In wake of five programs being eliminated within the span of a few months, the administration is continuing to work on establishing a two-year teach-out plan so affected students may finish their degrees.
American and New England Studies, geosciences and the arts and humanities program at Lewiston-Auburn campus were eliminated by the board of trustees in September, along with French and applied medical sciences just a few weeks ago. Since the eliminations, the administration has promised that students will be able to complete those programs in a timely manner before closing them completely, but according to some faculty little progress has been made in developing a teach-out plan.
According to Kent Ryden, chair and professor of American and New England studies, little progress has been made on developing a concrete teach-out plan, at least to his knowledge.
“The dean’s office has been in contact with students, telling them there still will be courses offered, but there are no specifics,” said Ryden. “Our students are very much in the dark.”
Provost Joseph McDonnell explained that, though some argue there are ambiguities with the process, administration is taking their obligation seriously to provide students the opportunity to graduate in these programs.
“We’re working to that objective,” said McDonnell. “We’re trying to make sure courses are in place for the spring semester and beyond that. Because there are so few students enrolled in these programs, it does give the opportunity for individualized plans.”
According to Ryden, the dean’s office has contacted students saying there will be ANES courses offered, but possibly not by current faculty, and with no specifics about what those courses may be.
“A real point of confusion is what’s going to happen with students working on their master’s theses. Students are still frustrated,” said Ryden. “We’re very much in the dark. They haven’t been given any guidance, specific guidance, at all by the administration.”
S. Monroe Duboise, associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology in the applied medical sciences program, also had limited knowledge on what the teach-out plan will look like, stating in an email, “I wish there were more that I could tell you about the plans being made. Meetings of the CSTH dean with individual faculty members are proceeding. I cannot predict what the end result will be at this point. I don’t have any additional information at present.”
McDonnell noted that not all students take the thesis path, and that conversations are starting to happen regarding their preference for degree completion. He also reassured that the administration is working on securing part-time faculty to teach the required courses, as well as faculty to advise in thesis research.
“I think students need to be able to see a path,” said McDonnell. “Exceptions can be made, but I also think students will want to see what’s being offered to them each semester, rather than having the whole thing open-ended.”
McDonnell explained that it’s about what the university can offer and a students’ schedule; students are not restricted to a two-year timespan.
“We do have the option to tailor these plans for each student,” said McDonnell. “Students ought to know when courses are being offered so they can plan their schedule.”
Still, to some, this plan seems difficult to interpret and unrealistic, given that USM is such a nontraditional school.
“Administrators are taking action and only then figuring out repercussions,” Ryden said.
According to McDonnell, however, some plan is better than no plan. It’s better to have courses planned out over a two year span so students know when they’ll be available than to have it completely up in the air. This way, he believes, students have a visible path to continue on toward graduation, with the understanding that some exceptions can be made beyond the two-year plan.
“These are difficult times for the university, faculty and students,” said McDonnell. “It’s important that we work together cooperatively to serve the students in light of the budgetary constraints we are facing. I deeply appreciate the cooperation of faculty in best serving out students.”
The American Studies Association has launched a new website with a map featuring schools across the nation they believe serve as examples of “assaults on academic freedom.” USM is on that list.
the ASA is citing USM’s most recent faculty layoffs and elimination of undergraduate and graduate programs as reasons for inclusion.
The project, which is considered ongoing, aims to document all the schools that violate academic freedom, cut departments and programs and participate in research surveillance. They also include schools that practice close policing of protests, especially ones that lead to violence and discrimination. The ASA have called upon the scholars, teachers, administrators and activists of America to pay attention to these troubling patterns in public higher education. So far there are 25 American universities on the online map.
“We were already sensitive to the kinds of pressures that our colleagues [at USM] were working under,” said Matt Jacobson, former ASA president and acting director of public humanities at Yale. “We’ve been especially alert to situations where high-achieving programs were under threat.”
According to the introduction on the website, the ASA hopes to call to attention these “crimes against education” and show that these situations are not isolated incidents. Jacobson said that USM’s decisions, like national ones made towards education, are guided by a narrow, utilitarian vision.
“We hope to raise questions about our educational priorities as a society,” said Jacobson.
Immense budget gaps, mass layoffs and the shrinking or elimination of popular academic departments are all issues that are part of larger trends nationally. ASA, along with many other institutions’ blogs and publications, compare USM’s crisis with problems across the country, all of which can have potentially devastating consequences.
“For the last 50 years there has been a tug-of-war between educators and non-educators for the soul of the American university. Educators are losing to politicians in some places and to corporate board members and regents in others,” said Jacobson. “Local struggles in this setting are most often cautionary tales about the power that non-educators have over educators.”
