By Bill Knief
The desire to learn lies deep beneath the surface of our culture in the very bones and DNA of our species. It’s what makes us human. We can no more sacrifice education for short term savings than a subsistence community can stave off hunger by eating its seed corn. Their immediate problem might be solved, but what do they do come spring, when it’s time to plant?
Here at UNM-Taos, as the Spring, 2011 semester began on the same day as the opening session of the New Mexico State Legislature, we were faced with a multitude of challenges that will make 2011 a very interesting year indeed.
Last Friday, January 21, with no less than ten days still remaining for students to enroll, your community college “broke the band”—the formula that determines the legislature’s level of support for our school—with an amazing 12,748 credit hours, more than 800 hours above last year’s record. And as for the number of students enrolled, we hit 1,500—exactly last year’s final count. That’s a great victory for Taos students.
But the additional funding does not kick in until 2013, and more budget cuts and even threats of closure are on the way. What do we do till then?
In his faculty orientation address January 15, Dean of Instruction Jim Gilroy spoke to the problem. “We are down to the bare bones for the rest of the semester,” he said. “We know exactly what we have left, and it is minimal. Yet even after we made cuts wherever we could, we were still able to offer 291 classes this semester.
“There has been the threat out there that the legislature needs to close five branches, and we were listed as one of the five. They said that by doing that they could save 135 million. But the impact on this community would be incredible. So our concern is to keep ourselves vibrant, alive and fiscally responsible.”
In her “state of the college” address, the fifth since she took office, Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill reminded faculty that “Fewer than five percent of over 2,000 respondents to a recent survey thought that closing community colleges was a good idea, and we have strong support from Mayor Cordova, local and statewide chambers of commerce, and state legislators. Furthermore, we have a very good reputation for the quality of our programs, the quality of our faculty, our record growth and the support of our community. It’s going to be a long 60 days, but I can assure you that we will make careful use of every resource and opportunity available to us in upholding our mission.
“We’ll let you know if rumors of closures are anything more than rhetoric. Taos is one of those communities where people step up and step forward. Senator Cisneros and Representative Gonzales have both conveyed to me that if anyone suggests closing UNM-Taos they will have a heck of a fight on their hands.”
Dr. O’Neill also reminded faculty that the Taos Municipal School Board election takes place Tuesday, February 1.
“School board elections across the country are notorious for low voter turnout, and yet the stakes are very high,” she said, urging people in districts one, two and four to contact the Elections Bureau if they are not sure where to vote or what district they are in.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than right here, right now in our own home town. Quality education at all levels is a legacy we must not fail to pass on to our children. Early voting ends on January 28, and you can call 737-6400 for more information.