UNM regents pay thousands extra to keep Frank around

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Robert Frank quits his job as president of the University of New Mexico at the end of May. But when he walks out the door of the president’s office, he’ll walk across the street into a new job at the university’s Health Sciences Center created just for Frank by the UNM Board of Regents.

In paying Frank $350,000 annually to lead the not-yet-created Center for Innovation in Health and Education, the Board of Regents bypassed a provision in Frank’s current contract that would set his salary roughly $150,000 lower.

The decision, inked into existence by Regents President Rob Doughty last Friday evening, came as the university instituted a hiring freeze a day earlier. This Friday, lawmakers gather to consider a massive statewide budget shortfall that the university estimates will suck more than $22 million from its yearly state-money allocation.

Frank’s contract as UNM president contains several sections that anticipate his departure. Among them is a part of the contract that promises a full-time faculty position when the presidential agreement ends. It’s a standard part of many presidential contracts at larger universities. The salary, the contract says, “shall be the average base salary (calculated on a nine-month contract) of a full-time professor in the academic department to which he is assigned.”

The new position is part of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Health Sciences Center. Most, if not all, of the full-time professors are medical doctors. Using an online salary database maintained by the university, KRQE News 13 calculated the average salary of those professors to be just over $200,000.

The university did not respond to a KRQE News 13 request for comment from Doughty or other regents as to why the board chose to pay Frank more than he was promised under his current contract. A university spokeswoman told a reporter that Frank’s experience leading public health programs at the University of Florida and Kent State University was a valuable asset. The HSC’s Family and Community Medicine Program is recognized as one of the nation’s strongest.

Frank will work under Dr. Paul Roth, the chancellor of the HSC. The arrangement is notable because in March, the Board of Regents voted to restructure governance of the academic health center and bring it under closer control by the main campus.

In the wake of public criticism of the plan by former regents and faculty from both the main campus and HSC, Frank’s administration brought in a consultant to explore the possibility of consolidating redundant jobs or departments from the two campuses.

The consultant, Steve Sloate, has close ties to Frank. The pair worked together at the University of Florida and again at Kent State. Sloate’s company, Cirra, has been paid more than $330,000 by UNM since 2012.

Sloate’s task was to review the communications and marketing departments at the HSC and on the main campus to determine if there was potential to combine functions or otherwise save money.

If Frank wanted to shave some payroll, Sloate didn’t give his old friend much to work with.

A report presented to the university in July – but dated by Sloate in June – said the communications and marketing departments “run relatively lean” and “there isn’t any ‘overlap’ in the sense of redundant resources in excess of what is required.” The report suggested some changes in purchasing advertisements as well as other efficiencies. It made a point, however, to note that attempts to combine the departments at other major universities in Iowa and Connecticut had failed.

As Sloate was authoring his final report – under a $30,000 contract – the regents were told about a second consulting firm that would look more closely at key positions. The firm, Aon, would be paid $175,000.

University officials described the two contracts as different, but designed to work together. Cirra’s work was referred to as an “organizational chart” look at communications and marketing. Aon’s contract was called a “deep dive” into the duties and descriptions of high-level jobs.

Aon’s contract focuses on “strategic” jobs at the university and HSC – a broad, somewhat nebulous term that encompasses long-range planning functions as well as day-to-day duties akin to work that might be done by a chief of staff. The Aon work digs deeper into financial roles too, and it looks once more at communications and marketing.

But while Aon’s work is undoubtedly broader than Cirra’s, the contract also talks about evaluating “if there is now redundancy across similar positions” and says the university is looking for “recommendations on the best organizational structure.”

And though Cirra’s report did not recommend cutting jobs, the Aon contract says communications and marketing will need new “organizational structures to the extent that new position and staffing levels are recommended.”

The university would not say how the two reports might ultimately fit together, though a senior staffer told KRQE News 13 the hope was that they would be “hand in glove.”

The university also would not say if Aon had even been provided a copy of the Cirra report with which its work was supposed to fit so closely. The Aon report has not been released by the university.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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