminstration building and the president's office moments before the interview. Late Tuesday, the college issued both a press release and an internal memorandum announcing the beginning of official negotiations with Highlands University.
During the SFR interview, Kirk spoke at length about the state of the college, his disappointment in the Laureate deal falling through and his sense that energy for a consortium approach to programs on the campus might follow in the wake of any state institution assuming control.
In terms of a deal with Highlands, Kirk felt confident that the institutional match would be a good one, despite the fact that Fries previously served as president of CSF, arguably at the beginning of the mismanagement which has today nearly crippled the school. Alarmingly, Kirk claimed to have no idea how Highlands would fund a purchase of CSF, a detail that would presumably be central to any such negotiations.
In response to faculty concerns about when the tenure that was surrendered in order to court the for-profit education corporation, Laureate, might be reinstated, Kirk expressed his conviction that academic freedom was prized by Highlands University. That may be so, but Highlands did have a protracted legal battle with professor Gregg Turner in the past few years, and there are certainly those who will argue Highland's treatment of its faculty.
Kirk acknowledged that Fries, Secretary of Higher Education Reed Dasenbrock and Santa Fe Community College president Shiela Ortego have together discussed a system under which other state colleges and SFCC would have more involvement with the campus in the capital. Kirk stressed that he was not a central player in determining what the structure of such a "consortium" might be.
Regardless of nitpicking the details which are bound to emerge with time, the College of Santa Fe faces tomorrow with a new lease on life.
In a promising note, Highlands internal release to faculty and staff is already demonstraing more openness than can be said to be typical of the College of Santa Fe.
Fries announced that Highlands had entered negotiations to acquire CSF prior to the beginning of the fall 2009 semester. He added that Highlands would "assist" CSF with planning for its spring term and that the Las Vegas-based state institution would be responsible for refinancing CSF's debt.
He cautioned that the negotiations would involve intense legal, fiscal and educational considerations, but that he was hopeful a resolution could be achieved which would not compromise Highland's mission and maintain the integrity of CSF.
In closing, Fries addressed curriculum concerns by saying that CSF's focus on the arts would continue, but be supplemented "with programs in education, business, and social work to better serve educational needs in the Santa Fe area. We are also determining a tuition structure for the College of Santa Fe that addresses the financial realities of the acquisition and provides a significantly lower tuition and fee rate than CSF currently charges, but will be higher than NMHU's tuition rates."
When CSF was in negotiation with Laureate, the for-profit behemoth never so much as commented on the record. Perhaps New Mexicans can expect more open communication from Highlands during this next chapter, if not from CSF.
The full audio file of Kirk's interview with SFR will be posted here as soon as various electronic formats agree to cooperate.