Stop the NNMU name change (SB 603) before Northern's new Student Regent gets confirmed!

This petition made change with 61 supporters!

Before any more damage is done to our school, we hereby petition Senators to put the brakes on SB 603 to allow time for Northern's two newly appointed Regents -- including one Student Regent -- to have their confirmation hearings by the Senate and to take their respective positions on the Board of Regents.

Background: In recent months, we successfully petitioned Governor Susana Martinez to replace outgoing Regent Michael Branch on the Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) Board of Regents with a Student Regent. Now, following approval by voters statewide in the 2014 general election for a Student Regent, we are thrilled that the governor has fulfilled our request by appointing a Student Regent to the NNMC Board of Regents for the first time in the college's century-old history.

Yet even before the new Student Regent, Melinda DeHerrera, had been named and had the opportunity to be confirmed by the Senate during the 2015 legislative session, outgoing Regent Michael Branch decided to instigate a controversial, confusing and possibly fraudulent change to NNMC: On January 27, 2015, a week into the current legislative session, Branch introduced and pushed through a resolution suddenly changing the college's name to Northern New Mexico University, even though the college has not achieved the most widely recognized mark of university status -- offering graduate degrees. (Northern does not offer any graduate degrees and admitted in testimony to Senate Public Affairs that they have no plans in the near future to do so.)

Branch rushed this change despite the fact that his term of office expired a month earlier on December 31, 2014. A responsible public official does not institute provocative changes in the middle of a leadership transition. The Senate should not magnify the problem by fast tracking the name change right now. Instead, the Senate should delay SB 603 until Northern's two newly appointed regents, Melinda DeHerrera and Damian Martinez, have had the opportunity to be confirmed and to weigh in themselves on this matter.

There are many reasons why the two new Regents may think twice about the name change to NNMU and consider it prudent to return the institution to its legally established and long recognized identity as Northern New Mexico College. But no matter what they decide, the new Regents deserve the respect to deliberate and evaluate this decision by themselves, and not to have it imposed by a "lame duck" former regent whose term in office had already expired when this decision was made.

A number of questions have been raised about the proposed NNMU name change that until now have not been satisfactorily answered by the college administration. These questions include:

* Why did the college decide to unilaterally change its name by decree and only come to the legislature afterwards? As was pointed out by a senator in the Senate Public Affairs hearing, this demonstrates disrespect for due process and the rule of law, flouting the reality that Northern is explicitly named a college in current New Mexico statutes. Why didn't Northern work to ratify this change in the legislature in the first place?

* Is the name change a fair reward for declining student enrollment? Since 2010 when President Nancy "Rusty" Barcelo came on board at Northern, student enrollment has declined steadily and precipitously. As of September 2014, FTE student enrollment was below 800, a loss of over 500 in just 4 years. Instead of growing and expanding -- as implied by the name change to "university" -- Northern has been cutting many academic programs and shrinking its student population. How can changing the college's name to "university" be rationally justified by these facts, which clearly show that the college is an unhealthy and declining institution, likely due to the impact of poor decision-making, mismanagement and incompetence by current administrative leaders?

* How does Northern measure up to existing public universities in New Mexico? Even the smallest current university, ENMU, provides graduate degree options (unlike Northern) and has about 5 times more students than Northern. Will the name change cause Northern to lose legitimacy with its peer institutions? It could be seen as an insult to those Universities in NM who have indeed attained University Status, and to Colleges who have not but will see NNMC trying to profit off of misrepresentation

* Why hasn't the NM Higher Education Department testified in support of this name change? Is HED opposed to it? What is the position on this matter by new HED Secretary Barbara Damron? What is the analysis of HED staff?

* How will Northern pay for the cost of re-branding? Does the college plan to raise tuition yet again, or further cut classroom instruction and academic programs, to pay for the costs of the name change? For an institution that is already struggling financially (for years, Northern has been on HED's fiscal watch list) the cost of new signs, brochures, printed materials, athletic uniforms and much more places undue financial burden on the college budget. The name change will open the institution and the State up to costly litigation for misrepresentation, another unnecessary economic burden on taxpayers.

*  What message does it send to students if the state allows a college itself to take shortcuts? The name change is purposefully misleading--Northern New Mexico College has NOT attained University Status. There are widely recognized parameters for University Status which Northern has NOT fulfilled, most notably the existence of graduate degrees. Rather than pushing Northern in that direction, the name change will de-incentivize the NNMC Administration from earning and attaining actual University Status

These are just a few of the many serious questions that have been raised by students, alumni and community members who don't agree that NNMC's name change to "university" is in the best interests of the institution. 

NNMC's two incoming regents should be given appropriate time to study this issue and reach their own thoughtful conclusion. A rushed NNMU name change, introduced by an outgoing regent after his term in office had expired, and passed unilaterally in the middle of a leadership transition and without prior legislative approval, needs to be put on hold. 

We the undersigned hereby petition the New Mexico State Senate to stop SB 603 and postpone this controversial issue until after Northern's two new regents have been confirmed.


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