The New Mexico Attorney General is speaking out after a News 13 Special Assignment revealed UNM spent more than half a million taxpayer dollars to send employees to other universities, out of state.
“They need to be transparent and truthful with the public,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas.
A dozen University of New Mexico employees got advanced degrees from out-of-state schools, including the University of Southern California, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard.
A UNM internal audit shows it spent $625,810 over a four-year period ending last June.
“I just want UNM to stop making the same accountability and transparency mistakes because ultimately the taxpayer is the one that bears the cost,” Balderas said.
The Attorney General sent a letter to UNM on Thursday to say he is looking into the matter since UNM asked him to weigh in to see if the Health Sciences Center violated the New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation clause.
“Agencies are not allowed to just gift or donate taxpayer resources just because they feel like it,” Balderas said.
Some of the tuition payments were for high-paid employees who didn’t even have to sign contracts promising to continue working at UNM in exchange for getting their education paid for.
In addition, the benefit of that advanced education to UNM and taxpayers wasn’t always clearly stated, at least not in writing.
“In the event that they do provide a valuable benefit, the university should be providing this benefit to all university employees. This should not be a practice of favoritism.”
Only the Health Sciences Center paid for its employees’ tuition at out-of-state universities and no university policy allowed it, according to UNM’s audit.
While the Health Sciences Chancellor refused an on-camera interview when News 13 first covered the audit’s findings earlier this week, he did talk to us in November 2017.
“We provide critical services to the public and literally people place their lives in our hands,” Dr. Paul Roth said.
He defended the spending decision, speaking specifically about paying for his Senior Executive Officer for Finance and Administration to get an Executive Master of Health Administration degree from USC.
“There was no comparable program in New Mexico,” Dr. Roth explained. “It was clear to me that having her obtain that level of expertise would bring great value to the institution and to the patients that we serve.”
The Attorney General said he is also looking into whether UNM violated any federal tax laws.
In response to our request for comment, the University of New Mexico sent the statement below:
AG Letter (PDF)
This afternoon the Office of University Counsel received a letter from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) indicating the OAG is still reviewing the request for legal advice and guidance we sent him in May of 2018 relating to payment for tuition and travel expenses for graduate degrees. We look forward to working with his office in an effort to ensure the highest level of compliance and transparency.
As we have stated previously on this topic, we continue to work on the action items outlined in the Audit Committee’s report. Our focus has always been on supporting our staff and faculty and assisting them in succeeding in their careers to provide quality service to our students, constituents and patients. We are always mindful to ensure that goal is in compliance with university policy and procedures.
AG Letter (Text)