Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham wants a brand new board of regents at the University of New Mexico if she wins the race for governor.
"I think that it's time that we have an all-new set of regents. I mean, there is a lot of hostility there," Lujan Grisham told SFR in meeting on Thursday. "I want qualified regents who are clear that their job is both to hold the university accountable, but to [also] make it succeed. … You don't work for me, you work for the university."
"If that university is not doing very well, I'm going to ask you why it's not," she continued, noting the regents aren't supposed to be political. "I can't stand it. It's awful."
The school's board of regents has come under fire in the waning years of Gov. Susana Martinez' administration for a series of decisions ranging from the elimination of sports programs to its handling of sexual assault investigations to its power struggles with the school's Health Sciences Center. The next governor will get to appoint five new regents for the seven-member board due to terms expiring.
The remaining two regents, board president Rob Doughty and vice president Marron Lee, have terms that run through 2020. The pair has been fiercely loyal to Martinez, who herself has been criticized for being too heavy-handed with the state's flagship university.
Lujan Grisham stopped short of saying she'd challenge their appointments before the Supreme Court based on incompetence, malfeasance or neglect of duty—the three instances in which regents can be stripped of their position according to state law. But she did say she'd ask them to explain their actions as regents, and doubted she'd hear an acceptable answer.
"I'm not satisfied with the work of any of the regents at UNM. And I'm not satisfied with most of the regents around the state," Lujan Grisham said. She indicated, however, that she would not demand blanket resignations of all boards for the state's schools.
The Republican candidate for governor, Steve Pearce, hasn't made up his mind about UNM's governing board. Pearce has criticized some recent regents decisions, including troubles with the athletic department that led to sports programs being cut. His campaign said he plans to take a serious look at the board's composition once he takes office.
Last month, Pearce and Lujan Grisham blasted UNM's regents after they voted to cut the recent national champion ski team for both men and women, the successful men's soccer team, and the women's beach volleyball squad. The school's athletic department has been running a deficit for years and had also run afoul of Title IX federal gender equity standards.
Pearce told the Albuquerque Journal: "I am extremely disappointed that UNM would get to a place where cutting sports programs is an answer to bad management decisions. … UNM must demonstrate it can manage its budget and ensure it can function at the highest level while protecting Title IX mandates."
As the sports controversy percolated last summer, Lujan Grisham sent a letter to the school's athletic director asking for more detailed budget information.
"It was an issue for me of transparency and process," Lujan Grisham explained to SFR of her position on the sports cuts, which she has pledged to reinstate. She said the school and the regents did a poor job of letting the community know their plans. "You never answered my letter. You disrespected students and the public. It took you years to get into this situation. You want to get out of it overnight, but did you include your stakeholders? I may not agree with your decision, but I want to know the process is sound and you respected everybody who's engaged."
Doughty and Lee did not immediately return calls from SFR.
The pair could lose their influence regardless of whether they chose to honor a request to step down. With five new appointees who have the ability to elect a new board president, the power structure would undoubtedly change if Lujan Grisham were to win the election, and possibly if Pearce claims victory.
The regents' president also appoints members to the board's subcommittees.
Lujan Grisham, who graduated from UNM for undergraduate and law school, is scheduled to make a campaign stop at the Lobos' annual Cherry and Silver preseason basketball game on Friday night.