In light of the administration’s plan to eliminate 50 faculty positions and two academic programs, the faculty senate has proposed alternative plans that include better incentives for early retirements and the possible elimination of one of USM’s three campuses.
According to Tom McDonald, an associate professor of business computing, closing off a campus has been discussed before but never in a formal proposal. Flanagan has asked for an analysis on the costs of each different campus to help him identify if this proposal is feasible and worth considering. The senate didn’t point to any specific campus to be targeted for elimination, but proposed that all three should be examined for areas where money could be saved.
“I will take that proposal [to eliminate one of the campuses] to the chancellor and the board of trustees,” said Flanagan. “We’re willing to listen to any proposal, if we have time.”
Offering retirement incentives to over 100 eligible faculty members to potentially reduce the number of retrenchments was also deliberated at length after being proposed by professor of English Bud McGrath. Changing the terms of retirement would have to go through the U Maine system’s Human Resources Department before they would be implemented. Lydia Savage, a professor of geography and anthropology, asked whether or not meeting the proposed retirement quota would save certain departments from retrenchments, but Flanagan declined to answer.
“So retirement may not save a department?” asked Savage. “I need clarity on this issue.”
Jeannine Uzzi, an associate professor of classics and vice chair of the faculty senate, agreed that the issue wasn’t made clear and said that there is a great deal of confusion concerning retirement and retrenchment and how the two pots of money differ from one another. Uzzie asked how is it possible that paying severance to fired faculty is cheaper than awarding early retirement benefits.
The Provost McDonnell responded to Savage and said that it really would depend on where the retirements come from and that we have to look at the larger picture of closing the budget.
“If we get the 50 or 60 retirements we hope for, it’s certainly going to help save the budget,” said McDonnell. “But it may or may not lead to retrenchments.”
Despite the uncertainty the senate voted unanimously that overall the retirement packages should be made more attractive. According to Bud Mcgrath an English professor, an incentive like offering 18 months of pay plus benefits, the amount that a faculty member would of been paid out if laid off, might influence some faculty’s decision to retire early. The Provost said that about 20 faculty so far are on board for early retirement, but they need more.
“Offering incentives are always better than trying to coerce people, either by fear or guilt,” said Joe Medley an associate professor of economics. “I’ve been told by colleagues at the University of New Hampshire, for example, that our current incentives for retirement are ridiculous.”
According to Medley, incentives for retirement is a strategy that is not uncommon in other universities.
After over an hour without making a statement, Flanagan said that he will take any proposal seriously but the time to deliberate is quickly running out and decisions need to be made now.
“We can’t just wish this deficit away,” said Flanagan. “There’s no more time for aspirational objectives.”
Flanagan’s plan to cut 50 faculty positions would take off about $6 million off of the $16 million budget deficit and must be finalized by Oct. 31. According to Flanagan the remainder will come from administrative cuts that will be announced in November.
Flanagan noted that he’s a newcomer bringing serious changes to USM and that he’s aware that he can’t really appreciate USM as much as all the people who have dedicated such a large portion of their life and energy to this academic community.
Still some faculty members feel that the administration could be collaborating and working more closely with the faculty to bring solutions that are supportive of departments, instead of destructive. Uzz,i for example,detailed her efforts to build a classics major over the past year that could be franchised across all seven campuses. According to Uzzi, she saw plenty of enrollment, even from students in Farmington and Presque Isle, and worked hard to establish a comprehensive classics curriculum but now is simply being fired.
“Last year I was asked to build a system and I did it, and it’s working, but now it’s over and I’m being retrenched,” said Uzzi. “The system did nothing to support me. I just want to know why I was asked to do all this work, just to be fired.”
Uzzi said that she thinks there is no real plan apart from just frantically trying to save money. She believes that programs like hers could work with a tiny bit of support, but there is just no real collaboration with the administration.
“Where is all our work going?” asked Uzzi.
Savage also spoke out for a closer relationship between the administration and faculty, noting that several departments have already gone through several reconstructions over the past six years without any real advice from up top.
“All they’ve said is that these departments [French and applied medical science] are just too expensive,” said Savage.
Savage said that she asked the President last week what will happen when we lose the $3.5 million from tuition once the 50 faculty members are gone in the spring. Flanagan simply said that “we’ll just have to cut more.”
“I don’t know what’s left to cut; we’re bare to the bone,” said Savage. “We’re competing with SMCC and in good faith I would tell students to go there. It’s half the cost and if we can’t offer more than them, how can we ask them to incur debt to get a degree that lacks integrity, rigor and the faculty that can sustain an education.”
The recent plan to cut the undergraduate French program and the master’s program in applied sciences would affect five and three faculty members, respectively. The topics of these cuts were also met with much displeasure from members of the faculty senate, including Nancy Erickson, an associate professor of French.
“I’m here to ask the faculty senate to help me convince the administration that French be considered important and be granted a stay of execution,” said Erickson. “We’re not low hanging fruit to just be picked off.”
Erickson said that her department trains students that stay in Maine and graduates twice as many French majors as the national average.