USM’s steady decline in enrollment and projected budget shortfalls have been documented for many years now. However, instances of USM’s future being discussed, through more national channels, has been relatively recent.
The first wave of attention USM received was back in March when former president Theo Kalikow announced the elimination of American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and humanities at Lewiston/Auburn and recreation and leisure studies. Soon following was the first in a series of layoffs or “retrenchments” of a dozen faculty members. Protests by the new founded campus group, Students for #USMFuture, were held and USM started to peak in the national higher education spotlight.
The goals and activist initiative of the group prompted a note of support from renowned linguist, philosopher and cognitive scientist, Noam Chomsky, who wrote to theatre graduate, Caroline O’Connor, “Very glad to learn about what you’re doing. Badly needed. I hope you have good success.” The messages of concern and coverage of the protests and administrative decisions trickled in from sources like, Inside Higher Ed, Naked Capitalism, Occasional Planet, Popular Resistance, The Real News, Aljazeera, Common Dreams, as well as every local media outlet.
According to Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, everyone has the right to print what they want, but no national writers or bloggers have ever reached out to anybody within USM’s administration for a statement.
“These national outlets and even in state, have not once contacted me or anyone within the administration, to get our perspective,” said Quint. “I’m sure if they had the opportunity to sit down and talk with us, and hear our plan for how we are making sure our university is financially viable. They would have a different opinion on how we’re doing things.”
Quint said that USM’s administration is in no way restricting anybody’s access to academic freedom. Quint makes decisions based on what is going to keep the university viable and be in the best interests of the students.
“If they want to print whatever they want without actually talking to anyone, that’s their prerogative,” said Quint. “I can assure you that the president, the chancellor and the board of trustees have no intention of turning USM into some corporate entity.”
According to higher education commentators like New York Times writer Paul Krugman, USM’s story deserves more attention and is representative of problems in public education, like neoliberalism’s infiltration of educational institutions.
Krugman wrote a short opinion piece and called USM’s fiscal situation an “ugly example” of how a school’s educational qualities can be degraded once valuable professors are fired and departments are gutted. Krugman also attributed sharply rising tuition and sharp cuts in state funding as factors in the financial problem. According to Krugman, USM’s administration is eager to downsize liberal arts and social sciences, which has direct educational consequences.
Other writers, like Lambert Strether at “Naked Capitalism,” argue that USM, like many struggling public colleges, has become a microcosm of society at large, with top administrators representing the 1% who hold and delegate all the resources. Strether believes that greed and corruption have trickled down from the corporate and financial sector and has dominated some of America’s institutions of higher learning. USM’s administrators need to allocate the funds more strategically, or risk being accused of leading the school towards corporatization, which again is cited as a situation not unique to USM.
Columnist Madonna Gauding at the Occasional Planet agrees and adds that in an educational environment where the administrators refer to the students as “customers,” where the school’s budget is being spent should be something everybody is keeping an eye on.
Gauding hopes that the USM student and faculty protests spark a national movement that fights back against educational issues like tuition hikes, lack of funding and silencing of political dissent.
“Students are being denied a more enriching educational experience,” said Gauding. “If we’re lucky, students will take over where Occupy Wall Street left off.”
“If we care about USM’s future and the future of public higher education, we need to stop flat funding our public universities,” said Dave Kerschner, a USM doctoral graduate.
Regardless of where the specific source of USM’s budget deficit lies, one thing is for certain: schools are going through similar problems and using USM as an example of what can go wrong, when the administration is forced to cut faculty and programs.
Lauren Besanko, a criminology graduate and local politician, said that she’d be surprised if USM wasn’t on the radar of players in the social justice and education arena.
“USM’s story would fit right into the narratives on austerity and the war on education in America today,” said Besanko.
According to Jacobson, the term austerity has become a buzzword for the easy gutting of values and programs that more Americans don’t want gutted, like a good education for young people.
“The battle over USM cuts right to the bone of all of this,” said Jacobson. “We’re thinking that Maine will certainly be on our outlook.”
USM officials announced a plan to consolidate and centralize student services last Thursday, with aims to cut costs, recruit more students and increase retention.
Staff will begin to transition immediately, working to turn the efforts of 15 separate entities into a single, integrated division. The overall goal is to make student services easier to navigate for both enrolled and prospective students, as well as making sure all departments are on the same page.
Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, said that since he began working at USM this semester he’s heard students equate trying to access student success to a game of ping-pong.
“We found a lot of redundancy within the system,” said Quint. “There’s been no real theme, structure or strategic plan for recruiting and advising students for so long. And since there hasn’t been a plan, individuals across campus have taken it upon themselves to plan within their own department or office.”
