USM Free Press News Feed
One of the arguments made by protesters of the recently retracted faculty layoffs and the still slated for elimination program is that such cuts will significantly devalue a USM degree.
“That’s the sort of thing that I worry about as a reality as I apply for grad school,” said Philip Shelley, who graduated in December.
Shelley said he has no doubt that the education he received at USM, which he described as the best deal in the northeast, was exemplary. However, he said that he thinks that the administration has never valued that academic excellence as they should, and that if the proposed academic cuts go through, they could negatively affect the quality of both the school’s education and its reputation.
“They’ve always sold [USM] short as an academic institution,” Shelley said.
Other graduates have different perspectives on the quality of both the education and the degree they’ve received at USM.
Kylie Bellefleur graduated from USM in 2013 with a degree in Health sciences, concentrating in wellness, and a holistic health minor. She feels that outside of the help she received from her adviser on what to study, there were too few resources to prepare her for finding a job after graduation.
“I still have no idea what I want to do with my degree and feel like I really got no help from USM,” she said. “I know there might be more options the school offers to graduates … but I received no real guidance from any professors or any other staff.” Had she known about the annual job fair, she said, she would have attended, saying that it might have helped her in her search for work.
Another USM graduate, Nathan Dionne, did find work after he graduated in 2012 with a double major in economics and finance. He now works as senior manager of client services at CashStar, a Portland technology startup that specializes in building gifting apps. But Dionne pointed out that his success in finding work after graduation was more a result of his own, independent preparation.
“Most of what got me my job was what I did outside of school –– teaching myself technical (computer science) skills [and] networking,” he said.
Like Bellefleur, Dionne was not an attendee of any of USM’s annual career fairs, nor did he use other USM career services. “I actually just searched ‘startup in Portland’ in Google, saw an article and emailed them,” he said.
Current USM student, Jim Duffy, a senior computer science major, had a different USM experience. He’s graduating in May, and he said that he feels that the university directly equipped him with the skills that he needed to land a job. He has already secured a position with IBM for after graduation.
“Technically, I’ve gained a valuable skill-set through USM’s demanding computer science program,” he said. “Professionally, USM offers many networking and involvement opportunities, such as job fairs, visits from local professionals, employment initiatives, co-op [and] internship programs…and Campus Ventures. All of these are great avenues for connecting with industry, which is the key for job-market preparation.”
USM has the resources, he said, but it’s how the student uses them that determines their future success in the job market.
USM’s annual job fair, which was held just before this year’s February break, is one of several efforts to prepare students for the job market and connect them with local employers. There was also the series of Career Week events that preceded this year’s job fair aimed at preparing students to draft resumes, learn interviewing skills and otherwise represent themselves well to potential employers.
In the 2013 Graduating Senior Survey conducted by USM’s Office of Academic Assessment, graduates from 2013 largely reported feeling as though they needed more assistance from the university to be prepared to find jobs after school. The results listed lack of guidance to find internships and job opportunities as one of the most common complaints of the graduates about the USM experience.
But preceding the job fair with Career Week was one step taken toward a greater focus on finding students jobs after graduation. Student employment has been a significant part of conversations about the future of the university lately.
In her presentation to the rest of the Direction Package Advisory Board in February, Dean of Students Joy Pufhal shared data from an employer survey the group had conducted to use as background information. Pufhal reported that of the 145 local employers surveyed, 51 percent said that they expected hiring to increase in the next year, and 83 percent said they regularly hire undergraduates with bachelor’s degrees.
“One of the things we heard repeatedly from local employers was that ‘we really like USM, but we feel like we do a lot of meet and greets and then no one follows through,” Pufhal said. “Everything just sort of falls into a black hole. And apparently that’s not the experience they have when they work with UNE [The University of New England] or St. Joe’s [College].”
