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New Mexican Misses on College of Santa Fe

February 8, 2009, 12:00 am
By SFR Staff
It can be hard to read the New Mexican on a Sunday. For one, I'm not in the office so there's no paper laying around begging to be—what's the polite word?—considered.

Secondly, I'm easily seduced by the idea of reading the New York Times instead, and maybe lingering too long in bed. But when I did finally climb from the covers and realized that I would require maple syrup for my requisite pancakes, a quick trip to the co-op was in order. The New Mex's above-the-fold story about the College of Santa Fe, “Institution on the Edge,” was too tempting to pass up. Suckered out of the price of a Sunday New Mexican, I was forced to buy a lesser syrup.

Perhaps that put me in a foul mood, but Reporter John Sena's story, although credibly ripe with some good numbers, was otherwise rich only with pseudo-historical details like dates and names. The why and how behind the names and, more importantly, the real details, were absent and it was obvious from some of the assertions—that former President Linda Hanson ever actually operated at a true surplus, for example—that Sena had been fed some kool-aid and that he had happily lapped it up.

To run such a rote, ultimately unrevealing history, especially under the header of “Institution on the Edge,” in advance of CSF's gambit to become a state school, might be consigned to laziness on the beat, if it hadn't been coupled with the New Mexican's toxic editorial: “CSF: Fine college in financial crisis; beware of bailout.”

More after the jump...


Never mind that the editorial devotes three paragraphs to lavishing praise on CSF before twisting in the knife—some cheap seduction before the slaughter—it's the utter lack of reason, debate and convincing argument that makes the New Mexican's editorial a shameful waste of space. But it's poor reasoning that many legislators may take to heart, or at least use to bulwark their own shaky resistance for a four-year state university in the capital city. For any legislators with a resistance to higher education, here's a link to the definition of bulwark.

The New Mexican, and the legislature for that matter, is sure to get an earful about how the editorial ignored the achievements of students and the college community's unity of effort to transcend difficulties that its administrators have too long swept under the rug. But there's no point in railing against that; the New Mexican shouldn't support CSF's purchase by the state because of emotional motivation. More power to it for not clouding its judgment with saccharine assertions, but points must be docked for failing to generate judgment in the first place.

The editorial asserts that the Albuquerque-based University of New Mexico is a better choice than the more likely New Mexico Highlands University to acquire CSF, but fails to explain why and, beyond that, why such a position should scuttle the deal on the table. It cites unnamed “UNM leaders” and “some of UNM's sharper legal and financial minds”—though sharper than what is never revealed—as the cunning source for its allegations and inferences.

This bit of integrity-riddled editorial (and, yeah, that's sarcasm) is followed up by an aside that casually supports the idea that the CSF campus could “potentially” be more valuable as an “urban development.” Then, it continues with the kind of hard-boiled questions one can only assume the New Mexican's “editorial board” (Rob Dean's name isn't specifically tagged to any of this stuff) developed during casual, off-the-record, conversations with chums and acquaintances:

“Might UNM decide that it doesn't want to mess with asbestos in old buildings and spend vast amounts renovating much of the campus?” And, “Might its [UNM's] regents be interested in filling Santa Fe's demand for a four-year school—but go somewhere else and start a campus from scratch?”

The asbestos issue is confined to a few portable buildings, which won't remain for long in any takeover scenario. It's a non-issue in the big picture. What UNM might do with some other piece of property once the New Mexican's fantasy of “urban development” consumes St. Mike's is immaterial in the extreme. Wow, that's some hard-hitting editorial there. The New Mexican has really opened a can of worms (yeah, still sarcasm).

There are an easy half-dozen arguments to be made against a state—an in particular, a Highlands—reign over the CSF campus, but the New Mexican manages to touch just one of them, the thus-far untallied specter of “deferred maintenance.”

But none of the pertinent concerns, including deferred maintenance, can hold a candle to the economic impact—conservatively estimated to be $25 million annually—and the cultural impact that CSF has on Santa Fe. The statewide impact has yet to be calculated, but it is significant not only in terms of prospective student's visits and family trips, but in terms of the education, art and film industries, the latter only now beginning to blossom toward long-term viability in the state.

The New Mexican's final argument, reached by way of expressing its own hurt feelings that nobody cares about what it writes (really! read the second to last paragraph in the link to the editorial!), is that New Mexico, in its current cash-strapped condition, simply can't afford to take CSF under its wings at this point.

Gee, maybe the New Mexican fails to understand that Highlands would make the up-front purchase using its own bonding capability (UNM's is exhausted--maybe that's why its legal and financial minds are so "sharp") and that the state's actual cash investment would only slowly ratchet up over time, and in tandem with income, as programs (which might include presumably beloved UNM programs) filled out at CSF.

Yes, the New Mexican must not actually understand what's happening. That's the only logical explanation for such an—what's the polite word?—idiotic editorial at such a critical moment in the legislative process. But then CSF isn't the only institution that has faced significant cuts lately. Maybe the recently short-staffed New Mexican news room just isn't used to working very hard to come up with the facts? Or maybe they just want to drag down other long-standing Santa Fe institutions with them?

Whatever the case, we'll soon find out whether these tough times will eke out a victory for those brave enough to take decisive action—such as the state's massive effort to save CSF—or whether fear and its ardent supporters at, of all places, “the oldest newspaper west of the Mississipi” will drive us further toward the purgatory of inaction.

 

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