In response to recent cuts by administration, as well as the threat of a sanction by the American Association for University Professors (AAUP), a special faculty senate meeting was held on Friday to discuss the role of the senate moving forward.
In an almost unanimous vote, the senate passed a resolution to ask for a rescindment of recent acts by administration, as well as a request for administration to work in collaboration with governance documents and the AAUP.
The senate proposed a resolution regarding what they perceived as violations of the USM governance constitution. In response to this, an investigative team will be on campus Sunday and Monday.
According to Nancy Gish, professor of English, there are approximately 1,000 concerns from universities presented to the AAUP each year, and only four or five are selected to investigate, USM being one of those.
“We are on the verge of being censured by the AAUP,” said Carlos Luck, professor of electrical engineering. “Do we know what that means?”
According to the senate, though the AAUP has no legal standing, it will effect the university as a whole in the future. Concerns regarding recruitment and retrenchment were brought up.
In an interview with The Free Press, Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, explained that USM has reached out to other universities sanctioned by the AAUP and there has been no significant impact on enrollment or recruitment.
“It’s inconsequential,” said Quint. “It doesn’t impact us. It’s in existence for them to promote an agenda.”
“The best people in the field will not apply for jobs here,” said Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies.
Mark Lapping, professor in the Muskie School of Public Service, said that people will look at the list of censored institutions and simply not apply.
“Let’s face it, it’s a buyer’s marker,” said Lapping. “It’s a blemish on the system. There are potentially more actions like this that could happen to the system.”
Lucinda Cole, director of the women and gender studies department, explained that USM would not be able to fulfill the universities purpose under these circumstances.
Quint explained, as he has in the past, that the AAUP has no standing in the matters of the university.
“They have zero legal standing. We are meeting with them as a courtesy and there will be no one else meeting with them from administration,” said Quint. “If they accept, they’ll have an opportunity to ask whatever questions they need to.”
“This is a misunderstanding of the word ‘standing.’ Most people think only or imagine only of the legal standing,” said Gish. “The AAUP has immense national standing, professional standing, moral standing, ethical standing, academic standing.”
She went on to explain that the word “standing” is much broader than whether or not there are legal implications.
“If, for example, my doctor were to cause me to be permanently disabled and the AMA took a stand on this, it wouldn’t be legal in court but it would certainly have standing,” said Gish. “If it was made public in the state, it ought to have a powerful impact on people’s views of the university.”
Luck explained that the idea that censure by the AAUP only puts a “damper” on recruitment doesn’t seem like a big enough punishment. However, others explained that there are long term repercussions to take into account.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate, explained that governance is one of things considered when becoming accredited.
“I suspect that that would read down upon our accreditation,” said LaSala.
Luck also brought up the issue of recruiting local students in the area.
“What will our potential students do once they hear that USM is being sanctioned?” he asked.
Gish explained that one of the most important things that people could do was read the preamble of the constitution, which includes information about USM’s relationship with the AAUP.
“To say that the AAUP is not and never has had any participation in the policies of the governance system is incorrect,” said Gish. “The BoT is violating its own policies against the constitution.”
Quint rebutted that the only mention of the AAUP is in the preamble, which is simply an acknowledgement.
“There’s one mention in the USM constitution. That’s it,” said Quint. “We don’t have to meet with them, but we’ve offered.”
Quint said that once the investigation is through, he suspects USM will be censured, but that they’ll find exactly the same information that’s been given out since September.
“The same information [President] David [Flanagan] has given to the faculty senate meeting every time,” said Quint. “That information is we have a $16 million structural gap. They’ll find that the numbers are real. Whether they believe it or not, they’ll find that we’ve followed the processes in place.”
Quint believes the visit has a predetermined outcome, and that the AAUP did not plan their visit well.
“We’re closed on Monday and we’ve got other things to do,” said Quint. “If their intention was truly to have an informed investigation, reach out to us on days when we’re not closed or busy.”
Classrooms this spring semester will have 374 fewer students in them than last year, based on the current headcount released by the academic affairs.
While not completely final, because students may still add or drop courses during the month, the numbers of enrolled students in the spring these past three years show a steady declin–6,717 students have enrolled so far this spring, compared to 7,652 two years prior.
The general opinion, after gathering 20 individual responses from both past and current students, is that USM often serves as a prospective students “back up school.” Many said that USM’s biggest attraction is its affordability, an area that the administration wants to focus on when marketing to potential applicants. Despite its competitive price in the higher education market, USM has served as a “last resort” to students like Brianna Wolfe, a risk management graduate.
“I settled on USM,” said Wolfe. “If I could go back, I probably would have not chosen to com here, although I’ve met some great people here.”
