The not so obvious case against UNM-LA

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Now before anyone goes off on a jeremiad that I am “against public education,” let me assure you that is not the case. Both my parents were public school teachers, with my 91-year-old mother having taught more than 35 years.

The case against University of New Mexico-Los Alamos is really a matter of asset management for county government in Los Alamos, and its whole approach to the future. Chief among my sincere critiques of the county commission is that they are lousy asset managers. Their single biggest sin in this realm … is the failure to properly understand “opportunity cost” within a rapidly changing environment.

Maybe it’s the group think virus that promulgates this mindset, something grafted from “how we did business at the lab,” onto the entirely alien rootstock of local politics. I personally believe the cure for this dilatory disease is simply individual county commission districts vs. running “at-large,” with its resulting “faculty senate” mentality. We’ll save the legal implications of this argument for another time; they’re juicy.

When one views UNM-LA in the objective light of “opportunity cost” you arrive at some entirely different conclusions. Chief among them is why does a community of less than 18,000 people, and a declining demographic — putting the median age squarely over 50 by 2020, think it’s entitled to its own university? Secondly, would it not be more prudent to run shuttles 21 miles to Northern New Mexico College in Española?

But the objection I like the most is what else could we use the UNM-LA facility for? Ergo, what are we forgoing (i.e. the opportunity cost), to maintain the fiction of our own little private university? It’s here I refer back to that major insert on the coming advanced manufacturing revolution, entitled “A Revolution in the Making” published in the June 11 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Stepping back from the classic view, circa post-Cold War America, of UNM-LA, I think the community with its global brand cachet, has a genuine opportunity to “get ahead of the curve” here. If you think the Journal report is advocating for more welders, tool and die, plumbers, pipefitters and the like … you’d be seriously mistaken.

What they’re talking about is right down Los Alamos’ and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s alley, skillsets and job descriptions that haven’t even been invented yet. Stuff like designing, building and operating advanced molecular 3D printers, gene splicing equipment, or how to produce, handle and fabricate sheets of graphene into usable assemblies like water filtration devices. Working with exotic materials, rare earth metals and micro-assembly line fabrications.

Converting UNM-LA into an advanced manufacturing training institute is “the opportunity.”

Yes, it will take more investment; perhaps we sell off the downtown dormitories in the recycled Cold War barracks.

It might surprise us the corporate sponsors who’d line up for something like this, not to mention all the LANL retirees who could really contribute. But the number one thing will be the continuous hourly stream of high schoolers heading west on that Diamond Drive overpass.

We’ll need a bigger overpass.

William Sellers is a local venture coach and the Vice President of the Los Alamos Entrepreneurs Network. He is best reached via email at readbill19@usa.net.