The senate meeting extended for an extra 30 minutes and the members didn’t even have a chance to talk about specifics on the budget agenda. They did, however, get a chance to read through the student senate resolution that stated the student members would be more actively involved in finding solutions to the budget deficit. Several members of the faculty senate applauded the students for their tenacity, proficient use of language and grammar and a well developed understanding of USM’s extensive issues.
“Can I just say that the students here kick ass,” said Uzzi.
Students and faculty gathered in opposition to the cuts released earlier in the day by the president and provost.
Susan Feiner, professor of economics and vice president of the faculty union AFUM, announced that AFUM speaks out strongly against the ill-advised cuts that, according to her, completely compromise USM.
“Programs are explicitly detailed in the course catalog,” said Feiner. “With the faculty cuts, most programs don’t be able to deliver the degrees. Faculty are not pieces on an assembly line.”
Feiner explained that AFUM opposes the cuts and will support faculty with grievances.
Paul Christenson, professor of music, echoed Feiner.
“We all have our own areas of expertise,” said Christenson. “We are not cogs on a machine. The classes we teach are specialized and cannot be taken on by our colleagues.”
Jerry LaSala, professor of physics and chair of the faculty senate, agrees that USM cannot be sustained with the additional 18% reduction in faculty, on top of a 25% reduction in the past five years.
“Another 18% makes it virtually impossible for students to complete their degrees,” said Feiner. “Programs cannot be delivered with these faculty cuts.”
In addition to faculty cuts, two programs have been identified for complete closure. The undergraduate degree in French and masters program in applied medical sciences are both up for expedited elimination
“That’s five majors cut in the space of one month,” Feiner said.
Neal Young, a political science major, explained that he came to USM and left for a private education. He’s returned to USM to finish his degree because he feels that USM has given him a stronger foundation than the private counterpart.
“When you cut departments, you’re depriving students of skill sets they desperately need,” said Young. “It’s not about regurgitating a textbook. It’s about making students passionate.”
With the small faculty-to-student ratio, competitive with what students may find at a private institution, Alex Night, a physics and math major, explained that his life goals have changed as a result of creating close ties with faculty.
“Teachers can only give us love when they have energy to do it,” said Night. “[With proposed cuts] if I want to continue with life plans, I’ll have to leave. And I don’t want to do that.”
Christy Hammer, co-president of AFUM, agreed with the sentiment of a low faculty to student ratio, and expressed that she doesn’t want to see USM privatized.
“He [President David Flanagan] wants to privatize USM,” said Hammer. “Why would they cut faculty who are the revenue generators?”
In the three programs that were cut, according to Hammer, it only cut seven faculty members. One of the programs, American and New England studies, was the only master’s program in humanities for all of Southern Maine.
“That shows USM has been systematically starved,” said Hammer. “USM needs to be invested in, not cut.”
Wendy Chapkis, professor of sociology and women and gender studies, asked the people of Maine: “What do you want in terms of options for yourself and for your children? We just cut the only public humanities master’s program in southern Maine. Is that your vision for southern Maine?”
Chapkis questioned why the vision of branding USM as “Maine’s Metropolitan University” is better than as a comprehensive university.
“We are programs central to the life of the university,” Chapkis said.
Meaghan LaSala, senior women and gender studies major, emphasized that the issues USM are facing do not just affect faculty and students, but everyone in Maine.
“A comprehensive university is an economic driver,” said LaSala. “We need the people of Maine to agree that we need to invest in USM, not cut.”
The faculty cuts presented today are only phase-one of a three phase plan by the president. Later phases include looking at administrative costs.
“We [faculty] are the revenue generators,” said Feiner. “The heart of the university is with the faculty and with the students in the classroom. Curriculum are not prepackaged. Its not like ramen noodles.”
Programs eliminated by the board of trustees are still waiting for administrative action to proceed with the enactment of a teach-out plan for students. Progress has been made, but uncertainty still remains.
According to Kent Ryden, professor and director of American and New England studies, the dean’s office sent out a letter to all current students asking if they plan to finish their degrees, and informing them that they would have two years to do so.
“The dean’s office has been able to plan out the sequence of required courses for students, but not the elective courses,” said Ryden. “They’ve just indicated that there will be elective courses available each semester, but at this point nobody knows what those elective courses will be, nobody knows who will be advising students on theses and independent studies and internships.”
Ryden indicated that the teach-out plan as it has been developed thus far has had no consultation with the ANES faculty.
“Our students are still left with a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns, and I’m still not able to answer them. It doesn’t seem like their needs and interests were fully taken into account,” said Ryden. “A lot of our students are pretty upset.”
David Jester, a current ANES student, expressed concern at the uncertainty of it all.
“Since I’m doing a thesis track, it could take me a year and a half or even two to three years to finish,” said Jester. “When I entered the program we were supposed to be given six years to complete, so that would’ve allowed me until 2017. As of right now, it looks like they’re only giving us two years which goes against the student guidelines.”