Quint noted that most students are bounced between numerous outlets while enrolled, including general, major-specific and minor-specific advisors, and that the offices of undergraduate, graduate and professional and continuing education departments were all recruiting students separately.
“We need to constantly be talking to each other to make sure we’re all working toward the same goal,” said Quint.
Five advising positions and two administrative positions will be eliminated with the consolidation, but no one is being laid off. All but one position has been vacant and one administrator will be returning to a faculty position. Officials have launched a search for a vice president of enrollment management to lead the division.
The savings will amount in nearly half a million dollars after including the salary costs of the vice president position and will go directly toward USM’s projected fiscal year 16 deficit of $16 million.
The administration has repeatedly reported that dropping enrollment is a prominent factor in financial problems for the university and that this reorganization will likely help stop the drop.
“The charge of this new division is to more effectively serve students through one front door and to view all student service functions through the eyes of the student. We will eliminate the barriers that hinder our students’ ability to navigate their way to graduation,” read a letter from President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell sent to the USM community last week.
According to Quint, USM typically loses one third of its freshman class each year. To help reduce that rate, each student will be assigned a faculty and professional mentor when they enroll to help guide them through the ins and outs of university life and transition.
An office of career development and community engagement will also be created through centralizing resources, which will allow the university to better connect students with internships and careers with local businesses. Quint said that through meetings with local businesses, officials have found that they aren’t looking for interns at USM simply because they don’t know where to post job openings on a USM website.
“Again, it’s something that individual departments might do well across the campus, but something we need to pull together and do well as an institution,” Quint said. “We hear so often from government officials and non-profits that they need students, but just don’t know how to get them from USM, so they look elsewhere.”
Quint says the division will be complete, organized and running efficiently before next fall.
“The concept is great and we’ve planned it well, but now it’s time for that hard work,” said Quint. “We want to be the one’s to do it right and if we can, this can really transform the university.
By: Annie Quandt
As of Friday, the USM Preservation Fund reached its $10,000 goal. The fundraiser, which was started last spring by the protest group Students for #USMFuture, has two initiatives: One is to fund an independent audit, the other is to provide legal counsel to students.
“The independent audit’s goal would be to shed some light on the finances. [We want to hire] someone who’s impartial and from the outside, an impartial accountant, to answer a lot of these questions in terms of how profitable are these programs that are being cut. Faculty that are being eliminated are bringing in a lot of revenue on a yearly basis,” said Meghan LaSala, senior women and gender studies major and student leader for the group.
LaSala discussed the importance of legal counsel, noting that the administration is still unable to tell students how they’ll be able to finish their degrees.
“They’re firing the only professors that have the training and credentials to offer these courses that students need to graduate,” said LaSala. “When students declare a major, that’s a legal contract with the university, that they are obligated to fulfill in terms of providing students the education they signed up for.”
MA’s in applied medical sciences and American and New England studies were both eliminated. BA’s in geosciences, French and the arts and humanities program at the Lewiston-Auburn campus were also cut.
“About 25 faculty were retrenched, and a lot of faculty chose early retirement, but not all those retirements were able to save other faculty positions, because if they weren’t in the programs being targeted by the administration, then junior faculty were still retrenched,” said LaSala. “We’ve lost five programs since the start of the semester, but many other programs are losing half of their faculty.”
LaSala believes these are cuts that will have a lasting impact on USM.
“We’re losing our only tenured classics professor; we’re no longer going to be able to offer a class in the major,” LaSala said.
LaSala also noted the stress some faculty face with the cuts.
“The administration is arguing that senior faculty can just teach more classes but a lot of faculty are already teaching about four classes. It also completely undermines that faculty at public universities, half of their job is to do research and to include students in that process; it’s part of their job contract that they need to do research,” said LaSala. “Faculty that is teaching five courses a semester are not going to be able to do that kind of work.”
LaSala noted that the university is advocating for a shift toward more adjunct professors.
“They’ll just replace these positions with part-time positions, but those positions are underpaid, unstable,” said LaSala. “I know one adjunct professor that calls it her volunteer job. They don’t have an office. They don’t have the resources to support students the same way that tenured faculty do.”
Paul Nakroshis, a physics professor at USM, agrees that the course load put on other professors will be too much.
With a goal of reinstating transparency, sharing governance and advocating for state investment in USM, many have donated to the fund. Not only have professors donated, but LaSala says many alumni, students, families and members of the southern Maine community have also contributed to the fund.
Nakroshis explained that he donated because he believes the students are acting more intelligently than the university governing system.
LaSala emphasized that there’s still hope for USM.
