USM Free Press News Feed
The department of Student Life announced recently that it would be eliminating the director of Portland Student Life position in an effort to downsize amidst recent budget cuts.
Christopher O’Connor, the now former director, said he could feel something going on within the department and that he almost expected being laid off.
“The way the structure of student life has changed over the past year and recent responsibility changes, I knew something was going to happen,” said O’Connor.
According to Susan Campbell, the chief Student Affairs officer, the decision was made based on changing demographics in USM’s enrollment and the need to work with less with the university’s current financial state.
“It wasn’t based on any individual, it was based on programmatic decisions,” said Campbell. “We’re trying to flatten the administrative structure and put more people directly in contact with students.”
“Our enrollment is dropping,” said Judie O’Malley, assistant director of Public Affairs. “You have to size your organization to fit the number of people you serve.”
Members of the group Students for #USMFuture reached out to O’Connor and asked him if he wanted them to fight for his job as a part of their recent protest efforts.
“You couldn’t have been more deliberately offensive to students,” said Philip Shelley, a member of the protest group, of O’Connor’s firing. “We’re asking them to look at administrators’ salaries and the cut the very active and very loved student life director.”
O’Connor told protesters to fight for the position, but not him.
“I don’t care about me. I care about the students,” said O’Connor. “I personally don’t agree with putting students in that place. They shouldn’t have to rally for our jobs. I don’t want my job back. In many ways, I’m relieved to be out of there.”
Joy Pufhal, the executive director of Student Life, said that the decision to let O’Connor go was not easy.
“It was a great loss for me personally, for the department and for USM,” said Pufhal. “These are hard decisions that unfortunately have to be made. We have to get out of these times at USM where we’re cutting and cutting and cutting.”
O’Connor’s responsibilities have been divided between other Student Life employees and the department has been restructured. Jason Saucier, the former director of Gorham Student Life, will now lead student life as a whole.
O’Connor was skeptical of the restructuring, and spoke about the ‘boots on the ground’ initiative that began when Theodora Kalikow became USM’s president two years ago.
“I didn’t know how I could be anymore involved with students,” said O’Connor. “We’ve barely kept enrollment up in Gorham. Gorham has been spiraling for the past four or five years, and now we’re taking that staff, no disrespect to them as professionals, and task them with maintaining Portland as well? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Pufahl said she was very confident in the new structure and believes that they can deliver the programs students are used to with a smaller staff.
“Some folks are going to panic, but the sky’s not falling,” said Pufhal. There’s a lot of work to get done, but we will do it. We must do it. I care very deeply about the students and I will do everything in my power to deliver the best student experience possible.”
USM as one of the nation’s most expensive public four-year colleges for in-state students according to a recent report published by the U.S. Department of Education.
USM was ranked 23rd in the public four-year college category with a net price — the amount that students paid after receiving grants and scholarships — of $18,177 a year. The national average net price was reported to be $11,582 annually.
The report was based on data submitted from the 2011-’12 academic year, which Assistant Director of Public Affairs Judie O’Malley said contained erroneous data submitted by a former employee.
O’Malley said officials made attempts to alter the data they had submitted after the errors were discovered, but that the deadline to make changes to their submissions had passed.
“It’s unfortunate this report has been released using that year,” said O’Malley, noting that the university submits their reports to the Department of Education annually. “The feds have all these numbers, but they’ve chosen ‘11-’12.”
O’Malley said that the data, which is now three years old, does not reflect efforts that have been made recently to keep costs down.
“USM has taken steps to make itself more affordable for students,” said O’Malley, noting that the report would not have reflected the tuition-freeze or reduction in student-housing costs made in the spring of 2012.
During the 2011-2012 year, the University of Maine’s flagship campus at Orono was listed as having a net price of $15,299, lower than the smaller campuses at USM.
O’Malley chalked up the difference between Maine universities to the endowments and scholarships available at UMO in comparison to USM. She also said USM is primarily a commuter school and that commuter students rarely have the connections that resident students do, which affects donation rates from alumni.
The shuttle bus between the Portland and Gorham campuses will make its final loop on Friday before shutting down for the rest of the summer due to low useage.
“This was a difficult decision but we could not balance the high cost of the service with the low level of use,” wrote William Wells, the associate vice president of Operations in the Office of Finance and Administration in a press release last week.
According to Judie O’Malley, the assistant director of Public Affairs, the decision to shut down the shuttle was based on figures during one week of its operation when ridership was only half of what administration expected it to be and what they deem financially sustainable.
The number of riders on the bus has dropped dramatically from 61 riders the week of May 12 to just 29 riders the week of May 26. This ridership is less than half of the number of riders deemed sustainable for a week of transportation. The week of May 26 the shuttle bus drove ten runs without any riders at all.
“It was fiscally and environmentally irresponsible to continue to have the shuttles going back and forth empty,” said O’Malley. “It was absurdly expensive to run that shuttle bus every day. “It was like burning money.”
According to O’Malley, the shuttle bus costs about $2,500 to run in one week and is paid for by using student activity fee funds.
“Because of this [low useage] and USM’s well-known fiscal situation, we cannot continue this costly summer service while we are looking for ways to reduce expenses,” wrote Wells.
Students who still need to travel back and forth between campuses are being encouraged to carpool. The Office of Sustainability has set up a Google Form-based program for students called the USM Summer RideShare Program. The form is only accessible for students, faculty and staff using their university-given email addresses and provides a place for people to list their transportation needs and schedules to help each other get to class.
The university will also be offering transportation by request for students who need to travel between the campuses and have no success finding a ride with the carpooling program.
O’Malley said that the money saved from the shutdown will be used in other areas including maintenance of the grounds, parking lot upkeeps and snow removal.
Reporters at the Free Press attempted to find students who used the shuttle bus regularly, but were unable to find any students using the bus after many attempts.
Students for #USM Future recently organized a rally outside of the Maine Law Building to protest President Theo Kalikow’s final budget recommendations, specifically the three programs that are slated for elimination.
Geosciences, American and New England Studies and the Arts and Humanities program on the Lewiston-Auburn campus have been considered part of the necessary budget cuts since March, and have not been removed from the chopping block.
Convincing administrators not to cut these programs has been a goal of the student group since their first protests and on Wednesday they said they were rallying to ‘preserve’ the programs.
“We know these programs are valuable, profitable and continue to grow,” said LaSala. “We haven’t been explained why these majors are being targeted.”
On Tuesday the group announced a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $10,000, with aims to finance an independent audit of the UMaine System’s budget. They are hoping an investigation would shed light on any conflicts of interest, rule-bending and lack of oversight within the USM administration. The USMFuture Preservation Fund has raised $2,394 within the first few days of asking for donations.
The group drew a small crowd, comprised of faculty, staff and community members and many were given a chance to voice their concerns publicly..
Stephen Pollock, a geology professor, explained how rising levels in mercury are seeping from bedrock and into Maine rivers, causing many environmental problems, in an effort to show how valuable maintaining a geoscience community on campus is.
“If enough mercury makes its way into the Penobscot river, we’ll have decades, maybe centuries worth of problems,” said Pollock. “These are the kinds of issues that geosciences documents. We make society better.”
Ardis Cameron, a professor in the American and New England studies program, stressed that her academic department is not only popular, but extremely profitable. According to Cameron, it’s also one of only two of its kind of academic program in the entire country.
“It’s a human right to have access to education,” said Cameron. “We need to pause and ask ourselves does the current model best suit the needs of our region and the students who live in it?”