Duffy agreed that it’s essential for students to take initiative in order to succeed. “Reaching out to companies, finding local opportunities and attending networking events will all make a student stand out from their competition in a variety of ways,” he said. “Being involved to that extent is incredibly beneficial”
For Duffy, this type of motivation and a drive to take advantage of USM’s resources has led to his success. “For four years I’ve been doing this outreach to industry, through USM and outside of USM. Because of it, I’m confident that I have a significant advantage in the job market,” he said.
#USMFuture protesters were thrilled Friday when President Theo Kalikow reversed all twelve faculty cuts made in mid-March, but the protests’ organizers assured the Free Press, even with summer break quickly approaching, they have no plans to let up on protest efforts.
LaSala said that while the members of the movement are excited for the decision to reinstate faculty, they know that this isn’t the end. “We were amazed and overwhelmed and so grateful, but we are also very hesitant,” said LaSala. “Kalikow said the proposals are off the table for now, but the risk is still there.”
Kalikow’s announcement at the Faculty Senate meeting came as a complete surprise to all in attendance. The decision, Kalikow said, was so spur of the moment that the retrenched faculty had not yet been informed of the reversal.
The day before Kalikow’s decision, around 100 protesters took to the streets of Portland with a coalition of local supporters to march in protest of recent faculty cuts at USM and for an increase in state appropriation for public higher education in Maine. The protest was only one in a series of demonstrations and trips to the state house as part of student efforts to put pressure on USM administrators and state legislators. Many faculty, students and locals praised the efforts of students as a direct cause of the reversal of the cuts.
However, when Kalikow was asked how student efforts to protest the retrenchments affected her decision, she responded that the impact was only “indirect.” She added, however, that she was pleased with the level of student involvement.
“I’ve been waiting for thirty years for students to wake up,” she said.
“I can’t imagine that the outcry from students didn’t affect many administrators,” said Meghan Brodie, a theater professor who had been retrenched. “I think a lot of people were surprised at how vocal they were and how quickly they mobilized. I think it did have an impact. Whether direct or indirect, it was a huge impact.”
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the administration in the past few weeks,” said Meaghan LaSala, a junior women and gender studies major and #USMFuture organizer. “Whether they say it aloud or not, I believe we’ve affected their decision.”
The march throughout Portland on Thursday was supported by many local and state-wide organizations, including the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, the Maine Education Association and the Maine People’s Alliance.
LaSala said that the coalition will continue to be vocal until the administration and Board of Trustees agree to an independent audit of University of Maine System spending. She also noted that they will stand up to any cuts of staff as well
“We definitely are claiming this a victory, but there is more work to do,” she said.
LaSala added that the movement will not stop with the end of the school year and that there is a dedicated and active community of students and citizens invested in this issue who will be working until their goals are reached.
President Theo Kalikow surprised everyone at Friday’s Faculty Senate with the sudden reversal of all 12 of the controversial March faculty cuts, but for some, the celebration was cut short when Kalikow said later to reporters that by October, the positions of the once-retrenched faculty may be back on chopping block.
Kalikow made the last-minute decision at the meeting, she said, so suddenly that retrenched faculty had yet to receive the news. A number of shocked faculty members at the meeting praised the president for her announcement.
“Thank you President Kalikow for restoring some hope in this process,” said associate professor of nursing Kim Moody.
However, Kalikow explained later that the process going forward is, in many ways, yet to be determined. Much of the work that remains, she said, depends upon the results of the faculty committee recommendations, which have been tasked with producing alternative plans for cuts by May.
“What else we will do is still to be determined,” she said. She added that everything may be back on the table after the senate committee’s proposals have been considered, including the 12 reinstated faculty members.
“It may turn out that they get fresh letters,” she said. “It may be that people who didn’t get letters [will get] them.” But any new letters will have to wait for October after the start of the new fiscal year, the next possible deadline at which faculty may be retrenched according to their contracts.
Associate professor Theatre Meghan Brodie was one of the faculty laid off in March. After hearing the news of the reversal from a student, she said that she was ecstatic, but she was disappointed later when she heard that her struggles, and those of her colleagues, might not be over.