In Wolfe’s opinion, news of program eliminations, faculty layoffs and student protests may have scared off potential applicants. According to Wolfe, USM could also use a “facelift” on its “nasty 60’s and 70’s buildings,” which might help attract more students.
“If I were applying now to colleges and I heard about USM, I wouldn’t even waste my money on the application fee,” said Wolfe. “Why waste my precious money on a place, like USM, that is going to be dead in only a matter of years?”
Douglas McIntire, an English graduate, also said that the bad press is driving away students and USM wasn’t even on his radar when he was researching grad school. McIntire’s first choice for college was USM, but “wishy washy” guidelines for his then art major and a lack of guidance sent him away to St. Joeseph’s College. According to McIntire, the only reason he came back to USM was because of finances, but after majoring in English he had no regrets.
“The English department is the best,” said McIntire. “It’s like finding a diamond ring in Goodwill.”
Sarah Gelber, a recent English graduate, agrees and said that her program was a “hidden gem,” but the school overall has a bad reputation it needs to work on. Gelber said that students in high school are hearing rumours that USM is an example of how higher education shouldn’t operate.
“What ultimately saved my opinion of USM was my program; I can’t tell you how much I loved it,” said Gelber. “I hope USM will remain the same, as I remember it, for future students.”
Although Gelber loves the city of Portland and it influenced her decision to come to USM, she believes that the lack of cohesion with Gorham may contribute to the declining retention.
“Another big issue at USM is a lack of community,” said Gelber.
John Finison, an English graduate, also came to USM because of its prime location in Portland, although it was his backup school. Finison said he was originally searching for an “authentic” college experience out of state.
“I say authentic because it seems USM tries to “reinvent” itself every few years by hiring a new marketing team, when what the school really lacks are traditions,” said Finison.
Students fresh out of high school, like Colin Broadbent and Emily Cabana, have been accepted to USM, but are still on the fence as to whether or not they’ll attend. Broadbent said that USM’s location and the athletics department are some of the influencing factors in his tentative decision to attend. For Cabana, who plans on being an operating nurse at Maine Medical Center, USM’s nursing school is piquing her interest in becoming a Huskie.
“I love the atmosphere of the Portland campus,” said Cabana. “My friends that go here already recommended it to me, and I heard the nursing program is really great.”
The reasons for leaving USM, or never even considering it as a higher education option are diverse and complex. Students cited everything from the lack of academic guidance, to the split campuses as reasons for the slow exodus of prospective Huskies. According to Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, all of the administration’s current initiatives, will capitalize on USM’s strengths and intrinsically attract more students.
Quint said that the administration has been working to recruit and market to out of state students in the New Hampshire, Connecticut and Northern Massachusetts. USM recruiters are also working to “establish a foothold” in York county, because according to Quint a lot of students from that area choose to go to UNH.
“The biggest things we’re pushing are our cost, our location and our quality programs; these are our strengths,” said Quint.
Apart from just an increase in targeted marketing, Quint cited the latest aligning to a metropolitan model, and the consolidation of student services as other initiatives that will help attract and keep students.
“We’re going to be focusing on the programs that are already doing well,” said Quint. “But there are a number of programs on the precipice of greatness. We want all our programs aligned with the metropolitan model.”
According to the enrollment comparison report, the art education, music performance, theatre, English, history, philosophy, computer science, political science, engineering, chemistry and environmental science departments were the only ones that showed an increase in students.
Paul Dexter, the learning coordinator at the learning commons in the Glickman library, said that declining enrollment and retention is a complex issue and there were many forces that contributed to it.
“This isn’t a campus centric issue, and there’s no one way to resolve it,” said Dexter. “That’s why it’s so important to think of new ideas.”
Dexter said that increasing accessibility to the learning commons, a tutoring space for students, will increase a student’s confidence with their academic path and in turn help with retention. Dexter wants to change the culture of tutoring, to mean less about remediation and more about engaging in concepts learned in the classroom.
“Tutoring at the library is directly related to a student’s success; it isn’t just for people who are struggling,” said Dexter. “We’re trying to make learning and the appropriate levels of support as efficient and accessible as possible.”
As of now, a student can go online and see the tutoring schedule for the entire semester, and choose from a multitude of subject areas, with a team of over 50 tutors, at no additional cost to them. According to Dexter, the learning commons saw 2,500 different tutoring appointments last year.
“Students leave for a multitude of reasons, and as a University we need to have a response,” said Dexter. “We need to identify those students early on and make sure we engage them and offer enough support.”