Many speakers and protestors argued that it’s not and there are many more fiscally responsible ways to save money, that doesn’t involve eliminating crucial programs and valued faculty members. The Faculty Senate presented an alternative budget proposal weeks ago with an estimated $5 million in savings, but according to LaSala, Kalikow turned a blind eye.
“There are a lot of ways we can save and creatively shift money that doesn’t involve students,” said LaSala. “Cut from the top and reduce the salaries of overpaid administrators.”
Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell said that there were sit-down meeting between the administration and student leaders after the group’s first protest when they were rallying to save faculty members who had been retrenched.
“Theo has made a point all along that the work of the students ought to be appreciated because, whether you can agree or disagree with what they’re saying, the students are showing that they care about this university,” said Caswell. “Certainly, everybody is aware of the points that they’re raising. They’ve been taken under consideration.”
Speakers also noted the budget for administrative cellphones. the recent hiring of Director of Public Affairs Dan Demeritt at the system-level and firing of former Portland Student Life Director Christopher O’Connor.
“It’s another chilling demonstration of how decisions are being made without clear criteria or rationales and with little regard to what is best for USM students and the community at large,” said Sarah Victor, a mother and graduate student in Occupational Therapy, on the hiring of Demeritt.
#USMFuture also revealed that they will be starting their own search for a new president.
According to LaSala, #USMFuture is going to urge the board of trustees to listen to their recommendations and give them representation on the official presidential search committee. The first order of business for #USMFuture’s search is develop a criteria for a new president that is based upon preserving USM as a comprehensive liberal arts university and community healing through transparency and shared governance.
“If they refuse to grant us representation on the committee, then we’re prepared to form and sponsor our own,” said LaSala.
Last month, Kalikow announced the formation of the Metropolitan University Steering Group, which would aid the search committee in finding a president with a more metropolitan vision. The members of #USMFuture, according to LaSala aren’t entirely convinced that the objectives of that coalition is what students want for USM.
“We all know ‘metropolitan university’ is simply a code word to help turn USM into an appendage of the corporate world,” said Michael Havlin, a recent graduate in business and economics.
Victor said that the group feels it’s time to take matters in their own hands, but that so far, they’ve been met with condescension, evasion and occasionally outright lies.
“The damage that will be left in the wake of the Kalikow administration, the LePage chancery, and this board of LePage appointed trustees, will have catastrophic reverberations in the state of Maine for generations to come,” said Victor.
Caswell noted that while the budget for FY15 has been finished, the administration will need input on next year’s budget soon.
“As we look ahead to working on the FY16 budget, we’re going to be committed to an inclusive process, so we can meet the fiscal challenges while continuing to offer and affordable high quality education,” said Caswell, noting that the form of the inclusive process has yet to be determined. “All of that has to be done with the understanding that we’re not going to meet universal agreement with the hard challenges we face.”
Editor-in-Chief Sam Hill contributed to this story.
Students for #USMFuture have launched a new campaign called #NoMoreNice in response to recent measures taken by the administration to balance the university’s budget.
In a statement released to Bangor Daily News blogger Chris Schorr, the group announced that they would be launching a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $10,000 to finance an independent audit of System and USM finances, investigating conflicts of interest, nepotism, waste, and lack of oversight in system operations and Engaging legal counsel to investigate potential class-action lawsuits, or other similar legal remedies.
“We’re stepping our game up in response to the new budget,” said Philip Shelley, a member of the group and recent USM graduate. “The administration is dismantling this place and we need to do the opposite and start fighting to preserve USM.”
Shelley and other members of the group are use the word ‘dismantle’ deliberately, referring the recent decision by the administration to fire Chris O’Connor, who was the director of Portland Student Life, and plans to sell the Stone House, which serves as headquarters for USM’s Stonecoast Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program.
“When they’re done, this will no longer be a comprehensive liberal arts university,” said Shelley.
The group will be hosting a rally outside of the Maine Law Building tomorrow morning in attempt preserve the three programs that have been slated for elimination. Geosciences, American and New England Studies and the Arts and Humanities program at the Lewiston Auburn campus have been targeted for elimination since March and President Kalikow confirmed in her announcement that she would still suggest they be cut.
“We wanted to provide another floor for directly affected people to share their stories,” said Meaghan LaSala, a group member and senior women and gender studies major. The group hosted a similar event for staff who were threatened with cuts in late April.
“Along with many stakeholders in the USM community and across the state, we feel that the program cuts make no sense and have no coherent economic rationale,” said student organizer Caroline O’Connor in a press release sent out by the group this afternoon. O’Connor recently enrolled in the American New England Studies program. “This program is profitable for the university, many of its graduates stay and work in Maine, and it’s one of only two of its kind in the country.”
The group also announced the creation of a USMFuture Presidential Search Committee. Their goal is to form a search committee comprised of students, staff and faculty to find a presidential candidate who will preserve USM as a comprehensive liberal arts university, focus on transparency and shared governance, critically examine USM’s budget in the context of national public higher education funding and acknowledges a student’s education as a human right.
A search committee has already been formed by the USM administration to search for Kalikow’s replacement, as she will be retiring after the next academic year.
“We would love to be a part of the search,” said Shelley. “Students deserve to have a say in the future executive direction of their university.”
The rally is set to take place tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.
A new group has been formed at USM in an effort to implement USM’s plan to become a premiere urban metropolitan university and redefine the university’s mission, an undertaking that President Theodora Kalikow has said might take years to complete.
The goal of the Metropolitan University Steering Group is to find ways to broaden the reach and impact of the USM community in the greater Portland area, create direct connections between students and professionals in the region and stimulate the growth of its programs. The group has been holding weekly community outreach meetings to share ideas, address concerns, outline challenges and gauge interest in potential partnerships with local companies and businesses in the area.
The meetings have included a variety of local higher education figures such as Southern Maine Community College president Robert Canter and former USM president Bob Woodbury, along with faculty, staff and representatives from local businesses like L.L. Bean and the Hilton Garden Inn. The focus of last week’s meeting was to discuss possible engagement tactics that would help USM attract more young students and increa a shared vision of community.
Richard Barringer, a research professor at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, is chair of the group and moderated discussion, urging attendees to encapsulate their ideas on sheets of yellow paper that were passed out at the beginning of the meeting.
“These yellow sheets will serve as a benchmark, as to whether the plan we come up with, will actually continue to work in 3-5 years,” said Barringer. “USM needs a new model, if it’s going to become sustainable.”
One of the ways the group plans to create this future is by increasing partnerships with local businesses in the public and private sector. According to Robert Caswell, the director of Public Affairs, USM campuses are located in prime locations to ensure that a student’s learning experiences continue even while off campus. Caswell said that these experiences included things like internships, volunteer opportunities, service learning courses and working one-on-one with faculty members.
“USM is located in a very special location compared to the rest of Maine and even the whole New England area,” said Caswell. “We have the potential to develop so many off campus partnerships in the Lewiston, Gorham and Portland communities.”
One of the ways Barringer plans on implementing this new vision is by introducing some community engagement and partnership methods from other universities.
“We’ve been looking at about half a dozen universities that have a stellar reputation for doing that well,” said Barringer. “We’ll use their best practice experience, in order to inform us on how to bring that to USM.”
The group is also tasked with making sure this new focus is realized in every academic department, especially when hiring new staff.
According to Caswell, if this vision gets successfully realized, USM will gain a more strategic niche community among other local colleges, which will make the university more attractive to candidates and applicants. Caswell said the final plan should be finished by Labor Day.
“It seems the consensus, both on and off campus, about this group has been very positive,” said Barringer. “So we’re going to spend less time justifying it and more time actually doing it and doing it well.”
