--2 An A from Education
       
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An A from Education

March 6, 2009, 12:00 am
By Patricia Sauthoff
On Friday morning the Senate Education Committee allowed HB577 to stay alive. The unanimous vote followed more than an hour of lively discussion that bounced from strictly education issues to financial ones.

The bill, which would allow for existing state universities to submit proposals to acquire the College of Santa Fe, has already passed through Education and Finance committees in the House as well as a vote on the house floor. The bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee early next week. A secretary in Rep. Lucky Varela's office tells SFR the bill will come before the committee within the next two days (the Senate Finance Committee meets at 1:30 Monday-Saturday) and could be scheduled as early as tomorrow if things continue to move quickly.

In addition to supporters such as Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, Santa Fe Community College President Sheila Ortego and a lobbyist working on behalf of the New Mexico School for the Arts, students and faculty were on hand to offer the committee members first hand accounts of why the school is so important to them. Many focused beyond their own educational needs to look toward the larger community.

Many of the senators on the committee expressed concern about the economic impact of leaving the state capital without a four year university. (Santa Fe is home to St. John's College, which has a strict focus on the liberal arts and offers only one program of study.)

According to Highlands University President Jim Fries, approximately 20 percent of Santa Fe's economy is directly tied to the art and film industries. "It is very difficult to build the arts economy without a higher educational arts school," Fries told the committee.

In addition to the focus on bringing and retaining young artists in Santa Fe, the committee and the bill's advocates focused on the non-traditional students who attend CSF. Current student Adam New (disclaimer: New is a former student of mine at CSF where I am employed as an adjunct professor) discussed the problems working adults would face if they had to attend a university outside of the city; Santa Fe Community College does not offer four year degrees. SFCC President Sheila Ortego expressed her students' desire to continue their educations within Santa Fe. "We have so many students who are getting a strong foundation at Santa Fe Community College and who want to finish their degrees in town" Ortego said.

Though Highlands University has played a pivotal role in advocating the acquisition and is currently the only university to publicly state an interest in taking over CSF, the bill allows any university within the state system to offer a proposal. As a result, many of the specific financial questions brought up in today's committee, could be be hurdles in the Finance committee as so many of the numbers are speculative. Both Senator John M Sapien (D-Sandoval) and Timothy M Keller (D-Bernalillo) expressed concern about the retention of both the reputation and teaching staff at CSF. Though Highlands University professors are paid, on average, less than CSF pays its faculty, the financial problems at CSF have forced the faculty to take a 25 percent pay cut, making their current salaries less than Highlands' current pay rates. According to Marci Sullivan, vice president of administration & communication at CSF, who attended the meeting as a representative for CSF President Stuart Kirk (who was absent to attend a quarterly board meeting), CSF faculty have been at the school for an average of 10 years. Because of the forced pay cuts many faculty have expressed to SFR their concerns that they will be unable to remain in Santa Fe and, though the faculty is dedicated to their students, have felt an immediate financial hit that makes getting through the semester a challenge. If CSF is taken over by the state, it is unclear how faculty salaries would be affected.

If CSF folds without a state acquisition, 110 employees and 58 full time faculty will join the ranks of Santa Fe's growing unemployed population.

 

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