New UNM budget worth consideration

It only makes sense that in an institution of higher learning, money should work smarter.

Because that money is becoming harder to find. Government budgets are constricting, tuition costs are expanding and lottery scholarship dollars are shrinking.

Yet universities are still expected to keep turning out graduates prepared to make the state and national economies competitive.

That's why the new budget model pushed by University of New Mexico President Bob Frank is worthy of consideration.

Called "Responsibility Center Management," the model transfers some budget control from central administration to individual departments — where faculty and staff better know the priorities — but requires those departments to prove their worth by generating research dollars and drawing student enrollment.

The proposal has raised concerns. How will important programs — say history, political science and fine arts — which are not known for generating big research dollars, be given the resources needed to remain strong and grow?

How will the university balance an increased emphasis on research with the vital teaching component?

Faculty Senate President Amy Neel says departments "that don't have very much revenue are naturally worried about being eliminated, and those with lots of resources are worried about having to subsidize others."

However, Frank is not re-inventing the wheel, and taking a look at performance based budgeting is a smart thing to do. The Responsibility Center Management system is already used by UNM's health sciences wing and was implemented universitywide at Kent State, where Frank was provost. That should give regents, deans and their colleges ample real-world examples of how the system plays out.

In addition, Frank plans to use the model to create a "shadow budget" to clearly compare and contrast the current system with the proposed one.

The tough economic reality is that like the private sector, the public one needs to make some hard choices.

UNM would not convert to Responsibility Center Management until the 2014-2015 school year, and a phase-in would allow officials to make those hard choices smarter.

Regents should give it careful consideration.

— Albuquerque Journal

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