“I think there was and is another path forward for USM. That is to stop this downward spiral train of cutting courses which is only going to make our declining enrollment worse and hurt our bottom line because we’re cutting faculty that are bringing in revenue for the University,” said LaSala “We need to slow this train down.”
“We shouldn’t let this supposed crisis moment define us as an institution,” said LaSala. “The region of southern Maine deserves a first-class institution, and we as a state can afford it.”
By: Brian Gordon
The University’s graduate degree program in American and New England Studies has been abolished as part of the cuts handed down by President David Flanagan and the board of trustees. No teach out plan has been available to students or faculty, leaving students wondering how they will finish their studies in the two years the administration is giving them. They are in the process of firing tenured professors and hiring adjunct or temporary workers in their place.
One of the students affected by the elimination of the program is Kimberly Clark, a Gray, Maine native who graduated from USM with a Media Studies degree in 2003. She returned to the school in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree in ANES but now finds herself wondering what kind of a degree she is getting and what the rest of her education will be like.
“I worry about the value of my education, moving forward,” said Clark. “It’s certainly going to be a different quality than what it would have been.”
Clark is taking one class a semester and has two classes left and two internships. She has opted not to try out the adjunct teachers because they might not be up to snuff. “I didn’t want to be a guinea pig for a new professor. I make choices based on who the professor is going to be.”
“I will finish within the two year allotment,” said Clark. “The question is the quality and losing my professors – and who is assigned to me now?”
A search on MaineStreet yields only two classes available to Clark both to be taught in room “TBA,” on days “TBA” and the teacher as “Staff.”
These types of results don’t inspire confidence in Clark who even used her 401k earned from eight years of working at Time Warner Cable on her education at USM. She didn’t see it as a gamble at the time; it seemed to be a sure thing.
“I invested in my education. I invested in USM because I took that money out of my future,” said Clark. “I believed getting this education would improve my opportunities and my future.”
There was a meeting Tuesday the 11th about the future of the ANES program, but Clark was busy manning the Jumbotron of the Portland Pirates where she’s a technical director of camera operations for all home games. She was hoping to at least get an email about what happened to see if there was a plan.
“The admin and the BOT have no idea what these programs do,” said Clark. “If they did they would be thinking twice.”
Clark doesn’t think the administration is considering the non-traditional structure of USM. She has high school teachers in her classes, who want to teach a specialized course in their classrooms. There’s also undergrads and non-matriculated students allowed to take courses in ANES program that don’t receive a master’s degree.
“This university is not about just a degree. It’s about an education,” said Clark. “Education doesn’t equal degree. It’s that narrow minded thinking that’s killing the university.”
It was almost five years ago that Clark took an archeology class with Professor Nathan Hamilton who now teaches at the Muskie school. That class got her interested in ANES and Hamilton nudged her into it. Clark was hesitant after being out of school for seven years but took to the program and was glad she did.
The public history and culture track Clark is a part of focuses less on writing and getting a Ph.D later and more about how to present history to the public. Most people get jobs working at a historical site or a museum. Clark notes many graduates are working at area museums, educating people on local history, including the Victoria Mansion, the Scott Dyer Museum in Saco and The Maine State Museum has curators that went through the program.
Right now Clark also works at Maine Irish Heritage Center. She sees her American and New England Studies program being vital to understanding the Yankee identity and the diversity in the region.
“I don’t like feeling powerless about it and I don’t like seeing this program being eliminated. I’m really so sorry for the future students that won’t have the opportunity to take classes with these professors,” said Clark. “They won’t have the same opportunity that I had.”
Students visiting USM for an adult, transfer and graduate student open house last week mainly described themselves as being excited to come to the university, but most were completely unaware of any of the program eliminations that have occurred this semester.
Josh Grassman, hoping to transfer to USM from Sienna College after a hiatus of a few years, was a classics major but will be transferring into the communication program.
Though he is switching majors, he described his feelings as “hurt” after learning about the eliminations of the program he once belonged to.
“I took a couple courses in classics last spring,” said Grassman. “I probably would’ve tried to take more classes if the program wasn’t cut.”
He explained that, although the cuts are saddening, as an outsider he can’t look at USM and criticize.
“Pretty soon my wallet will be a factor and my opinion will matter,” said Grassman. “I can’t complain if I’m not part of the system.”
Tiffany Hart, a student at the University of Maine Orono from 1994-1998 is coming to USM to finish her degree in construction management. She believes that in order for USM to grow as an institution, people need to enroll — not be scared off by the financial crisis.
“If USM is going to get out of it [financial crisis] they need the student numbers,” said Hart. “I’m doing my part to keep my community alive. Maine isn’t going to do well if we don’t have young professionals.”