“The fact that the retrenchments aren’t entirely off the table is terrifying,” she said. “I realize these are uncertain times at USM, but this is taking a physical, mental and emotional toll on the faculty, as well as staff and students. It has become a climate of fear.”
Brodie said that with the current academic job market in Maine, if she lost her job a second time she would need to sell her house and look for work out of state in a very short timeframe.
Kalikow responded to faculty concerns about her comment in a statement to the Free Press. “We need to take this one step at a time and first focus on pulling together this new, more collaborative process so that working together we indeed have viable options to the retrenchments,” she said.
Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell explained that on Friday, Kalikow asked a designated Faculty Senate committee to submit an alternate cost-saving proposal that would generate the same “savings and outcomes” as the previous cuts. That committee will have until May 31 to submit the proposal to Kalikow, at which point she will take the it “under advisement.”
Kalikow said that Geosciences, LAC Humanities and the graduate program in American and New England Studies, the three programs slated for cuts in mid-March, are still proposed to be eliminated. The Faculty Senate Academic Review Committee will have until May 5 to propose alternative cuts to Kalikow.
Kalikow said the process of staff cuts will also continue. In the fiscal year 2015, 14 staff have already been officially laid off. As part of the efforts to fill the remaining $14 million gap, on Friday Kalikow confirmed that 10 to 20 additional staff will be notified of their termination.
When asked whether or not those staff had already received their notices, Kalikow declined to comment on specifics.
At the senate meeting on Friday, the faculty almost unanimously passed a resolution defending USM staff, saying that the Faculty Senate was going “on the record in support of all staff and [asks] that staff reductions be halted immediately and until the process to right-size the university’s budget is completed. Further, staff must be involved in all levels of budget discussion.”
Brodie believes that USM can find creative ways to cut down on spending without eliminating so many jobs, saying that the next step for the university is to focus on attempting to find solutions that will eliminate the mandated staff cuts.
“I’m thrilled and grateful to have my job and to be able to spend more time with my students, but I feel like I have a knot in the pit of my stomach. Everything is just so uncertain.”
President Theo Kalikow surprised those in attendance at today’s Faculty Senate meeting when she announced a complete reversal of the 12 faculty cuts that Provost Michael Stevenson had made in March.
She made the decision at the meeting, she said. It was so sudden a decision, she noted, that the previously retrenched faculty had yet even to be notified of the change.
Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell explained that Kalikow asked for a designated Faculty Senate committee to submit an alternate cost-saving proposal that would generate the same “savings and outcomes” as the previous actions. That committee will have until May 31 to submit the proposal to Kalikow, at which point she will take the alternative proposal under advisement.
Multiple faculty present thanked the president for her announcement. “Thank you President Kalikow for restoring some hope in this process,” said associate professor of nursing Kim Moody.
Kalikow said that the three programs slated for cuts in mid-March, Geosciences, LAC Humanities and the graduate program in American and New England Studies are still on the table. The Faculty Senate Academic Review Committee will have until May 5 to propose alternative cuts to President Kalikow.
The process of staff cuts Kalikow said will also continue. During the fiscal year 2015, 14 staff have already been officially laid off. As part of the efforts to fill the remaining $14 million gap, Kalikow announced last month that 10 to 20 additional staff would have to be notified.
When asked whether or not those staff had already received their notices, Kalikow declined to comment on specifics, but added that she thought that three staff had been notified in the last week of their termination.
With the news of Kalikow’s decision, student and faculty protesters rejoiced. Many faculty, students and locals praised the efforts of students as directly causing the reversal of the cuts.
When Kalikow was asked how student efforts to protest the retrenchments affected her decision today, she responded that the impact was only indirect. She added, however, that she was pleased with the level of student involvement.
“I’ve been waiting for thirty years for students to wake up,” she said.
In a prepared statement, #USMfuture organizers said that they saw the president’s decision as an “incredible victory for the #USMFuture movement,” but they added that the fight isn’t over yet.
“We also see this as just one step in the ongoing struggle and pledge to continue to oppose all cuts, including staff and department cuts, until the Board of Trustees agrees to an independent audit of UMaine system spending.”