USM Senior Anna Chiu, the student speaker at the USM commencement, hopes to inspire graduating students to keep USM values of inclusiveness and understanding in mind as they head out into the world.
Chiu is a health sciences major with a minor in biology. She transferred to USM from Simmons College, where she was a nursing student, in 2012.
For Chiu, that sentiment of inclusiveness and understanding is very important. “I won’t ever forget writing an article about depression once, and one guy emailed me and thanked me for speaking out about it because of its stigma. I was very touched and honored to have helped him,” she said, referring to her time as a writer and sports editor for the Free Press.
Chiu has fought her own battles with depression and hopes to help other students. “Nobody should be ashamed if they are feeling depressed. I’ve met the most caring students, professors and staff at USM, and honestly I’ve never felt more like myself than here,” Chiu said.
Chiu will give her speech at the USM commencement on May 10 at the Cumberland Civic Center.
Initially, Chiu struggled to find the words for her speech. “What helped me and got me to start writing was reminiscing on my USM experience and how I’ve changed since transferring here,” said Chiu, who submitted her speech a day later than the deadline.
“I don’t particularly like the idea of talking about myself because I think the duty of the commencement speaker is to represent the student body and showcase just how amazing we all are,” she said.
“I wanted a speech that was emotionally captivating yet powerful. I spent hours just sitting at my computer trying to think of something meaningful that I could write about,” Chiu said. Eventually she settled on the theme of personal identity and how USM can change its students.
In her speech, Chiu explains that she is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her parents were poor , she said, and her father was forced to steal food and her mother did not own shoes until the age of 19. Her parents fled China to escape poverty and famine. “I was born and raised in Portland and even though I grew up poor, it blows my mind every time to think how much can change in just one generation. My parents probably never would’ve imagined that their children would one day prosper in America when they were our age.” Chiu hopes that her parents story will inspire the outgoing USM class and send a message of hope and inspire them to think about their own identity.
Chiu also has a word of advice for all the students at USM. “Honestly, just breathe. I know it’s simple but I think it’s true that we are our own worst critic. We need to remember to breathe and stay in the present moment and not be so hard on ourselves.”
Saman Baghestani has proposed an alternative to purchasing and selling books for college students in South Portland. It’s working so well, he’s bringing it across the bridge to USM.
Baghestani came up with the idea for a book-swap website, which he named the South Portland Book Exchange––or SoPoBooks.com. With the help of his computer programmer friend Jason McDonald, he was able to create a site where users post books they no longer need and request books they are going to need. When a match is made, the site connects the dots, and students are welcome to barter, sell, negotiate or trade favors, such as yard work, for textbooks.
“The idea came to me in a sort of ‘light bulb’ moment,” said Baghestani. “After constantly hearing students complaining about book pricing, I thought, ‘books that are not needed by one student will be needed by others. So why not create a place for students where they can buy and sell books in a timely manner?’”
Although websites such as Amazon and Craigslist have college textbooks for reasonable prices, SoPoBooks.com can make the buying process much easier by allowing students to choose what they pay for their textbooks.
“I have used the website twice as a consumer,” said Baghestani. “After selling my old books and acquiring new ones, I only spent a total of $20.00 for the necessary readings.”
When you request a book, you’ll get an email telling you when it is available, and if you post a book you’ll get emailed when someone wants it. “This whole process takes no more than a minute and a half,” Baghestani said. “Rather than have to search through endless pages of results, the website does all the work for you.”
This can be especially helpful when trying to sell books. “Buy-back programs at campus bookstores will take your $142.00 textbook and give you $14.00 for it. SoPoBooks.com does not work the same way as campus bookstores, because the transaction terms are 100 percent entirely determined by the students.”
Nicki Piaget, the USM bookstore director, said that this is not always the case. “Students can get a lot of money back for their books. The prices are based on whether the faculty are using it the next semester. If it hasn’t been ordered, USM doesn’t buy it for resale. If we don’t know if the textbooks are going to be used, we purchase for a different wholesaler, and therefore the prices go down a bit.”
However, Baghestani says that you will never have to wonder what you’ll get in return for books you want to sell, because you have a lot of payment options. “We feel that by cutting out the ‘middle person’ [in this case the bookstore], students can save and earn a lot more money with college books. We believe this is a huge reason for college students to prefer our site over the book store.”
Baghestani said that some students have expressed concerns regarding the buying and selling of old edition books. However, he also said this is not something to be worried about. Students are able to put the author, book title or the ISBN number into their search to make sure they get the exact books needed for classes.
Although the website was primarily intended for students at Southern Maine Community College, Baghestani decided early on in December to branch out to USM in order help others buy and sell books at reasonable prices. He says he hopes to make this website available nationwide in the future. “This method of buying and selling books is working for a ton of students” he said.
Baghestani hopes that every student at USM will look into the website and consider the financial benefits of buying and selling from other students. “The account is free, and it connects people” he said. “Not only is this a time saver, but you are also going to get a much better deal.
The University of Maine System will require proof of health insurance before students enroll in classes beginning next fall.
The new Student Health Insurance Policy will kick in this August and eligible students will automatically be enrolled in the program and have the $942 annual premium cost added to their student account.
“There is a requirement to have health insurance in this country, and we’re trying to make it as a affordable as possible for students,” said Lisa Belanger, the director of Health Services at USM. She said one of the reasons for this new requirement is the federal Affordable Care Act and that the university wants to make sure all students have access to health care while they pursue their education.
“Before, we had a student health plan, but it was not required,” said Belanger. “Insurance companies are not going to support that method of enrollment anymore.”
All students will be required to enroll if they fit certain criteria: taking nine credits or more as an undergraduate and six credits or more as a graduate student. If a student fits either of these or doesn’t already have insurance, they will have to enroll in the new plan. Students already enrolled in a health care plan can opt out of this plan by signing a waiver before the first of October.
“I was dropped from my parents’ insurance just this past winter, so I’m really grateful to have this available to me,” said junior history major Amanda Woods.
“I really like the the university is offering this plan. It sounds cheap and easy,” said junior psychology major Ben Pohl. “I don’t know if I’m into it being completely automatic though.”
Pohl said that he is embarrassed to know so little about healthcare options.
“I just haven’t paid any attention,” said Pohl when asked about the Affordable Care Act.
An informational session on ACA was held at USM at the beginning of March, but few students were in attendance. Jake Grindle of Western Maine Community Action noted at the event that most students would still be covered under their parents’ insurance.
“This is an affordable rate for students and there is a value to having health insurance,” said Belanger, who recalled meeting with a student last week who said they were paying up to $500 a month for coverage.
While an official notice hadn’t been sent out yet from the system office last week, a short notice explaining the plan had been posted on the USM website. So far, many students are not aware of the plan.
“I heard a friend of mine mention it in passing earlier in the week, but they didn’t know much,” said undeclared freshman Pat Forester. “I’m covered by my parents, but I definitely want to know more about it.”
Belanger noted that getting the word out to students is a top priority right now.
“We’re going to try to do everything that we can to get this information out,” she said. “We will pursue as many ways to market this as possible.”
When Belanger came to speak about the plan at the student senate meeting on Friday, April 18, some senators expressed concerns about making the option to opt-out well known.
“I’m a bit concerned. People tend to not opt-out of things,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and former senate vice-chair. “I want this opt-out option to be 100 percent clear to students so they aren’t surprised by another bill on their account.”
Belanger said she knows there will be issues when the opt-out deadline rolls around and that she couldn’t guarantee that every single student was going to know and understand the new policy.