Lyna Vladimiroff, a California native, was unaware of the eliminations that have taken place over the past two months. As a humanities major, her program was cut just a few months ago.
“Oh my god,” said Vladimiroff. “I had no idea.”
Vladimiroff hasn’t been in school for over 20 years, and has always dreamed of attending USM. She will be the first in her family to go to college.
“I think it [eliminations] are horrible,” said Vladimiroff. “It’s so impish. A lot of people can’t talk to people. They don’t know how. Arts and humanities are so important.”
She described the cuts as “detrimental,” but explained that they do not turn her away from attending USM.
In all three instances, Grassman, Hart and Vladimiroff spoke of the convenience of having a public university so close to their homes.
“It’s just easy to get to,” said Hart.
For many students, seeking an education at a different university is out of the question. Given USM’s non-traditional presence, most students have jobs and, in some cases, families that they cannot uproot to move away.
Bonnie Stearns, director of student services in the college of science, technology and health said that no students have contacted her about applied medical sciences and geosciences, the eliminated programs in her department.
“We are the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] college and that’s to our benefit,” said Stearns. “It’s unfortunate that we’re losing these amazing programs, but it’s still a robust school. STEM majors are going strong.”
All four agree that, regardless of the financial circumstances USM is facing, it’s important to move forward and look to the future, rather than focus on the negativity of the past.
“We’re supporting the programs we have while supporting our AMS and geosciences faculty and students,” said Stearns. “That’s all we really can do right now.”
Two teenagers died in a car accident last Saturday near Hiram, one of whom was a USM student.
Andrew Stanley, a recent graduate of Sacopee Valley High School and a first year nursing student at USM, was riding with three of his friends in a speed zone of 35 mph when the car crashed into a utility pole and killed him.
According to Chris Quint, the USM spokesperson, alcohol was not a factor in the crash, but speeding may have been.
Quint said that the crash occurred around 2 am.
Chief Deputy Hart Daley said that the names of the juvenile driver and passenger who survived, are not being released at this time. According to Daley, Stanley died at the scene while the second passenger, 19 year old Isaac Moore, died later at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Samuel Johnson, a junior education major said that he knew Stanley and spoke with him plenty of times. Johnson described Stanley as polite, genuine and sincere.
“He was also hilarious and always making people laugh,” said Johnson. “He was a smart person with a really bright future.”
Alex Fenderson said that Stanley was his best friend and they grew up together since they were three years old.
“I have countless stories and memories about the times we spent together,” said Fenderson. “He would move mountains for people. Stanley cared deeply about his friends and family.”
From donation based yoga classes, to student run bake sales and concerts, many fundraising efforts have sprung up in Portland to help the affected families of the Noyes St. fire pay for funeral costs and to provide assistance to the two survivors who lost their possessions.
While the investigation regarding the exact cause of the fire is still ongoing, several grieving community members and philanthropists said that funeral costs are very expensive and money should be raised to help the devastated families of the victims.
Eli Hubble, a friend and a co-worker of the deceased Bragdon Jr. said that the entire Portland community suffered a severe loss in this horrible tragedy.
“These were amazing people that gave nothing but love and compassion to the community; let’s give something back,” said Hubble.
Mary Crowley, the president of the student nursing organization, said that survivors like USM students Kyle Bozeman and Nick Marcketta will need financial help to start regaining the possessions they lost in the inferno.
Crowley had her nursing students raise money by hosting a bake sale in Woodbury Campus Center.
“Our students were amazed at how many people thanked them,” said Crowley. “Anytime anyone in our community is struck by a tragedy, it’s a selfless move to try and offer help in whatever way you can.”
After four hours the students raised over $341, which is planned to be split and given to both the survivors and the families of the deceased.
“I felt that it was only the right things to do,” said Kayleigh Calvert, a sophomore nursing student who passed out cupcakes to people who donated.
Next to the Woodbury campus center, at the Sullivan gym, another contribution to the cause was gearing up.
Whitney Lutz, a faculty member in the nursing department, redirected her original fundraising plans of community partnership in the Dominican Republic, to instead benefit the Noyes St. victims, with a black light yoga event. Yoga poses in a dimly lit room led to about $145 raised.
“The switch was very fitting given the gravity of this tragedy involving USM students,” said Lutz. “We felt it would be a good time to bring the campus community closer and have time for reflection and support with one another.”
Opportunities to donate were also made available at every cash register on campus in the form of a box asking customers to “remember the Noyes. St. victims.” The boxes were put out by Aramark.
Grace Tyler, a former USM student has spearheaded two money collecting campaigns outside of the immediate campus community. Using the hashtag #RememberNoyes and a GoFundMe page online, Tyler has managed to raise over $3,000 in four days. Tyler said that it’s important to recognize the wonderful people that had their lives stolen from them.
