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Straight talk from UNM president

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By Carol A. Clark

At his installation as the 20th president of the University of New Mexico in October 2007, David J. Schmidly promised to meet with communities across the state. He fulfilled that promise in Los Alamos Tuesday. His day was jam-packed with interviews at KRSN, a meeting with UNM-Los Alamos Executive Director Cedric Page and Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-N.M., an interview on PAC 8, and an open forum with students, faculty and staff – all before lunch.Page spent the lunch hour on campus at the Lecture Hall, Building 2, listening and exchanging ideas with the UNM-LA Advisory Board, legislators, community leaders and UNM-LA administration.During a post-lunch editorial board meeting at the Monitor, Schmidly expressed an upbeat yet realistic view of the current condition of the local college, which has suffered an enrollment decline in recent years. “The geography of the high school being located right across the street and the close proximity of the laboratory is advantageous,” Schmidly said. “But we’ve got to stop this free fall in the enrollment. Once we get it stopped then we have to go to work to rebuild it.”In speaking of both UNM-LA and UNM, Schmidly addressed the need for better publicity saying bad press is mostly what they’ve been getting. “We’ve got to get a PR machine in place and we don’t have one,” he said. “We need to hire a national media consultant to try to get placement in USA Today and other national publications.”Schmidly praised the faculty at UNM and called professor Jim Brown “the finest ecologist in the world.” Two students were recently designated Goldwater Scholars – “That’s a real tribute to our student talent,” Schmidly said. “I just think we, the university, are incredibly understated and we’re going to try to do a better job of marketing.”UNM just sent its annual report to every university in the country, he said. “I don’t think the education at UNM takes a backseat to any place,” he added.Citing a lack of consistent leadership in the past, Schmidly is putting together a new team at the main campus. “You don’t overcome instability in leadership overnight,” he said. “I’m going to have push back and that’s OK. This is my third presidency and my ‘last rodeo’ so I’m in a position to make the tough decisions.”Page, who also is new to the job, needs to put together a new leadership team for UNM-LA, also, Schmidly said. He recounted how a woman came up to him at UNM-LA Tuesday and said, “Please don’t let our school close.”“We need help from the community, too,” Schmidly said. “I’m not talking about monetary help but getting behind the university and getting behind Cedric, too.”Visibility in the community by college staff also is important because it portrays a commitment to the community, he said.“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done but it’s got to come from here,” he said. “I can’t impose ideas from Albuquerque on Los Alamos – that doesn’t work. I’m encouraging Cedric, and I met with faculty, staff and students today and I’m encouraging them – give me your game plan.”A lack of trust of UNM by the media is another area Schmidly is working to improve. “I’ve had more open records requests in my first year here than in all of my seven years of being a president combined,” he said. “The media, particularly the Albuquerque media have no trust and we have to change that. My feeling is if it comes anywhere near the open records act, then give it to them.”The focus to improve UNM and its branch campuses, Schmidly said, is organized around four strands: Student success; excellence in research; healthy communities – UNM is the only medical school in the state; and economic and community development.Schmidly spoke at length about partnership programs UNM and UNM-LA have in place with LANL during his interview for “Behind the White Coat,” which will air in early May on PAC 8.Schmidly left the Monitor for a 3 p.m. meeting at LANL. “I want to talk about how we can dialogue more,” Schmidly said. “I meet with the head of Sandia (Laboratories) every two months and would like to do the same here.”