Campus News - December 3, 2001

Staff Council president brings 20 years to post
Councilors take on employee rights

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

James HerreraPressed to recall how he got into the business of treating heroin addiction more than 25 years ago, James Herrera ponders.

“I always try to be a helper, an advocate for the underdog. And a lot of the population I work with are underdogs, the old, the sick, people who don’t articulate well,” he replies.

A clinical counselor at the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASAA) marking two decades as a UNM mental health counselor, Herrera has an eye for “how people relate to each other and how they communicate,” he says.

UNM’s Staff Council President for 2001-02, Herrera puts these skills to work steering efforts to improve staff rights.

“This year we have an active Employee Rights ad hoc committee responsible for three of the five council resolutions recently passed,” Herrera says.

The Staff Council resolutions call for the following:

· Administration to review University business procedures and policies every three years with interpretations appended to each policy.
· A new policy that sets forth a formal grievance procedure
· Administration, along with Faculty Senate, ASUNM and GPSA, to form a committee that studies creation of an Office of Ombudsman.
· Staff Council to continue as a voice for staff recently affected by the UH consolidation of clinics, hospitals and programs.

The most recent resolution asks that administration reconsider an offer made by laid off Printing Services staff who wish to donate their sick leave to the UNM Catastrophic Leave Program. Additional resolutions are pending.

Other goals for the council this year include rewriting the bylaws and crafting a code of ethics for councilors.

This marks Herrera’s third term on Staff Council. In 1999, he joined as a grade 12 representative. He was elected member at large in 1999 and served as president elect last year. “The Staff Council looks out for the welfare and the working conditions of employees,” he says. “It’s easier for extroverts on campus to get their needs met, but our many introverts might not have such luck in the system.”

A graduate assistantship at the Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) Resource Center helped fine-tune Herrera as a voice for the little man. He earned a master’s in psychology from ENMU in 1976.

After graduation he landed work in his hometown, the City of Albuquerque, with his proposal for a program to serve “disadvantaged, hard-core, drug abusing youth” by providing counseling, remedial education, GED preparation and skills in industrial arts. “Our kids would build furniture for city offices and even made a desk for the mayor,” he recalls. “We had a 100 percent success rate with our GED program.”

Herrera’s venture was one of the first to go when the Reagan administration slashed funds for social programs. Herrera formed bonds with the UNM Mental Health Center during his years with the City and joined UNM’s Methadone and Drug Counseling Services in the early 80s.

In 1995, Herrera coauthored a 22-year follow-up study on heroin addicts and methadone treatment in Albuquerque for the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

His thoughtful nature resurfaces as he shares what he believes to be the best approach to treating addiction, an attitude he says hails back to early days in the field, the 1940s.

“The critical thinker goes a little bit deeper. Instead of seeing the drug addict as worthless or a criminal he sees a person with a mental health problem,” he says. “Most of the people we treat suffer from anxiety or depression or have a bipolar disorder, some are schizophrenic. Many have a family history of mental illness.”

Herrera also serves as president of the Licensed Professional Councilor’s Association of New Mexico (LPCA/NM) a division of the New Mexico Counseling Association (NMCA). He chaired the NMCA annual conference in October.

Now a grandfather, articulating for the underdog offers new meaning.

“Standing up for one’s rights and advocacy for those with less resources are values in my family,” he says. “To achieve this we network through vehicles such as neighborhood associations, professional associations and political campaigns. By advocating for the rights of others I advocate for the rights of my family.”

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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