She said issues with opting-out or any other problems that arise will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis and that more information on that will be released by the UMaine system at a later date.
“I would say this is a shift in thinking, it’s a shift that’s happening nationally, and that USM is going to be a part of it,” said Belanger.
USM’s executive director of public affairs Robert Caswell has announced that he will be retiring this June after working at USM for over 34 years. He responded to an inquiry from the Free Press reminiscing on his time at the university, and talked about some of his fondest memories.
After graduating USM in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Caswell set out to become a newspaper reporter in Maine. After working six years in the industry, he became interested in public relations and decided to see what job opportunities were available. Caswell first applied to USM in hopes of getting a job in public relations. Due to the fact that there was no such job title, he continued working as a newspaper reporter. Six months later, Caswell received a letter from the university inviting him to apply for an opening that had just been created, where he began his work in February of 1980.
“When I started here at USM, a career in public relations meant primarily that you worked with the news media. People who are in this career now are dealing with community relations, legislative relations, and internal/external communications,” Caswell said.
In 1980, USM was transitioning from a school of education to a five year teacher program baccalaureate. The program they were piloting was designed specifically for individuals who had already attended a four year program for another career, but wanted to become teachers, regardless of what their first degree was in.
Caswell believed the transition was a newsworthy topic. After a constant effort to promote the university’s transition through the Portland Press Herald with no result, he decided to talk to a writer for the New York Times.
Not long after, a huge feature story on the university ran in the newspaper. “The fondest memory I have while working at USM is picking up the Portland Press Herald and seeing that they had run it on the front page. After all the effort I had put it, it was nice to see they finally publicized it. That was just mind-blowing,” he said.
When asked what he would miss the least, Caswell replied, “I’m not going to miss the communication challenges associated with budget problems and issues. I’ve welcomed that challenge time and time again, but I’m not going to miss that. I will, however, miss working with people across USM, who despite what we’re going through right now, are incredibly dedicated to this university.”
Over the years, Caswell has seen a lot of change happen on campus. “Working at USM has given me a much deeper appreciation for the value of higher education in terms of what it can do for individuals.”
Upon retiring, Caswell says he has no definite plans. “Well, the short honest answer is that I don’t have a clue. When I retire I will be almost 62 years old, so I’m still relatively young. My wife is also retiring, so I’m sure we’ll do something. It’s exciting and sort of scary at same time, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Caswell has a few words of wisdom to give to students before he retires in June. “Don’t give up on USM,” he said, “because you can really get a great education here and you can have the opportunity to work with faculty and staff who are deeply committed to their subject and this university.”
Although he is sad to be leaving, Caswell says he is ready for this next chapter in his life. “For all the challenges facing USM, someone once told me that working in public higher education is a privilege. Even though it was difficult at times, I’ve spent a wonderful 34 years here, and I’ve had a really good run.” As of right now, no decision has been made as to who will take his place.
The semester may be coming to an end, but the Student Government Association is still working on their biggest task–– passing next year’s budget.
Due to low enrollment at the university, there were less student activity funds for the senate to work with than the previous semester. An emergency meeting to balance the budget took place on March 15, and the senate worked with entities such as the Board of Student Organizations, Gorham Events Board and Portland Events Board to make cuts and create a workable budget for the rest of the semester.
Now their task is to create a budget for next year that works for all entities and groups with far less money. The senate isn’t expecting more student activity funds to come in next semester and is budgeting for $276,940 compared to last year’s budget of $337,694.
“This is a very conservative budget,” said former finance committee chair Tyler Boothby. “This budget was created so that we don’t have to have another one of those emergency meetings next year.”
When the 42nd Student Senate held their last meeting on April 18 and turned responsibilities over to the new senators of the 43rd senate, Boothby recommended that they pass the budget as is, saying that there had been a lot of eyes on the project, and they believed it was the best option.
As the current budget recommendation stands, BSO’s budget will be cut by $16,800, PEB by $13,601, and GEB by $33,805. The cuts to GEB would be a 66 percent budget reduction, leaving the board $17,175 to provide weekly programming for students all year.
Incoming GEB executive chair Chelsea Tibbetts sent a document to members of the senate titled “The Case for GEB,” which cited leadership development, reduction of costs and community engagement over the past two years as reasons to reconsider changing the budget recommendation. The letter calls for an alternative cut of 12 to 18 percent of the budget, which would leave the board with around $45,000 for the year.
“All GEB programs are almost exclusively for entertainment and community building purposes, and that contributes greatly to the sense of community and activity on the Gorham campus,” Tibbetts wrote. “[The cuts] would have a substantial and long-lasting negative impact on the development and growth of GEB.”
Tibbetts wrote that such a large cut would result in a significant relapse in the group, as members have worked hard and evolved the board over the past three years. She wrote that with so little funding, GEB would be unable to provide as high quality events as students have come to expect and that they would have to start from scratch.
When the budget was brought before the senate last week, it was tabled immediately at the request of senate treasurer Jason Blanco.
“There are some other things we need to review before we pass this budget,” said Blanco. “We may not be doing the students justice by passing this budget.”
The budget recommendations will be on the senate’s agenda again for their meeting this Friday.
A student rally last Friday in support of USM staff facing layoffs attached a few faces to the rumors of shadowy eliminations of USM staff members as a part of the university’s most recent attempt to cut costs.
Though the majority of the faculty retrenchments and eliminations announced as part of the same initiative have been reversed, staff cuts have proceeded throughout the year.
“Staff cuts are going on behind the scenes, I don’t even know who’s been cut,” said USM library employee and virtual imaging associate Adinah Barnett at the rally, which the #USMFuture group organized.
“I’m glad to be speaking as a current USM employee, and I sure hope to stay that way,” Barnett said.
Barnett was one of three current staff members to speak at the rally, The speakers also included one former staff member–Will Dunlay, the former director of energy and utilities in Facilities Management.
“People are also scared to even come to the event,” said junior women and gender studies major and one of the event’s organizers Meaghan LaSala to the Free Press afterwards. “I think that points to the precariousness of the position people are in.”
There have been 26 staff layoffs in fiscal year 2014, comprised of 15 salaried staff members and 11 hourly staff members, according to Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell.
“Certainly, if current trends hold, I think it’s certain we’ll be looking at additional cuts in [fiscal year 2015],” Caswell told the Free Press.
However, he explained, no further staff cuts will take place until after May 31, which is when the Faculty Senate’s alternative cost-saving measures for the university are due to be presented to Kalikow.
“We’ll evaluate those cost-saving alternatives after May 31, and the next step would be to make a determination on any additional staff cuts,” Caswell said.
Jim Bradley, president of the USM chapter of UMPSA, the professional staff union, expanded on what those cost-saving measures might look like. “[Kalikow] said that the Faculty Senate must come up with $1.2 million in faculty compensation savings as an alternative to the 12 rescinded retrenchments. She will not accept savings they come up with from other areas as she still believes we have too many faculty, and she’s given the senate a chance to propose their own cuts,” Bradley told the Free Press in an email.
Caswell confirmed the faculty recommendations must come from academic programs, and added that the amount of savings the faculty senate were expected to produce was, in fact $1.26 million.
LaSala told the Free Press she felt that the fact that there will be considerably fewer students on campus after the end of the spring semester played into the May 31 date.
Kalikow responded to LaSala’s statement in an email. “There will be far fewer students on campus, but that’s a reflection on the fiscal year schedule, not on any kind of effort to delay decisions until after the end of the academic year,” she said. “The fiscal year ends on June 30. It’s always a mad rush this time of year to finalize budget decisions. This year has been especially tough so decisions are getting pushed through commencement and beyond as we prioritize and evaluate cost-saving strategies.”
