Regents Take Pulse of Students, Faculty as Hybrid Semester Concludes

© Western New Mexico University

During a virtual public meeting on Thursday, the Western New Mexico University Board of Regents made inquiries into student engagement through transitions in course delivery, discussed current and future programs, and passed proposed changes to the student handbook, and approved a pair of financial documents.

WNMU President Dr. Joseph Shepard reported that, following the Thanksgiving holiday, the university administered virus tests to faculty, staff and students who remain on campus. The testing resulted in just three positive tests. “We were able to isolate those three, and we fogged campus,” he said.

Reminding board members of the spring semester plans, the university president said, “Our faculty, staff and students will have a week extra in winter break. The first two weeks will be online. In the meantime, we’re pursuing how we can get the vaccine. Having it readily available would go a long way to getting us back to business as normal.”

Dr. Shepard said that Mustang athletes on low risk sports teams competed this fall and that the men’s and women’s cross-country teams qualified for nationals then placed tenth and ninth respectively. “We have a lot to be proud of in terms of how they performed,” he said. “Our student athletes continue to test. We use PCR tests and supplement them with antigen tests.”

The president told the board that WNMU is maintaining its enrollment and budget well. While the state had originally been anticipating funding cuts up to 5% in fiscal year 2021-22, New Mexico is now looking at cuts up to just 2%. “From a budget perspective, from a finance and stability perspective, we’re as good as we can be. We do need to keep an eye on an enrollment, because we do not want that dropping too drastically,” he said.

WNMU Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Jack Crocker provided information about Program Prioritization and Enhancement. “The faculty worked over the summer and developed the methodology for all programs to use. All of the reports have been turned in. We’re reviewing them and analyzing the information,” he said.

Dr. Shepard and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Steven Chavez are also included in this portion of the process. “Dr. Shepard will communicate a preliminary report within December and then we’ll be concluding it when we return in January,” Dr. Crocker said, noting that some programs will require further analysis. “Oftentimes, the word ‘prioritization’ has a negative connotation and creates anxiety. The other side is that it allows us also to see the excellence of the programs. We’re seeing the quality we have across almost all of our programs. The other term to notice is ‘enhancement.’ We’re not just looking at where you are now but where do you see things that you need.”

Regent Dr. Carl Foster asked, “In reviewing this report, will there be discussions in the possibility of reduction in force?”

Dr. Shepard’s response focused on the procedures involved and goals behind program prioritization. “The process is not easy because you’re self-examining. Our intention is to make determinations of how we move various programs forward — or not. That’s different from a reduction in force. We’re not looking at additional layoffs or furloughs or those sorts of things, given that our budget is in a good place,” he said. “We’re not looking at a reduction in force based on the budget we currently have.”

WNMU Faculty Senate President Dr. Susan McFeaters also addressed Dr. Foster’s question. “Certainly, there are concerns when any university does a review of programs. [Faculty members] have made sure they’ve prepared their reports, and all the faculty participated in that — not just chairs. Some of those reports are well over 100 pages,” she said.

When the meeting progressed, Dr. Crocker also presented the Five-Year Plan for New Degree Programs, a list of 14 minors, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and certificates that included focuses in Applied Liberal Arts and Science, community health and fitness, and wildland fire science. “You’re not looking at entirely new programs. They exist with pathways from other programs or actually support other programs,” he said.

Regent Dr. Mary Hotvedt, moving to adopt the plan, said she was pleased with the list, particularly the outdoor leadership bachelor program and Master of Fine Arts.

Looking at proposed changes to the WNMU Student Handbook, the board approved an updated conduct policy, which will now include an item addressing student compliance with university virus-containment protocols. “We have not had any issues,” said Dr. Isaac Brundage, who is Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. Regents also approved an update to the university’s Title IX policy in the handbook.

Walz expressed curiosity about student attitude regarding online classes and asked how faculty feel about mostly virtual instruction. “We have entire programs that are totally at a distance, and we have very close relationships with our students,” Dr. McFeaters said. “Our staff and faculty are dealing with the same challenges [students are facing this year]. While faculty are tired and ready for winter break, they are also ready to continue online instruction this spring and will be eager resume teaching face-to-face classes.”

Dr. McFeaters told the board that the WNMU faculty senate has only met over Zoom since March but that the meetings have been well-attended and that the committees have been busy, especially the WNMU faculty program review and methodology committee and the remote work committee. “We’ve focused on arming our faculty with information about changes happening across campus. I have made certain that our faculty has been well informed,” she said.

The board also heard from WNMU Staff Senate President Michael Acosta and Associated Students of WNMU President Brenda Hernandez and finally voted on and unanimously passed the FY21 Mid-Year Budget Adjustment Request and the FY21 Quarter 1 Financial Certification.

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