“I’m trying to show the [affected] families that they are supported by the community,” said Tyler. “This money is in no way going to mend the broken hearts of those who have lost their loved ones and gone through such a painful experience, but it will at least help ease the monetary stress.”
Tyler described Finlay, Thomas and Bragdon Jr., who frequented the events at the Space for Grace community center, as happy, beautiful souls.
Tyler’s fundraising efforts also takes the form of a 12-hour concert, featuring at least seven local bands at her venue on Saturday the 15th. Tyler said the door charge donation will cost $10. According to the event’s Facebook page, over 350 people will be in attendance.
Whitney Carroll, a Portland local, wrote to Tyler on the event’s Facebook page, “You have a way of bringing the community together that is truly amazing.”
Support for those affected also comes from as far away as Bangor, with Andre Hicks Jr., a hip hop musician, donating all of the ticket sales from his next show to the Noyes St. fund.
#207Together Hip Hop Showcase invites everybody to “come together and celebrate the lives of our friends lost in a horrible fire.”
Hicks, who is a native of Portland but is hosting the show up in Bangor to meet up with other musicians, said that he’s never seen anything like what happened on Noyes St.
“I don’t care about the credit or the money, I just want to help out in any way that I can,” said Hicks. “I figured, I have talent, people come to my shows, why don’t I use that to make something fun and positive out of this horrible tragedy.”
Hicks, whose stage name is Dray Junior, said that he’s positive his rap show will sell out.
Several fundraisers believe that the pain of losing a loved one in such a brutal way can never be abated by raising money, but there is something valuable to the community coming together in such a positive way.
Bryan Kessler, a former USM student and electronic musician said he wants to get as many people aware and involved as possible.
“Portland has responded well,” said Kessler. “You can see how well connected the city is after something tragic like this happens.”
President David Flanagan tried to convince the faculty senate last week that the administration’s plan was going to put USM on a healthy, sustainable path, but the faculty continued to ask the question: what plan?
Faculty are still asking the administration to provide data to back up program eliminations, faculty retrenchments, any detailed teach-out plans and a comprehensive report outlining why the university is facing a $16 million budget gap.
“Give us the evidence, give us the data,” said Lydia Savage, a professor of geography, during the meeting, noting that she had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the UMaine System and has yet to receive a report of the deficit. “We [the faculty] have much more vested interest in this than the trustees and the administration. We’re in it for the long haul.”
Some faculty also took issue with statements Flanagan made regarding faculty contracts when he implied that retrenched faculty filing grievances and going into litigation over what they thought were contract violations would only slow down the plan to close the budget gap and put USM into more of a hole.
“This is problematic,” said Rachel Bouvier, a professor of economics who is set to be retrenched. “It assumes we cannot pursue balanced budget and offer contract rights at the same time and that by following our rights, we’re somehow bringing the university down.”
Flanagan said any faculty were welcome to pursue their contract rights, but stressed that it would not help the university in the long-run.
“At the end of the day, if we were to restore status quo and wipe the slate clean, we’d still have a $16 million budget gap and we’d still have to find that money elsewhere,” said Flanagan. “I know that there are still some people, God bless them, who think there isn’t a financial crisis, who think we can walk to the system, knock on the door, ask them for reserves and we’ll be okay. That isn’t the case.”
Flanagan said, that since he was appointed president in August, that his aim has been financial stability and that he wants to keep USM affordable for Maine students. He noted that there is a demographic trend in Maine that suggest the student population is only going to decline and that everyone has to work to increase enrollment.
He criticized faculty who have been involved in recent press conferences that have claimed he’s “destroying the university,” saying that they are the ones driving students away. In turn, Bouvier said that the constant slashing of programs and faculty wasn’t exactly an invitation for students, which resulted in applause from many members of the senate.
Faculty members claimed they felt uncomfortable with the 2-year time limit on whatever teach-out plan the administration is working on and that having to tell their students they don’t know anything about it has been difficult.
“I think you’ve left your barn doors open and I think the cows have left the pasture,” said Stephen Pollock, a professor in the eliminated geosciences program.
Pollock noted that he hadn’t made serious recommendations, but has been talking to some of his students about them transferring to other universities to finish their degrees. Nancy Erickson, the one professor in the eliminated French program said it’s best to be honest with students about transferring instead of having them face a rushed teach-out program.
“I’ve heard from students who are telling their friends not to come here,” said Assunta Kent, a professor of theatre. “I’ve been telling students not to say that, but in reality, what can I promise them?”