They plan are gathering tonight to celebrate in the Woodbury Campus Center.
Enrollment numbers for spring 2014 have come in lower than anticipated by the USM administration, exacerbating already difficult financial circumstances.
The 5.3 percent drop in enrollment between this spring and last spring means that, even with the emergency budget cuts, USM will bring in $1.5 million less than projected by the fiscal year 2014 budget.
Since the administration projected a rise in enrollment for FY14 and not a fall, said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, the drop in enrollment was initially expected to cost the school a $5.5 million drop in revenue. However, to offset the budgetary discrepancy USM has taken measures to decrease expenditures.
“We are spending less on facilities maintenance and repair and using one-time savings from vacant positions,” said Caswell.
The remaining $1.5 million deficit, Caswell said, will be covered by USM’s $3.3 million reserve fund, but USM is using caution in spending the reserve money.
“You have heard people ask why we don’t use such reserves to cover salaries of those being laid off. These reserves are not permanent additions to our budget. Spend the money once and it’s gone,” Caswell said. “So, if we were to use reserves to cover salaries, we could do so for one year, but next year we’d have to find new money to cover the salaries.”
USM is taking a number of measures to increase enrollment in coming semesters, including increasing high school and college fair visits across New England, an aggressive online campaign to increase USM’s online presence by using social media and search engine marketing to supplement the usual marketing campaign and a pilot program by Admissions and Student Success that will present to students in 25 schools on how to successfully transition to college.
The trend of falling enrollment at USM stretches back across several years, but USM is not alone in this enrollment drop, though. In fact, the University of Maine System has reported that enrollment numbers are 3.9 percent lower than what the system budgeted for. The only exceptions are the UMaine and Fort Kent campuses, both of which reported numbers of one percent more than what was budgeted.
Retrenchment and program cuts aren’t the only changes in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. On March 28, the CAHS faculty debated a proposed reorganization of the college.
On March 26, Provost Michael Stevenson sent out a letter to the deans of all of the colleges at USM, asking them to discuss ways to reduce the number of administrative personnel at the university.
“I would like you to invite your colleges to yet one more conversation about organizational efficiencies with the goal of reducing the number of college administrators,” Stevenson’s letter told the deans.
Kuzma distributed copies of the letter to the assembled faculty of the CAHS. “We were going to reorganize whether we got the mandate or not,” Kuzma said
The draft of a reorganization plan that the volunteer ad hoc reorganization committee presented has been in progress since early this fall.
“Everyone who was a part of the committee unanimously supported this model,” Kuzma said. However, she stressed, it is only a draft. There will be two college meetings after April vacation where the college faculty can give their feedback and propose changes, and ultimately, the faculty can choose not to use this plan at all.
“If we don’t get where we want to be, I guess we’ll see what the provost will do,” Kuzma said.
“If this has to be done, it’s better for us to do it for ourselves than to have it done for us,” said committee member and English Professor Shelton Waldrep.
The draft of the plan, which was distributed to the college, divides the 14 existing departments within the college into five administrative groups, called “schools.”
One of the most notable and controversial changes the proposed reorganization made was the division of the communication and media studies programs into two different schools. Associate professor of communication and media studies Matt Killmeier noted that no one in communication and media studies had been asked whether they wanted to be broken into two programs.
David Pierson, communication and media studies chair, said that, since being integrated into one department in 2005, communication and media studies has developed in an intertwined, interdisciplinary direction. “We want to stay together,” Pierson said.
Other points of contention included whether the reorganization would change the process for peer review and how changing the titles associated with certain responsibilities might change the protections and stipulations of the union contract.
Waldrep said that the only departments where peer review would be affected were those that were too small to currently have effective peer review systems, but English Professor Lucinda Cole remained concerned.
“I’m concerned about the complete lack of attention to peer review, and what it means for our standards of scholarship,” Cole said.
Cole also raised the question of whether there would be contractual implications if the proposed plan were put into place, since the contract details protections and regulations based on specific job titles and departmental setups, and reorganization would alter those titles and structures.