Stephen Pollock, professor of geosciences, was unable to comment on the teach-out plan for his program, indicating that everything is “too preliminary” to release at this point.
“What happens ultimately rests in the upper ranks of the administration. The provost or president will eventually sign off,” said Pollock. “We may know something more after the provost releases his academic restructuring plans on Monday.”
Ryden attributes the uncertainty to a “poorly thought out elimination process.”
Ryden explained that it is possible to complete the program in two years, but many students are nontraditional or part time and only take a class or two per semester. A student in this demographic may require the allotted six years for completion.
“If this is the case, I feel the students have legal recourse. When I entered this program I entered under the auspices that I had six years to graduate,” said Jester. “Theses take a long time, sometimes longer than just a semester. I feel like they did this very brashly and they wanted to do this without thinking and just want people to lay down and play dead.”
If Ryden was involved in the teach-out plan process, he explained, he would take into account the needs of the students more.
“I would try to involve the students in the process or at least get a good sense of what would work best for them and would try to bring more specificity to the teach out plan,” said Ryden. “That is, eliminate a lot of the uncertainty. Establish what the faculty resources would be and what the curricular resources will be.”
“I’ve already invested enough of my life’s money into this,” said Jester. “I would definitely be seeking legal action if I was not allotted the amount of time promised.”
President David Flanagan announced today that the university would be eliminating 50 faculty positions and two additional programs by the end of November to combat its growing budget deficit, which is estimated at $16 million right now.
The administration has increased early retirement incentives and are looking to eliminate many positions through retirement by Oct. 20, but will resort to layoffs at the end of the month. According to a letter from
Provost Joseph McDonnell to staff and faculty, 100 faculty are eligible for retirement.
The administration will also propose eliminating the undergraduate French program and graduate applied medical sciences program, which Christopher Quint, the executive director of public affairs, says will impact 50 students.
“This is the first phase of our sustainability plan,” said Flanagan in a prepared statement this morning. “The proposal we are announcing today — totaling approximately $6 million in savings towards our $16 million goal — are decisions we are obligated to make at this time as set forth in the faculty (AFUM) contract and USM governance documents.”
According to Flanagan, these cuts are the first steps in turning USM into “Maine’s Metropolitan University” and is necessary to keep the university affordable and accessible for current and future students.
“We are being strategic and decisive to ensure USM remains a vibrant and affordable university serving the needs of our students and our communities,” he continued.
McDonnell wrote in his letter that these cuts are the alternative to eliminating numerous academic programs entirely. He asked the faculty to help reconfigure small departments into more interdisciplinary programs in order to save money and continue offering the same courses.
“This plan is not merely a way to deal with a budget crisis, but an opportunity for a cosmopolitan university to connect the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences with each other and the professional programs in Business, Technology, Health, and the Environment,” wrote McDonnell.
McDonnell outlined a plan for “program realignment” in his letter, a plan that aims to keep available credit hours the same with fewer faculty. He listed faculty reductions by department: seven faculty will be cut through the program eliminations last month, which included geosciences, American and New England studies and arts and humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn campus. Five faculty will be cut from the applied medical science program and three from languages when the two new proposed program eliminations go through. six-to-seven positions in the Muskie School of Public Service will be eliminated in the community planning and development and public policy and management programs. The English department will be reduced by four-and-a-half faculty and the education program will cut two-and-a-half faculty. Computer science, criminology, economics, music, psychology and sociology will each lose two faculty members. Communication and media studies, history, leadership and organizational studies, natural and applied science, philosophy, political science, social and behavioral science, technology and theatre will each lose one faculty member.
The administration is waiting to see which faculty members will retire by Oct. 20 before they consider layoffs, which will be announced by Oct. 31. If a faculty member in a specific program retires in will count toward that department’s cuts.
“The university will be intact by handling the budget situation this way. We’re trying to restore financial stability without putting the burden on students,” said Flanagan in an interview with the Free Press. “There are always going to be people that say we can’t change, but in this world you either change or you die, and I’m here to make sure USM survives. We’re going to make this university stable and make sure it continues to exist.”
The plan also includes numerous suggestions for combining and condensing programs in the future. According to Flanagan, phase two of their plan will consist of cutting down on administrative costs and looking for additional revenue streams for the university.
Shortly after the annoucement, Joy Pufhal, dean of students, sent out an email to all students reminding them the health and counseling services were availble if students needed them.
“Some of you may be feeling directly impacted by program elimination and /or may know the employees that could be impacted,” wrote Pufhal. “We will be providing stress relief opportunities and other events over the coming weeks to connect and support one another.”
“The transformation of the university presents the entire university community with serious challenges but also exciting opportunities,” wrote McDonnell in his conclusion. “It will require hard work and enormous energy but we will be rewarded by making this university a vital institution in the state, region, and the communities where we are located.”
Flanagan noted that these changes would be happening much quicker than eliminations have happened in the past.
“We have to act with a sense of urgency,” said Flanagan. “The system doesn’t have the money to bail us out again.”