Flanagan took in comments from many members of the faculty senate, but stuck to his guns, saying the way the administration is going about closing the budget gap isn’t ideal, but necessary for USM to succeed down the road.
“I know this is a shocking experience and is unprecedented in USM’s history. I heard one professor say recently that we’re tearing the heart out of USM, but all we’re trying to do is save it,” said Flanagan. “I sincerely hope we can find a way through this together.”
Some students in programs affected by recent retrenchments have jumped at the chance to defend their professors’ jobs and are trying to get them rehired.
Last week there were numerous petitions circulating on campus that demanded that some faculty members either retain their positions at USM or be rehired.
“It’s just horrible, so horrible what’s happening here,” said senior criminology major Laura Dow.
Many students taking classes in the criminology department were canvassing the Portland campus early last week, looking for students to sign a petition to rehire Sandra Wachholz, an associate professor who was notified of her retrenchment the previous week. They sent the petition along to Provost Joseph McDonnell before a meeting with Wachholz. At that time the petition had less than 50 signatures, but it has been growing online.
Dow transferred to USM from a Boston university for the criminology department and was assigned Wachholz as an advisor.
“I just fell in love with her immediately,” said Dow, noting that Wachholz would regularly set aside time for extended advising appointments.
Dow said the goal is to convince the administration to hire Wachholz in a vacant position in the school of social work, a program students feel she would fit into nicely.
Students majoring in physics, a program that faced potential elimination last fall, have also created an online petition to save Julie Ziffer, an assistant professor of physics who was retrenched.
According to students, Ziffer was set to teach the last class in a three class series on classical physics. All three are major-requirements, but students are worried that there will be too much work for the remaining professors to handle.
“If she’s not there in the spring to teach that class, I won’t be able to finish,” said
Deb Hilton, a transfer physics major. “I planned my life around the university’s schedule. They said, here are the classes you’re supposed to take, here’s the schedule, deal with it. I’ve been dealing with it, they’ve messed with it and now I’m basically screwed.”
Spring classes set to be taught by retrenched faculty are still on the schedule, but the instructor for each course is listed simply as ‘staff.’
According to Christopher Quint, the executive director of public affairs, the administration is still working out who will teach those courses, but that it’s likely to be remaining faculty in those programs or part-time hires.
Nick Anna, a transfer physics major, said that the lack of clarity in instructors is troubling.
“It’s indicative of a lack of planning by the administration,” said Anna. “If cuts are needed, they’re not doing it in an intelligent way.”
The petition to save Ziffer’s position is addressed to Governor Paul LePage, as well as the state house of representatives and senate.
“We know they [government officials] can’t come down here and say, let’s save this one professor at a university. We’re hoping this will get someone’s attention so we can tell them if they don’t invest in Maine’s universities and they don’t invest in students, they’re sending this state into an economic death spiral,” said Anna.
Anna said that a major in physics has been listed as one of the most lucrative degrees in many studies, and that making it difficult for students to graduate in the program is a disservice to the state.
Anna also said that with the increased workload the remaining faculty are likely to have, his job opportunities and chances to attend graduate school after graduation will diminish.
“Our ticket to grad school is research and assisting in research. These cuts will leave the professors no additional time for research, which means students aren’t researching, which means they aren’t getting admitted to grad school,” Anna said.
Overall, students described the retrenchment of faculty as confusing.
“There’s so much confusion about what they can and can’t do [with faculty contracts] and they [the administration] aren’t giving anyone time to dig through the details and know what’s actually happening,” said Alex Knight, a double major in math and physics.
Both the group of physics students and Dow said that they would continue to look into ways they can help their professors and that more information needed to be made public regarding the retrenchments.
“The most upsetting thing for us, the students and faculty at USM, is just not knowing what’s happening,” said Dow. “None of it makes sense and it’s difficult to take action as students when we don’t know the specifics or what’s going to happen next.”
By: Alex Huber
Bestselling biographer of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson spoke to students and faculty Wednesday evening as part of WEX’s leadership and creativity event series at Hannaford Hall in Portland.
This event was hosted by WEX, a firm specializing in corporate payment solutions.
Currently Isaacson is the president of the Aspen Institute, an organization centered around education and political studies. Isaacson’s lecture to the USM community was centered around the early days of computers and the internet. Isaacson’s focus was not on technology itself, but on the people who collaborated to make the internet into what it is today.
The great minds who invented the first computers and the internet were the subject of Isaacson’s lecture.
Isaacsons remarks stemmed from his recently published book: The Innovators: How a Group of Investors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. The book is a narrative of how the great minds at the forefront of computer science created the web, which is now vital to our society. Isaacson discussed which qualities allowed these innovators such as: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to make their ideas into reality.