Killmeier, who is also the vice-president of the USM chapter of the faculty union, responded. “If they do break up departments, there are contractual implications,” Killmeier said. He also noted that in order to do so, the college would have to get the reorganization approved by the Faculty Senate.
Stevenson’s letter requests reorganization plans from the colleges by June 15.
Since President Theo Kalikow announced the layoffs of twelve faculty members on Friday, March 21, the colleges of the retrenched faculty have responded by holding a series of meetings.
On March 26, a group of students organized a meeting about the effects of the retrenchment on the Muskie School, and on March 28, responses to the cuts occupied one of the two hours of a meeting of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Of the 12 faculty members the president and the provost marked for retrenchment, eight from the CAHS. Additionally, one of the four departments proposed for elimination, the American and New England Studies graduate program, is a part of the college.
“One of the reasons our college was targeted was our student-to-faculty ratio,” Dean Lynn Kuzma of the CAHS told the gathered faculty and the handful of students holding protest signs in support of the faculty crowded into the back of the room.
She echoed the sentiments of Dean Joseph McDonnell of the Muskie School of Public service, who addressed a gathering of his own students and faculty earlier in the week. McDonnell explained that there are 75 students in the Muskie School’s Public Policy Management program and 50 in Community Planning and Development. “We currently have 10 faculty in the MPH and CPD programs,” McDonnell said. “That’s a lot of faculty resources for just a few students.”
Because of this high student-to-faculty ratio, McDonnell said, the Muskie School had been considered for possible closure, rather than faculty retrenchment.
Kuzma also said that the provost had considered more proposed program cuts within the CAHS. “He said to me, it was either [retrenchment] or he was going to ask me for program elimination recommendations. He was going to ask me for three,” she said.
Kuzma said that the media coverage of the cuts might work to the college’s advantage. “I’m hoping that the word is getting out about the value of a liberal arts education,” said Kuzma.
“This is actually the most coverage our program has gotten in 25 years,” said Professor Ardis Cameron, whose program, American and New England Studies, has been proposed for elimination.
Cameron cited lack of publicity for USM as a reason for dropping enrollment, mentioning both the TV commercials she had seen for other schools and the fact that Cumberland County is the fastest-growing region of the state. “I did not see aggressive recruiting and aggressive advertising of USM this year or last year,” Cameron said.
Kuzma shared the one-page document which, she said, was the rubric by which the provost had chosen the departments to retrench faculty from. The document, which details the number of faculty members in each department and then breaks down the numbers of courses, sections and credit hours taught, came under fire from several faculty members, including English professor Eve Raimon, who described it as a perfect example of everything that had gone wrong over the preceding two weeks, and communication and media studies professor and faculty union vice-president Matt Killmeier, who said he’d seen the same chart earlier in the year and noticed several figures were not up to date.
“There’s some real problems with this data. It’s like the Iraq war data,” Killmeier said.
The conversation turned to the Direction Package Advisory Board, which Kuzma was a part of as a member of the vision committee.
“Many of us, I think, are very excited about the idea of an urban focus,” Cameron said, but expressed concern that the metropolitan university concept that the vision committee had presented didn’t have enough space for arts and humanities in it.
Kuzma responded that the vision of the metropolitan university had been kept deliberately vague in the Direction Package presentation so that each department could find its own place within the vision. “I think the vision is broad enough, right Kelsea?” Kuzma addressed student body president and fellow committee member Kelsea Dunham, who was sitting at the back of the room.
Dunham agreed that the vision committee’s presentation had been kept vague in order to keep the committee members from getting too caught up in making sure there was a place for their own departments.
“Portland has a major creative economy,” said Dunham. “There was no lack of humanities in that [metropolitan] vision, let me tell you that.”
Two weeks after over two hundred students stormed the law building to protest faculty layoffs, the #USMFuture movement has broadened its focus and is looking to gain support from other Maine universities and the Portland community.