Kalikow also responded to a sentiment that pervaded the rally and was expressed by a majority of the speakers––that the cuts should be made ‘from to top,’ that is, they should be cuts to the salaries and positions of upper-level administrators, rather than faculty and staff.
The sentiment was echoed by Bradley. “We have too many administrators,” he said. “If Theo is sincere in trying to right-size the university, she can’t just focus on faculty and support staff, she also has to reduce the number of non-represented administrative staff as well.”
Kalikow noted a number of upper-level administrator positions that have been eliminated since late in fiscal year 2013. “On the other hand, I think it can be penny wise and pound foolish to dial back salaries at any level to the point where you have trouble attracting the highest-quality candidate you can afford,” she wrote.
After May 31, Caswell said, the administration will look at staff cuts again, but the specifics of those cuts, he said, will be left to the discretion of individual units, although those units might be assigned financial targets.
Two weeks ago, Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences told the Free Press that she had been told that staff cuts would not impact her college’s reorganization, a step Provost Stevenson has asked all of the colleges at the university to begin.
For students involved in #USMFuture, said LaSala, the next step is to continue to work as a part of a state-wide coalition to make higher education funding reform a ballot issue in the coming election season.
In terms of what’s next for specific staff cuts, Caswell said, “I wouldn’t expect many additional staff cuts in the remains of the fiscal year. There may be, there may not.”
Though the retrenchments and position discontinuances that were announced last March have since been rescinded, the process by which faculty members were selected for layoffs is still seen as unclear.
One of the reasons that understanding the process is important, according to Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is that if, as President Kalikow has said is possible, the university enacts another series of faculty cuts in the fall, those cuts will have to follow the same criteria as the last, since those criteria are outlined in the faculty union contract.
Last week, Kuzma explained to the Free Press what those criteria are. “I had to get a crash course in it because the retrenchments were mostly in my college,” she said.
At the time of the retrenchments, the term heard the most often was “last hired, first fired,” which Kuzma said was true after a certain point, although certain other considerations complicated the absoluteness of that rule. The Provost’s office identified departments with a high faculty-to-student ratio, and within those departments they looked at faculty reductions proportional to the faculty-to-student ratio.
Faculty were then divided into categories listed in Article 17 of the faculty union contract, determined by how many years faculty members had been employed at USM, divided by three year increments.
There were, however, a series of other considerations detailed in the faculty union contract, including faculty members’ individual qualifications, the departmental needs for those faculty members’ areas of specialization, and a priority toward minimizing any effects detracting from affirmative action.
These considerations, rather than rumored “deals” alluded to in a short series of Free Press live tweets, are the reason “last hired, first fired,” was not the only rule determining faculty cuts.
The Free Press reached out to Provost Michael Stevenson, who Kuzma credited with the retrenchment and discontinuance decisions, and from whom she said she had received her information on the process. When asked about the criteria for faculty cuts, the timeline for that process, the source of his information about what constituted “departmental need,” and what’s next now that the retrenchments have been rescinded, Stevenson responded to the Free Press in an email, “Having given your questions some serious thought, I think there may be other discussions that might be more beneficial.” He then suggested that next week would be a good time for these discussions.
“The idea was that, ‘are people taking deals to save their jobs?’ And the answer to that was ‘absolutely not,’” Kuzma said.
According to Kuzma, in only one degree program did the provost need to make a judgement call between two faculty members who began working at USM at the same time. In that case, both faculty members teach the same category of classes, constituting the same departmental need.
Those two faculty members were English Professor John Muthyala and Associate English Professor Deepika Marya. The Free Press approached both Marya and Muthyala for comment, and neither replied by press time.
According to Kuzma, since the two both teach postcolonial studies in the English department, the two remaining considerations were individual qualifications and the effects on affirmative action.
“They’re both Indian, from India. John is a full professor, Deepika is not,” Kuzma said.
Because of this, she said, qualifications rather than affirmative action were the relevant consideration, and Muthyala was selected not to be retrenched. “The explanation given to me [by Provost Stevenson] was that he was a full professor, and he outranked her,” Kuzma said.
She acknowledged that another consideration related to affirmative action could be gender, and that there has been criticism that a disproportionate number of faculty who were selected for retrenchment were women. However, she said, unlike many other departments, more than half of the English department faculty members are women.
“In this case, her status as a woman, if more than 50 percent of the faculty are women, does not override the issue of qualification,” she said.
The time has come again, after more than a decade, for the USM honors program to be reviewed, and according to program director Nancy Artz, the timing is right.
“It would be fair to say that USM’s fiscal reality in recent years and future budget projections affected the timing of the review,” she said. The honors program would have been affected during the recent retrenchment, with the layoff of Professor Kaitlin Briggs. With the recent reversal of the faculty cuts, Briggs will stay on, but Administrative Specialist and Office Coordinator Nan Bragg will still be laid-off after May.
According to Artz, funding for the program has been shrinking for the past few years, even though she believes the program could successfully expand if additional funding were available because of strong student interest in the courses. Fifty-seven incoming students for the fall have signed up for priority registration in one of the program’s four entry-year experience courses, Artz said. In total, they plan to enroll 62 students in the EYE courses. “In other words, our EYE sections are more or less full before registration has even started,” she said.
“If we had more funds, we could offer more sections,” Artz said. However she, like the honors students in attendance on Thursday, were optimistic that changes in the program would not hinder its future success. “The budget is sufficient to deliver our required courses and remain a vibrant community,” Artz said.
A small group of honors students met in Hastings Hall on Thursday to discuss the program with three external reviewers who will submit a report on the program in May. The review, which started in September, is aimed at improving the program through self-analysis and ensuring accountability to stakeholders.
Artz explained that another goal of the study is to try to better understand how much money the program brings in at USM and how much it costs. As Artz explained, the honors program is uniquely structured, making it difficult to quantify its success. Reviewers will use student surveys to understand how many students cite honors as a reason to come to USM and stay at USM. They will also talk about how honors faculty are funded, as the honors faculty are all within other departments.
Program review is required periodically by USM’s accrediting body, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and by the University of Maine System, Artz explained.
Bragg’s position was added to the program at a time when USM wanted to expand the program, but that expansion, Artz explained, never happened, so it has been relatively well-staff compared to other similar honors programs. “Nan has been wonderful at fostering a sense of community and supporting individual students in myriad ways, so the elimination of the position is clearly a loss for the program,” Artz said. “That said, comparable programs function just fine with one support staff member rather than two, so we can too.”
Assistant Director of the program Bethany Round also transferred to Student Success this semester. A search has already begun to fill the position, but with Bragg gone, the position will consolidate the two support staff positions.
“This…[position] is more important than ever now that we’ve gone from two support staff lines to one,” Artz said.
In fiscal year 2013, 106 students were enrolled in honors courses and 123 seats were filled with some students enrolling in multiple courses, though relatively few students complete an honors thesis –– four to eight students have done so over the last four years, Artz explained.
“Because we are not a degree-granting program and because we encourage students to ‘sample a course’ … the concept of ‘completing’ the program isn’t as meaningful as ‘completing’ a degree program,” Artz said.
Students at Thursday’s meeting highly praised the program as a unique and enriching experience and said that they were confident the program would succeed despite its loss this semester. “I think the biggest thing will be losing the presence in the office,” said honors student and sophomore economics major Kyle Robinson.
Freshman honors student and health science major Collin Skilling added that he was confident that despite the loss of Bragg, the program would continue to provide an active learning community for students. “It’s a strong program,” he said.