USM professors Ronald Schmidt and Jason Read have been filling holes left in the wake of the mass exodus of Portland Phoenix writers to the new alternative weekly in town, Dig Portland. The two professors have had more or less regular columns in the Phoenix, which comes out every Wednesday in Portland and the surrounding area.
Schmidt, a political science professor by trade who specializes in American politics and political theory, writes about local politics in his column titled “The Red Pencil.”
When Dig started, Dan McLeod, Phoenix editor, got Schmidt on board to replace the old political writer, Al Diamon. They met for coffee to hash it out. McLeod is a former USM student and Free Press alumni. He also recruited Read because he was a fan of his personal blog.
Read is a philosophy professor who writes his monthly column “A Closer Read” which has been about movies and how they can be interpreted from a philosophical view point. Read said he’s not going to write strictly about movies but ties in philosophy with culture, politics and maybe television, all with a Maine connection.
“I try to name drop a philosopher in every column,” Read said, in the hopes someone will pick up on it and explore it further.
Both authors found the newspaper style liberating in contrast to their academic writing which is rigidly confined and tends to be a lot lengthier.
“I like the idea of being able to write in a different vein and reach out to a different audience than I usually deal with,” Read said.
“My writing style is geared towards at least long papers or short books. With the column, you need your point to be clear in a couple of sentences. And you need to get out. It’s a challenge, but its a fun challenge,” said Schmidt.
Read isn’t going to be quitting his day job anytime soon.
“No one could make a living writing a column,” he said.
They both said they were having fun and would like to do it as long as possible, but they’d like a bit more feedback from the reading public.
Read noted, “I want to generate my first angry letter at some point.” Schmidt has received some “really nice emails,” but alas no angry ones.
As for when they find time to teach classes, grade papers and write a column? Schmidt has been squeezing it in when his daughter goes to bed. “You make time. Sometimes I’ve worked on it at 3 in the morning ‘cause that’s the time block I could find.”
Neither could speak to whether or not their involvement in column writing is the idea of rebranding USM as a “metropolitan university.”
“Community service is part of what we’re evaluated on and I think of trying to explain politics in public venues is a big part of my community service,” said Schmidt. “I do hope that over time Jason’s and my column will reiterate that USM is part of Portland and that engaging with other people in Portland and around the city about events going on in the state, is part of what a community is.”
Less than two weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced a proposal that would make two years of community college free for student workers in an effort to make college as accessible as high school is for Americans.
The program would require action from a Republican-dominated Congress and the details of the plan haven’t been released but White House officials estimate that 9 million students would participate and save up to $3,800 a year.
“For millions of Americans, community colleges are essential pathways to the middle class because they’re local, they’re flexible. They work for people who work full-time. They work for parents who have to raise kids full-time. They work for folks who have gone as far as their skills will take them and want to earn new ones, but don’t have the capacity to just suddenly go study for four years and not work,” said Obama during a press conference at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn.
“Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it — because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few. I think it’s a right for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” he continued.
The details of the plan, how it can unfold and it’s cost, should be announced during the State of the Union Address this Tuesday. The plan is modeled after the Tennessee Promise — a state-level free-college plan starting this fall, paid for with Tennessee Lottery proceeds. According to officials, the execution would require collaboration states, community colleges and students in order to pick up the cost.
While nothing has been approved, some students are excited for the plan.
Junior psychology major Kelly Kean said that two free years would’ve given her a comfortable amount of time in college to hash out her interests and pick a major without feeling pressure.
“Those first few semesters are when students take all of their general ed. credits anyway,” said Kean. “If I had the option to get those out of the way for free and they transferred easily, I definitely would’ve gone to a community college.”
“It’s a great idea,” said sophomore history major Daniel Plante. “Everyone deserves to at least have the option of going to college, but obviously the money and time to take classes isn’t always there. We shouldn’t stop free education at the high school level.”
Some students like the idea, but are disappointed that they’ve missed out.
“Free tuition is great and all for those lucky enough to land it, but I’m already paying my bills, so I’m just trying to ignore it,” said senior history major Joe Derks. “I’ve been dealing with financial aid and all that year after year and now some kids just get two years for free? That’s annoying.”
“It’s one of those things you wish had happened just a few years earlier,” said undeclared sophomore Patrick Hawthorne.
Others believe that the idea is doomed to fail and won’t be approved by Congress.
“It’s an absolute pipe-dream,” said undeclared freshman Ashley Braley. “I mean, it’s nice, but it would cost so much money.
White House officials have said that serving the estimated number of students would cost American taxpayers $70 billion.
“Because in the end, nothing is more important to our country than you, our people. That’s our asset. We’ve got very nice real estate here,” said Obama. “We’ve got this incredible bounty, the God-given resources that we enjoy in this country. But our greatest resources are people.”