According to Isaacson, one such quality was collaboration. Isaacson believes that the internet fosters collaboration because it allows people to connect and share ideas.
Speaking about his experiences with the early years of the web Isaacson said, “It dawned on me, I was part of a crowd. Just another member of the crowd, every now and then offering a tiny bit of wisdom I had…thats an example of the connection of humanities instinct to technology.”
While some see technology as a force that will make human ingenuity obsolete, Isaacson holds a different view.
“I don’t think it’s always been that fruitful to try to pursue the holy grail of replacing humans with machines, instead we should follow the vision of making our technology more closely connected with us,” said Isaacson.
Isaacson said that the internet brings people together.
“It was community, it was about bringing people together. It’s about being on bulletin boards, chats rooms and auditoriums; virtual communities,” said Isaacson.
However the web is not a perfect system. Isaacson pointed out some mistakes with internet culture and said, “We mixed up being free with being ad supported.”
What Isaacson considers worse than ads is how the internet lost its sense of community. Isaacson doesn’t think that the comments should be stuck on the bottom of the page.
“Put the humanity back in the internet,” said Isaacson.
The proceeds of this event have gone to the WEX Scholarship Fund at USM. The fund benefits students who seek to work in fields involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
By: Annie Quandt
USM is on a track to sustainability.
Tyler Kidder, assistant director for sustainable programs and a member of facilities management is part of a team putting together a plan to set temperatures back during the non-work hours in the largest academic buildings, which will essentially save on heating fuel and put USM on an eco-friendly path.
“Here at USM we have a lot of very old buildings so saving heating costs is tricky,” said Kidder. “Luckily we now have a digital web-based building automated system which allows us to remotely set temperatures for day and night.”
Steve Sweeney, the resource recovery supervisor who is in charge of recycling and facilities management believes that if we consolidated all the winter session courses into one building, the university could save a lot on heating costs. Sweeney said that there usually aren’t many winter session courses offered.
Kidder commented on the idea of consolidation, saying it’s a great idea but requires that the registrar, space and scheduling, custodial, conferences, facilities and student affairs all work together.
“That’s an impressive list of busy people and so far there hasn’t been anyone taking the lead on this,” said Kidder. “But it is totally possible and a very simple way to save money on cleaning, electricity and heating costs.”
Kidder said she is interested in the prospect of communal commuters.
“I am very interested in seeing many more alternative transportation models being made available and accessible to our students, including an effective ride sharing website for cyclists, better deals on the public bus and more options for travel from the Gorham campus like car share and a bike share on the Portland campus,” said Kidder. “These initiatives take time and money to develop, but USM has been making progress toward better transportation connections and options for students over the last few years.”
Kidder also mentioned the prevalence of cost-saving measures not just in the winter months but all year round.
“At USM we have a lot of spaces that are overlit, but I’m not sure it’s the students responsibility to turn off the lights. We could all be doing better by not demanding air conditioning in offices, dressing more seasonally appropriately,like wearing a nice sweater in the winter instead of cranking the thermostat, turning off all the lights when not in use, not opening windows in the winter and more,” said Kidder. “Often, however, energy concerns and comfort conflict, and you can’t blame someone for trying to get comfortable!”
Sweeney noted that it seems like staff are really taking the initiative on recycling.
“Our staff recycles around 70-75 percent, whereas students only recycle around 25 percent,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney added that business and sustainability efforts help keep tuition down.
“Three years ago our recycle rate was 34 percent, our net annual waste cost was $58,000; the following year our recycling waste went to 46 percent and the cost reduced to $38,000,” said Sweeney. “Last year, our cost went down to $24,000. Right now, we’re running at about 60-61 percent recycling, and we’ll be running at about $14,000.”
Sweeney stressed that taking care of the environment can save a ton of money, on both an individual, community and university-based perspective.
Kidder said that if students want to reduce their waste, they should simply start by using less.
“Get a power strip in your dorm room or apartment and plug all your computers, chargers and peripherals (printer, speakers, etc) into it,” said Kidder. “Turn it off when you leave everytime. All of these electronics use a ton of power even when they’re not turned on. You’ll notice a difference in your electricity bill.”
Kidder said sustainability can be for everyone from all walks of life.
“I do think we need to regard sustainability and climate change not as political movements or mind-sets but instead as social concerns which unite, not divide us,” said Kidder. Being politically conservative and caring about the environment are not mutually exclusive.”
Kidder added that institutional sustainability nearly always saves money and makes for healthier and non-toxic places to work and learn.
“I fear that people put sustainability efforts into a box that is separate from the rest of their lives instead of embracing them as something in which we can all participate in,” said Kidder. “We all can and should understand sustainability as something beneficial.”