“We’ve already told students that they need to take greater responsibility for maintaining our learning community,” Artz said, and a number of the students at Thursday’s meeting seemed ready to help out. They have already started work on creating a peer mentorship program to help incoming honors students.
“In the dozen years since our last review in 2001, the honors program has changed considerably, as has the institution’s fiscal reality,” Artz said. “The time is ripe to reflect on the current state of the program and consider new models of honors education.”
Brendan Butler is first year student with a lot going on.
He has not yet declared a major, but is already a member of the Phi Mu Delta fraternity, is a part of two bands, and has participated in many shows and community service activities. He has aspirations to make changes at USM and wants to create a place where all students, commuters or residential, can enjoy their college experience to it’s full potential.
“I want to make an impact on USM to make it a more cohesive community. I want it so even if you commute to the school, it’s going to feel homey,” said Butler. He decided to attend USM because he felt it would allow him to play music, make connections and be a member of a good community.
Butler is the head of the committee in charge of the Dance Marathon, a first time Phi Mu Delta event. It’s scheduled to take place at the Costello Fitness Center in Gorham next semester the night of Nov. 8. “I am focused on making the dance marathon successful and hopefully make it a hallmark for USM,” said Butler. He plans on making it a big event, bringing in more than just the students in the dorms.
Since Butler is a commuter student himself, he said he feels as though everyone should be able to have an equally enjoyable experience at USM. He believes that since USM is such a large commuter school, it is harder to meet people and make friends. Butler was introduced to Phi Mu Delta at orientation and got to know some of the leaders and was able to join the fraternity. When asked why he decided to join a fraternity, he said, “I wanted something that connected me a little.” He met a lot of people, and made a lot of friends, and he credits that to the fraternity.
Butler is also in two bands, Pinebrook and Thingamajig, in which he has performed more times than he was able to recall and has volunteered to play for free at various events. He will be involved in many shows over the summer and is extremely dedicated to the bands.
During all this, he is still a full time student at USM with a plan to possibly double major in political science and sociology. He plans to positively impact USM by making it a more involved and inviting community for all students.
The Phi Mu Delta fraternity and University Neighborhood Organization co-hosted a cleanup of Longfellow Park with a block party to follow in the hope that the events will bring USM and its neighbors in Portland together.
Phi Mu Delta, which only formed in 2012, also hopes that the event will help establish them within USM. “It … helps get our name out there and show that we are here and we mean business,” said Phi Mu Delta Community Service Chair Gabe Weeden. “Phi Mu Delta is here to help and willing to work with several different organizations on a wide variety of community events.”
The volunteers at Friday’s event cleaned up the park, raked and mulched. “We still have a lot to do, but it’s great to be working with the students here,” said city council member Ed Suslovic, who came to help in the cleanup.
This is the second year that the organization, which is a group founded in 2006 to help the Portland community and the universities in it connect and understand each other better, teamed up with Phi Mu Delta to clean up the park. This year they are adding a community block party on May 3, and the block party will feature USM performers.
“One of the reasons I joined [the fraternity] was because we did this last year and all of the neighborhood kids came out and started to help. It was really fun,” said Phi Mu Delta member and junior Ryan Jordan. “It’s great to see the community helping out again.”
Last year, the fraternity cleaned up the park as part of the USM Day of Service but for this year, Phi Mu Delta has been taking the lead in managing the event by going to planning meetings and helping the University Neighborhood Organization with every aspect of the event from marketing and artwork to their social media presence.
“We love working with Phi Mu Delta Fraternity. They are a dynamic group of hard working young men,” said University Neighborhood Organization president Carol Schiller. “We’re very impressed with their initiative and drive to get involved and make good things happen.”
“Portland, USM and university neighborhoods are lucky to have such talented, professional and thoughtful young people that care and want to make a difference.” said Schiller
USM performers at the block party include the USM Dance team and the band Thingamajig featuring Phi Mu Delta brother Brendan Butler.
The USM New Sorority Interest Group and Circle K volunteers are also helping to organize this year’s events, and several community partners are sponsoring it, including the Shipyard Brewing Company (which will donate Capt’n Eli’s soda), Leonardo’s Pizza, Key Bank and Minuteman Press.
The University Neighborhood Organization is also advocating that Portland dub the area between Stevens avenue and Bedford street the education district. “This would be a big boost to USM and UNE’s ability to brand and market their institutions and this area,” said Schiller.
With the cleanups done on Friday, the volunteers are already preparing for the next event. “The May 3rd Block Party is a time for everyone to come outside and celebrate spring, have a slice of Leonardo’s pizza, try Capt’n Eli’s hand crafted sodas, listen to Thingamajig music, watch the USM dancers, join the bike parade, play games, explore the PPL Bookmobile, pick up a free Key Bank coloring book, meet your neighbors and enjoy the day,” said Schiller.
Come next semester, Dickey Wood Hall will be entirely offline to students. Due to a combination of low on-campus enrollment and the unpopularity of the towers, they will remain empty during the next school year and possibly beyond.
“We’ve made this decision for now, but we’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen in the future,” said Executive Director of Student Life Joy Pufhal.
Pufhal said that keeping the towers empty will save the university roughly $170,000 through saved expenses on maintenance, heat, electric, staff and other operating costs. She also said the towers would cost $2 million to demolish and that renovating it would essentially cost more than building an entirely new building elsewhere.
Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell said that with current enrollment projections, the towers simply won’t be necessary. The campus had about 1,500 rooms in 2011, he said, and enrollment that year didn’t come close to filling those available spaces. This year USM officials predicted that there will be 1,066 students on campus next year, said Campbell. He explained that that number of students could be housed next year without using Dickey-Wood.
Pufhal echoed him. “I’m confident we can accommodate the student need for housing with the remaining six residence halls,” said Pufhal.
The closure of Dickey-Wood was one of the most common cost-saving recommendations to come out of the Direction Package Advisory Board work, but both Pufhal and Campbell said that it wasn’t entirely a cost-based decision. They both said the student experience will be changed for the better with this decision.
“The community will benefit from consolidating students,” said Pufhal. “We want to help create a more vibrant community in a more modern space.”
This past year each floor in Wood tower was occupied, but only the second floor of Dickey tower was used. There are 368 beds available in Dickey-Wood. During the 2012-13 school year only 229 of those were occupied and that number has dropped to 158 in the past year.
“We don’t usually see returning students go for the towers,” said Director of Gorham student life Jason Saucier. “More often they go for singles.”
Pufhal said that the empty rooms throughout the towers were not building any sort of community among the residents and that she felt there were a lot of students isolated because of it.
“I think of the students who stay there during breaks and have their few floormates leave,” said Pufhal. “We don’t want any student to have to feel that way. We want them to know they’re in a community where they’ll always have someone.”
Because of the way the towers are designed there are less rooms on each floor in comparison to other dorms on campus. Pufhal also said that the towers, which were built in the ‘70s, are run down and that she would want students to be in some of the campus’s newer buildings.
“That’s not one of the great construction eras, to put it mildly,” said Campbell about when the towers were built.
The towers are currently home to three living-learning communities including The Rainbow floor, which is dedicated to an LGBTQA community, a quiet floor and the Southern Main Outdoor Recreation group floor. According to Saucier, the Rainbow floor will be moved to Philippi Hall, the quiet floor to Anderson Hall and the location of SMOR is currently up for suggestions.
“I think this will, in the end, given students a stronger sense of community on campus,” said Pufhal.
Sidney Dritz contributed to this article.
