This morning the House Educational Committee allowed HB577
, which would allow for the acquisition of the College of Santa Fe by the state, to continue on its path to a House vote. The narrow 6 to 5 vote came to an overflowing room of CSF students, faculty, staff and parents after nearly two hours of discussion.
Highlands University President Dr. James Fries
made a case for the acquisition of the school, which would most likely become part of Highlands University, citing the arts and film communities economic impact on New Mexico as Santa Fe.
According to Fries, at least 20% of Santa Fe's economy is directly tied into the arts. "It's not clear how to maintain that without a high quality presence in arts education," he said, mentioning the nationally recognized Moving Images Arts, Creative Writing, Music and Visual Arts departments at CSF as being integral to what he called two of the major pieces of Santa Fe's economy: art and film.
Fries, who serves as president and CEO of the College of Santa Fe from 1986 to 2000, is intimately familiar with the programs at CSF and is poised to try to maintain them while adhering to state core curriculum requirements should the acquisition take place.
After the vote, Fries told SFR that though there is still a long way to go he is working on plans to retain as much of CSF's current core faculty as possible in order to maintain the program and reputation of CSF.
The "uncertainty associated with the school's future has created anxiety in students" Fries told the committee in response to concerns that the small student body would require more state support than anticipated in the bill's plan.
Committee member Thomas A. Garcia, himself a graduate of Highlands University, expressed concern about a different budget coming up if a school other than Highlands were to step into acquisitions talks and pressed the committee to move forward with the bill under Highlands' pro forma plan.
Though support came from Mayor David Coss who, along with the Santa Fe City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of acquisition, questions of budget and accountability came forward.
Representative Nora Espinoza, who voted against the bill, insisted that instead of taking the school over the focus needed to be on how CSF's current financial state came to be and why it failed. "I have a hard time with the school having let its debt get that bad and it would be hard at this time to understand how we waited this long [to get involved]" she said.
Accountability, of course, is what many of the students and faculty of CSF are looking for and the committee raised concerns that any litigation will have to be resolved for the acquisition to go through as the acquiring university cannot, according to the bill "assume any debt of liabilities of the College of Santa Fe or the Christian Brothers order."
CSF's faculty have entered into talks with lawyers in regards to a breach of contract stemming from the declaration of a financial emergency. Because complexity of the myriad issues facing the College's attempts to find funding to get through the remainder of the semester CSF's Board of Trustees Chair David Chase declined SFRs request to discuss the current situation saying that all information would come through the college's Vice President of Administration and Communication Marcia Sullivan, saying in an email to SFR that the board wants "to keep the message consistent and clear." Faculty Council representatives could not be reached for comment at this time.
HB577 next moves to the Appropriations & Finance Committee. That meeting has not yet been scheduled.