Members of a newly appointed task force charged with saving the College of Santa Fe began their task during an hour-long meeting Tuesday in a campus classroom.
Gov. Bill Richardson, declaring that “our objective is to keep the College of Santa Fe going forever,” named more than two dozen people to the panel during a news conference at the private college.
The governor said the future of the financially troubled school will be considered during an expected special session of the New Mexico Legislature, which during its recently completed 60-day regular session didn’t go along with a proposed state takeover.
Task-force members include officials from four of the state’s four-year universities, including New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., which had expressed interest in acquiring the Santa Fe campus. Others include legislators, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, state agency administrators, the executive director of the New Mexico Finance Authority and the president of Santa Fe Community College.
Also named to the group were Robin Martin, editor and publisher of The New Mexican, as well as students and top executives of the College of Santa Fe.
Actress Ali MacGraw will serve on the task force, along with others from the Santa Fe arts community, such as the executive director of the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Garrett Thornburg, a Santa Fe investment executive and chairman of the Thornburg Companies, will represent the New Mexico School for the Arts, a residential public charter school for the performing and visual arts that’s scheduled to open next fall.
“This is a really high-powered group of people,” said Richardson’s deputy chief of staff, Bruce Perlman, who chairs the study group. The task force will make recommendations to the governor by the end of April.
Perlman said Tuesday’s was an “organizational meeting” at which members discussed two basic questions: how to finance any future possibilities for the college and what those possibilities might look like.
As one option, Perlman said, the group could consider a higher educational learning center where various state universities offer different programs. He stressed, though, that discussions about any options are preliminary.
Coss, who was an outspoken supporter of the legislation that would have authorized a state college or university to acquire the college campus, said Tuesday that the task force will definitely consider maintaining a strong arts focus at the college, but will also look at other educational needs.
He mentioned the possibility of the city or county using bonding authority to purchase the campus, but also said the task force might consider some sort of public/private partnership.
The group is scheduled to meet again April 3.
Legislative members include Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, who opposed the state takeover proposal during the session; Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe; and Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, a graduate of the college who sponsored the failed takeover legislation. The House approved the measure, but it died in the Senate Finance Committee.
Although the committee did not hold a hearing on the takeover bill, the takeover was debated by the Senate when it defeated a proposal to earmark $3 million for operating the school if it became part of the state’s higher education network.
Richardson said the school is “so valuable to our state that we must do whatever it takes to keep it open.” He said the liberal arts college was well-known for its dance, film and theater programs and described it as “an economic engine” for the city of Santa Fe.
Richardson said he will put the college on the agenda of a special session that’s expected to be held on budget matters. No date has been set for the session, although the governor and legislators have suggested it might be in the fall.
New Mexico will get a new revenue forecast in July, and it’s likely to indicate the state will receive less money than expected in the coming year. That could force lawmakers to revise the 2010 budget, which was approved by lawmakers last week and sent to Richardson to be signed into law.
Tuesday’s event resembled a pep rally, with students cheering loudly as Richardson and others declared their support for the school.
Students and employees of the college expressed a somewhat tempered optimism about what the task force could accomplish.
Cristina King, who works in the college’s Contemporary Music Department, joked that she’ll wait to pack the cardboard boxes stashed behind a couch in the office.
After about a year of failed possibilities — the college explored partnerships with Savannah College of Art and Design and Laureate Education Inc., then sought legislation to save the school — many are ready for the whole ordeal to be over.
“I’ll be hopeful on April 30 when I hear something,” said Ali Sanders, a senior at the college.
Others have said that whatever happens, it might be too late because faculty will have to find new jobs and students, if they want to attend school in the fall, might have already have made plans to transfer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.