By Mary Alice Murphy
Two featured speakers at the Gila Economic Development Alliance monthly Roundtable Friday, March 21, 2014, brought a good crowd to the event.
The first speaker was Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard, talking about the status of Western.
"Thank you to the Gila EDA members who are stalwart supporters of Western," Shepard said. "Universities are economic drivers.
"Later this morning, the board of regents will be holding a workshop on the strategic plan," he continued. "It will influence who we hire or not. We have had a lot of public input, especially from faculty, staff and students. Tony (Trujillo, board president) and his board have challenged me. Next is a discussion on the master plan. We had, the other evening, a community meeting on the master plan to discuss Western's footprint and how it flows."
With the newly constructed housing at the top of the hill, some issues to address have been sewage, electricity and ways to get to campus.
"We are going to redo the pool," Shepard said. "We will borrow $4 million to be paid for with student fees of $10 per credit hour, which generates a bit more than $500,000. We will use a little less of that to pay off the loan."
The pool will have two 25-meter lanes and the deep end will be 5-feet deep. The shallow end will allow aerobics. "We want it to be a community pool, too. Because it is shallow, we don't need lifeguards, just attendants. Part of the old pool will be filled in for a weights area. Outdoors, we will have a lighted basketball court and volleyball court, as well as a jogging track inside and outside."
Another proposal is to narrow the road in front of the Fine Arts Center Theater to allow sidewalks. Also planned is to have the area below the FACT be used for outdoor concerts.
"We are working on Light Hall Auditorium to turn it into a state-of-the art movie theater, which will be complete by fall," Shepard said. "We hope to have the recreation center, including the pool ready by spring 2015.
"In November, on the ballot will be a GO (general obligation) bond issue," Shepard said. "It will be on the ballot statewide. If it is passed, Western will receive $6 million, which will be used to finish Light Hall, fix up Harlan Hall and put climate control in the Museum."
This semester, the university has reduced its budget by $1.3 million. "For next year, we need to reduce it by an additional $2.9 million or bring in that much more revenue. Rep. Rodolpho 'Rudy' Martinez and Sen. Howie Morales got an extra $400,000 to the university. We are about $900,000 away from a balanced budget."
He explained the shortfall happened because of a change in the funding formula. Institutions of higher learning are now funded by graduate, not by number of students. The problem for Western came when it was increasing graduate programs in 2010, 2011, 2012, which the state was using as the baseline years for the formula. "During those years, we had no graduates from the new programs, so they basically are unfunded. One in four graduate students is not part of the base funding. We receive $4.75 per head, but if you multiply that by the number of students, you see it doesn't even pay for one professor."
Shepard said the university is also looking at program prioritization. "We can't be all things to all people. We have to make decisions on what is best for the university. We have a responsibility to be art-centered because of the vibrant art community here, so we will balance things. For instance, a sculpture class is very hands-on and individualized, so the class will be smaller, maybe 12. But, for instance, a biology class might have 30 students in it. We have to do the responsible thing to protect the entity."
He said the previous evening, students had passed fees that will fix the parking lots, the lights and for beautification of the campus.
"We're on the move," Shepard said. "Our new website is helping us rebrand. We are more into online education."
Mary Stoecker, representing the Southwest New Mexico Green Energy and Jobs Task Force, said she wanted to reiterate something she had asked Shepard at the meeting of the Grant County Community Health Council, of which both are members. "We're working on the Silco Theater downtown. Can we end up with a two-screen theater in two different places? How can we augment each other? I appreciate your having the conversation."
"People ask: 'Why don't students go downtown?'" Shepard said. "The students tell me there is nothing to do downtown. Things like the Silco will take them downtown."
Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce director, said bike racks would soon be installed downtown.
"We are addressing sustainability," Shepard said. "How do we build to take advantage of the light, for instance?"
He announced the upcoming scholarship gala on April 5. "We are slightly disadvantaged on the amount of scholarships we have to attend Western. This event is $125 a person or $1,000 to sponsor a table. It is so important we work together. The gala will feature a black tie flappers theme. We want to have fun. We will also be celebrating our new music program, with several different types of music."
Adam Clark, WNMU football coach, announced the annual clean up event on April 19. "We do 400 hours of work in one day. We can clean up debris, paint, demolish, and do chores for the elderly, veterans or the disabled. It is free of charge, although we accept donations. A lot can get done with 80 football players. We can do about 30 houses."
Tony Trujillo said he gets a lot of positive comments about the work the players do for the community.
Mike Trujillo of AmBank, and a Gila EDA member, made a motion for the EDA to sponsor a table for the gala. It was approved.
Bruce Ashburn of PNM said Shepard started Operation Move-in to help students move into the residence halls. "There is no way the university will be competitive until we fix the really bad dorms. Thank you for bringing the community to the university."
Shepard noted that while students could use the recreation center without charge, since they are paying for it, the community would be welcome to use it for a monthly membership fee. "It's important for us to be a community university.
Peter Burrows, member of the Grant County TEA Party, said to Shepard: "What would you say to someone who likens you to the captain of the Titanic, and you're about to hit a big iceberg called the Internet?"
Shepard said institutions that do not address that issue will fail, which is why Western is increasing its online courses.
Tom Vaughan, area resident, said to those in attendance that Shepard, at a meeting of religious leaders, had said: "Good universities are the marketplace of ideas." "Stick with that and you won't hit the iceberg."
"We need a piece of spiritual wellness, which we have lost," Shepard said. "One in two students leaves here after the freshman year. If they are involved in a church or in community service, they are more likely to stay, studies show. A good university challenges beliefs from the extreme right to the extreme left. You have to allow dialogue among the different viewpoints."
The next article will cover the presentation by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.