One of USM’s most prestigious pieces of architecture may have reached the point where it’s more trouble than it’s worth to the university, according to a recent University of Maine System maintenance report.
When President Kalikow announced her first round of proposed cuts in February, one of the considered cuts was the Stone House, home of the Stonecoast MFA program for creative writing, the Stonecoast Writers’ Conference and a Book Arts Conference directed by Rebecca Goodale each summer.
According to Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell, the Stonehouse costs significantly more money than it brings in.
“The Stone House and the MFA program are two different things,” said Campbell in an interview with the Free Press last week. “You could have those at another location.”
English Professor Nancy Gish, who directed the Provost’s Writing Seminar at the Stone House for thirteen of the program’s fourteen years, has a different perspective that relates to the importance of the Stone House for the programs it houses. “In my judgement, it was one of the most important parts of the [Provost’s Writing Seminar] program,” Gish said of the house.
2013 Stone Coast MFA graduate Karla Fossett agreed. “I think that the program relies on the house –– the house is where everything happens,” Fossett said.
The Stone House, which was designed by John Calvin Stevens in 1918, is one of the oldest buildings owned by USM, and was, at the time that the UMaine system commissioned a report on building conditions from Sightline, which was delivered in January, 2014, one of three buildings with the highest deferred maintenance and renovation costs per square foot.
The report, said Campbell, was presented before last summer’s series of renovations, making the Stone House the property with the most outstanding costs required to maintain it.
“The Maine system has an aging campuses [sic] with more space in high risk categories than peers. This means that life cycles of many building components are at or past their useful life,” read the Sightlines report, compiled by Jim Kadamus and Emily Morton.
Fossett cited the house’s historical nature and atmosphere as assets to the program. “I always felt really lucky to be able to work in this place that has such historical significance,” she said.
Fossett also described the Stone House as the heart of the MFA program, and explained that students taking part in the program live and do most of their work in various locations, often from a distance, and that the natural beauty and isolation of the location creates an important atmosphere during the workshop periods where the students are together.
Amanda Pleau, another recent Stone Coast graduate, said something similar. “it’s a little bit lonely,” she said of the scattered nature of the students between workshops, “but then we get to the residency and it’s like summer camp.”
According to Campbell, discussions are underway about what to do with the property. “It could be on a historical register, it’s not now,” said Campbell. He said the building might be sold, or converted to a different use by a new owner.
“There are times you might not sell it for a profit as much as for eliminating the cost of using it,” said Campbell. According to Campbell, the cost of operating the Stone House comes to $45,000 per year on top of the money the university receives from the programs which use it. This cost is the minimum needed for limited use, and does not include deferred maintenance costs, including repairs to the sewage system, well and water system, slate roofs, boilers and heating, and the hazardous abatement material necessary to make those repairs. There are also costs associated with meeting various codes the Stone House currently does not meet, like electric codes and ADA compliance.
“We’re fighting it,” said current Stone Coast MFA program director Justin Tussing. Tussing told the Free Press he has attended meetings with the president, the provost and Dean Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
When asked about the maintenance costs, Tussing said, “From where I’m standing I don’t think that it’s necessary to do that all at once, but I don’t think administration see the numbers in the same way I do.”
Tussing suggested that one way to bridge the gap between the money brought in by the Stone House and the costs required to maintain it would be to reach out to other groups in the area to share the space and form creative partnerships.
“We’re really problem solving right now, but I’m encouraged, frankly, with how responsive Theo and Michael have been,” Tussing said.
When asked when a conclusion about the fate of the Stone House might be reached, Campbell said, “I would hope we would make some decisions in the next few months.”
After 23 years of controlling student activity fee funding for student groups, the Board of Student Organizations may be stripped of its financial responsibilities, putting that power back into the hands of the Student Senate exclusively.
According to Student Senate chair Joshua Dodge, the BSO was originally developed so that the senate wouldn’t be overwhelmed by financial proposals and funding requests from student groups, but that it no longer functions properly.
“I think we can all agree that the BSO is a broken system,” said Dodge during a BSO advisory group last Tuesday.
A senate resolution was brought before the BSO on Friday, April 11 titled “Dissolving the Board of Student Organizations” so that senators sponsoring the resolution could get feedback. After the Friday meeting, Dodge said that while he supported the resolution initially, there was an overwhelming opposition from BSO members when the resolution was announced, and he didn’t feel comfortable going forward with it as it stood on Friday.
“I’m student-elected, so I don’t feel comfortable supporting something that the students don’t,” said Dodge.
Student Body President Kyle Frazier openly disagreed with Dodge, saying that there were a few students who spoke out, but the majority of the BSO didn’t say anything at all.
“I don’t think we should let this go just because a few people don’t agree with it,” said Frazier.
The resolution, drafted by the senate’s constitutional review committee, called on other senators to recognize the “ineffective and inefficient nature” of the BSO, citing low attendance, meetings that were not “a pleasure” to attend and a lack of fiscal scrutiny as reasons why the BSO should be dissolved.
“[The BSO] hardly looks at proposals,” said Frazier. “BSO spends and spends and spends and then they come back to the senate for more money at the end of the year. It’s irresponsible. When I spend my money, I run out of money and that’s that.”
The recommendation to dissolve the BSO and the four stipended executive board positions are introduced in the resolution as “the groundbreaking ideas of Kyle Frazier.”
According to Director of Student Life Christopher O’Connor, the Student Government Association has had a healthy unallocated fund at the end of the semester in the past four years or so, so the BSO running out of funds and returning to the senate has never been a problem. But this year the SGA was forced to cut its budget due to low enrollment at the university, and they’re planning on being more conservative with funding.”
“I purposefully didn’t go to the emergency meeting because I wanted to make sure it was student-driven,” said O’Connor. “There’s a lot to think about with this move –– the big thing being fiscal responsibility, obviously. That’s something I know everyone wants to help out with.”
Finances aside, the BSO has had trouble filling seats at meetings this past year. BSO Chair Katie Belgard cited lack of attendance as the primary reason for BSO inefficiency. The BSO needs a minimum of 28 of its 56 recognized student groups to be in attendance for the board to make quorum and be able to vote on executive issues, and it’s been difficult to get students to attend the monthly meetings.
“If we don’t have the voices of the student body, we can’t vote, and we can’t do business,” said Belgard.
When Belgard emailed a poll to all recognized student groups to see when they could meet to discuss changes, she received fewer than 28 responses.
According to Belgard, no student has come forward yet to fill the chair position for the BSO after she graduates this spring. If no one steps up to the plate, student senate has to appoint leaders in the BSO.
“It’s not working, and it’s our [the senate’s] responsibility to fix it. No one wants to run it, so why should we have it?” said Frazier.
Right now members of the senate and the BSO executive board are thinking of ways to keep the BSO, but also redeveloping the group’s purpose. One possibility discussed on Tuesday was to fold all financial responsibilities back into the senate’s purview so the BSO can focus more on group organization, working with the Leadership Development Board to teach student groups about fundraising, public relations and gaining new members. The BSO would still exists, but have different responsibilities. With the recent turnover of student senators, no action was taken on this issue at last week’s student senate meeting.
“We want this to be a collaborative process,” said Dodge.
Dodge announced at last Friday’s student senate meeting that the BSO will be in a transition period and that deciding the next steps will be one of the first duties of the newly elected 43rd student senate.
As a university news source, the Free Press tries to do a few different things. The ones that are the most relevant to our day to day work for publication are to cover news for and about the USM population more closely than community news outlets and to be a showcase for student work, but underneath those more obvious concerns, there is always the goal to be a publication of record for the university.