On Tuesday, #USMFuture supporters will take to the streets of Portland and march between Monument and Congress squares to raise awareness for their cause. Meaghan LaSala, a student organizer and junior women and gender studies major, said that she hopes the march will keep students involved as they come back to USM from spring break.
“This [the march] should get students back on track when they return,” said LaSala. “We’re giving them a chance to get involved immediately.”
“Students will show up,” said Marpheen Chann, USM student vice president, when asked if he was worried at all about student involvement coming out of the spring break. “Students love events with energy where they can be vocal.”
The protests at USM have sparked interest around the state, and organizers are working toward forming a statewide coalition of University of Maine System students, called #UMaineFuture, to bring funding for public education in Maine to the forefront of every Mainer’s mind.
The ‘about’ section of the #UMaineFuture website, www.umainesolidarity.org, reads, “As students, we see our futures, as well as the future of Maine, being eroded by the negligence of big business interests that have taken over the governance of higher education.” While only the USM and UMaine Orono campuses have working student groups currently, UMaine Farmington is currently organizing and other campuses are beginning to as well, said Chann.
“Our work here at USM has started the discussion, but think of what we can accomplish as seven united campuses,” said Chann.
Student organizers gathered at the Woodbury Campus Center on Friday, March 28 to discuss their goals as they move forward. Senior classics and history major Brittany Goldych noted online comments posted to recent media coverage of their protests, many of which said student protesters were simply complaining and had no direction. She said that the public
response has opened up a discussion on what the group’s short-term and long-term goals are.
“We want solidarity in the fight to promote institutional changes that will save and better Maine’s educational system, not just for students, but for the future of the state in its entirety,” said Goldych. “Most importantly, we know we can do this, the administration and the people in Augusta know too.”
“We’re not whining anymore,” said Chann. “We’re working toward offering a solution and looking for community partners. We’re going to make public higher education an election issue this year.”
That Wednesday, students drafted a bill that called for a temporary moratorium on budget cuts while allowing time for a study into the distribution of funding across the UMS. While advancement of the legislation was denied on Thursday, it helped focus the group’s efforts, according to Goldych.
At the Friday meeting the same week, the group decided that one of their primary goals would not only be to address state funding for higher education in the state of Maine, but also to advocate for it nationwide.
“One thing I really love about this is how quickly everything comes together,” said student organizer Jules Purnell said. “It’s pretty inspiring, honestly.”
The Woodbury Campus Center Amphitheater has been reserved tonight for all students to gather and share stories about their experiences with USM faculty and staff. The goal is to bring students together and focus on their experiences rather than the budget issues.
“We all have a lot more in common than we think when it comes to our USM experience,” said LaSala.
This Friday, the #UMaineFuture coalition also plans to host a teach-in for students in Augusta. Organizers of the event are aiming to educate students from around the state about their goals, including information on the UMS budget deficit and how funding for higher education works at the legislative level, among other things.. They also hope to use the event as an opportunity to gain support from new students and legislators, said Chann.
Students have attended department meetings with deans to show their support of programs, faculty and students affected by the cuts, and a group also created the “change your major” Facebook event, in which students are invited to change their majors to a threatened program in a show of symbolic support of threatened programs.
President Theodora Kalikow said that she is glad students are getting involved in the discussion of public education funding, which she says has been on the decline over the past 30 years.
“I’ve been wondering if the students were going to get organized for years,” said Kalikow.
Kalikow knows that students are also partially protesting recent cuts made by the USM administration.
“Their [the student’s] protests show that USM is doing right by them in terms of faculty-student relationships,” said Kalikow. “Unfortunately, what we have now isn’t sustainable, and we have to work on balancing a lot of good things right now.”
“Students will make sure their voices are heard,” said Chann. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Michael Bailey, a UMaine Orono student and organizer of the #UMaineFuture coalition Skyped USM students during their meeting, applauding them for the work that they’ve done so far.
“We are the future of Maine,” said Bailey to students. “Your protests have sparked a larger movement, and I wanted to thank you. I’m excited to have so many students working together.”