When something big happens, like the faculty retrenchments of the previous few weeks, and the retraction of those retrenchments last Friday, we don’t want to just cover the big, dramatic events. We want to have been covering them all along so that when those major developments happen, our readers can flip through our archives or the back pages of our website and see how we, as a university, got to where we are.
Up to a point, we’ve been successful in creating a record of events as they’ve unfolded, but we think there is another aspect to creating this record, and that is not just to store the information we’ve compiled, but to use it well. To that end, we’ve spent this week exploring our own archives, ten six-inch-thick volumes of newsprint dating from 1967 to the present.
In that exploration, we’ve found a series of events that took place in the middle of the 1970s that gave us a dizzying sense of deja vu following events at USM over the course of the past month. From the headlines, it seemed as though history was repeating itself, so we decided to take a closer look.
In 1976, as in 2014, a look at the Free Press shows that students reacted with outrage when more than ten faculty members were cut from the university as a cost savings measure. Nearly 30 years apart, students at USM students protested cuts made by their administrations, the Student Senate passed a resolution in support of the faculty, students from the University of Maine at Orono expressed their support for USM (then called University of Maine at Portland-Gorham). Then, like now, students traveled to Augusta to make their displeasure known, and then, like last Friday, the retrenched faculty members were hired back.
The important thing about these parallels isn’t just the mirroring, though. It is the fact that this institution is facing the same problems it faced before. These cycles point to the proposed solutions ––the same ones were proposed in 76 as now –– and indicate that the solutions didn’t work in the long-term.
The faculty cuts in February 1976 were preceded and lead up to in the Free Press, by articles chronicling student dissatisfaction with the budget for 1975-76, in which a decrease in state funding lowered from $90.1 million to $70.1 million.
A lack of adjustment for inflation and changes in the economy in the apportioning of state funding for public higher education compounded with rising costs and falling enrollments today has been cited numerous times as one of the reasons that cuts to the USM budget are increasingly necessary.
In contrast to the University of Maine system’s current promise to the state to freeze tuition, however, the 1975-76 budget decrease came in spite of a series of tuition hikes. First, in April of 1974, UMPG tuition rose by $150, a full 16 percent. Then, in Feb. 1976, the Board of Trustees instituted a $100 increase in tuition throughout the University of Maine schools, in deference to a state-wide budget situation, raising UMPG tuition to $600 per year.
Freeman also instituted a system-wide freeze on hiring and replacing faculty who left the universities without Board of Trustees approval. While Chancellor Page has not instituted a system-wide hiring freeze, USM has been under one instituted by Provost Michael Stevenson for the past year.
The UMPG Student Senate in 1976 were asked for official recommendations for where UMPG budget cut of 10 percent of its budget should fall in late January.
“The senators did accept the task [of giving recommendations about where cuts should fall to have the least negative effect on the student experience] and the one prevalent notion was: the last thing that should be considered for elimination would be academics, even at the expense of student services,” wrote Free Press reporter Eric A. Pippert in “The Senate Hour: Two For The Price of One” on the front page of the January 27, 1976 issue of the Free Press.
Senate recommendations earmarked athletics, transportation, academic chair stipends and police and safety as areas for possible cost reduction. Academic departments were listed as a last resort for cuts.
“What will happen to the quality of an academic program if the teachers know that in four years their programs will be phased out of existence?” Pippert recorded the senate as wondering.
While the USM Student Senate of 2014 made no official recommendations to the administration before they began enacting faculty and staff cuts, the senate expressed their sentiments by calling an emergency meeting and voting no confidence in the President’s Council the weekend following the 12 faculty retrenchments.
When Kailkow presented Direction Package in early November this year, she expressed an interest in gathering student feedback on where cuts should fall by reaching out through the student senate. However, most of the gathering of perspectives following the roll-out came from the Direction Package board and in individual comments made on the Direction Package website. It is unclear what impact either source of feedback had on the eventual decision, although the recommendations of the board were more public than the website comments, which were never made visible to the public.
The only student to consistently attend and contribute to the conclusions of the Direction Package Advisory Board was Student Body President Kelsea Dunham.
The ‘76 Student Senate’s recommendations, however, seem to have had little effect. Despite their insistence that faculty should only be cut as a last resort, in February 1976, UMPG President N. Edd Miller announced that he would send pink slips firing all 16 first year faculty members the following month as the first wave of cuts.
Further cuts, including program, followed throughout the next year. In February, 1977, the Student Senate approved funds to bus students to Augusta to watch the state funding hearings for the 1978-79 budget.
“Most observers agree that the legislature is more favorably disposed towards the university than it has been in the recent past,” wrote Neil Genzlinger in the Feb. 1, 1977 issue of the Free Press.
At the beginning of March, 1977, first and second year faculty who had been sent termination notices were all rehired. “President N. Edd Miller apologized for the termination notices and emphasized that finances were the only reason for the action,” reported David Solomon in the March 1 issue.
In the same issue, the Free Press reprinted a recommendation document of proposed solution for the university as an alternative to faculty cuts which were in the process of being reversed. The proposal for the future of UMPG was compiled by three committees of faculty and staff, and including two students, who focused on the three specific areas of Long Range Planning, Administrative Organization and budget in weekly meetings.
The focus of the three committees bears a resemblance to the focus of the Direction Package Advisory Board, the three committees of which were Vision/Identity, Academic Review and Cost Reduction/Efficiency improvement, though the 1976 committees met and assembled their recommendations in the tail end of the resolution of the faculty cuts, rather than the lead up to them.
Both sought to define a clear place for USM/UMPG within the University of Maine System and the communities it is a part of, and both hoped to make more concrete recommendations than previous groups that had tried to define the university’s future. UMPG’s plan for the future detailed the universally agreed upon need for the school to become what the document calls a “regional university center.” Their definition of a “regional university center,” with its symbiotic relationships with the city and town it is located in, and its focus on providing a comprehensive education for those environments, sounds eerily similar to the Direction Package Advisory Board’s focus on an “urban comprehensive university.”
Committees eventually determined that, after presenting their recommendations, the next step would ultimately be out of their hands.
While events at USM this year have taken place on a shorter timeframe, the rhetoric surrounding both the cuts and negative reactions to the cuts are similar, and so are the recommendations made for how to move the university forward.
“‘We are proud of our belt-tightening efforts.’ Chancellor Patrick McCarthy said, ‘But we have cut back as far as we can without jeopardizing quality,’ although Gov. Longley has continued to eye the State University system as laden with ‘fat,’” wrote Herb Adams in “… And Trimming the Bare Bones Budget,” on Feb. 3, 1976, in the midst of those cuts and budget crisis. USM’s administrators approach the current financial crisis with similar comments.
The current UMS chancellor James Page said something similar in December last year about system cuts. “‘We have to look at everything,’ Page said, when asked what other solutions there may be going forward. ‘I can’t think of any sacred cows,’ he said.”
The problem at the root of USM’s decade-long history with budget deficits that some long-time USM faculty members identify is a lack of funding for a university that in 1970, after taking on more property and facilities in merging with Gorham College, was underfunded from the beginning.
“I don’t think that we were ever adequately funded,” said distinguished Professor Mark Lapping on the Muskie School of Public Service to the Free Press in November, after the Direction Package roll-out. But nearly forty years later, he said, the situation is entirely different. “We’re not cutting any fat. That went away years ago. We’re now cutting into the bone,” he added.
The metaphors for the problem have stayed the same since the ‘70s. The question is whether the proposed solutions should stay the same, too.
Kirsten Sylvain and Sam Hill contributed to this article.