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Metropolitan rebranding of USM will cost $900,000 annually

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

The recent administrative push to make USM more attractive to potential applicants, and henceforth more profitable through a “metropolitan” rebranding, is going to come with a $900,000 price tag.

According to Richard Barringer, the head of a steering group created to implement the initial plans for the metropolitan university vision, the rebranding is necessary for the future of the university.

The steering group of over 30 members have been working since June to define what exactly a metropolitan university is and how they can bring that model to USM.

“Amidst all the chaos, the work [of the steering group] has proven to be a very positive experience,” said Barringer. “I have no doubt that the repurposing of our university is critical for a successful future.”

According to Barringer and members of the administration, becoming a metropolitan university involves crafting academic programs around the needs of the community and local industries. Ideally, under the model, the university would serve as a one stop shop for employers to fill internships and entry level positions with students that learned the relevant skills.

Barringer said that he was upfront with the cost and if we want to see the benefits of the vision, we’ll have to pay the price. The $900,000 budget is an estimation based on surveys and observations on how other schools have made and paid for a metropolitan transformation.

According to Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, research has shown that a metropolitan rebranding has cost other schools anywhere from $100 per student to $600 per student. Quint said the steering group’s plan will likely cost USM student’s $150 each, the low end of what other schools have paid. Quint noted that Cornell is spending over $40 million this year on a metropolitan restructuring.

Quint also said that part of the budget includes the salary of a new director, who will lead the metropolitan efforts once the final report of the plan is released on Dec. 4.

“Once we publish the report, this group will be dissolved,” said Barringer. “We need to hire or re-assign someone to continue the job we started.”

The other costs associated with the rebranding are not official at this time, but Quint said they will revolve around start up costs with marketing, changing the letterhead, web design and hiring new staff.

Still many students criticize focus on the metropolitan model, saying that the plan is expensive and that USM already fits the proposed model.

According to Tom Bahun, a student senator and senior double major in history and political science, connecting the university with the community is a great idea, but the administration is simply using the metropolitan model as a facade.

“They want to promote something good, to cover up what is bad,” said Bahun referring to the recent staff layoffs and program eliminations.

According to Ben Davis, a sophomore English major, USM is already a metropolitan university and believes that Portland gives its students more opportunities than any other school in the state. Davis believes that you can’t have a metropolitan university that cuts programs and staff positions and that the term is just being used to justify those actions.

“It’s really awful that the administration is appropriating a term which could be useful in giving definition to our value in the Portland community and turning into a way to justify the senseless gutting of our university,” said Davis.

“It’s really unfortunate that whenever there is something positive and forward thinking proposed, there are those that simply criticize without taking the time to understand,” said Quint. “I hope we move beyond that eventually.”

Quint said that although the new metropolitan vision is being worked on at the same time that the USM community is trying to combat a projected $16 million budget deficit, the two efforts are completely separate. Barringer and his steering group team were never present during any budget meetings, so that his plan would be uninfluenced by the looming deficit.

“Can you imagine the response we’d get if we tried to pitch the metropolitan vision under the context of the budget situation?” asked Quint.

Any correlation between the methods use to bridge the gap and turn USM into a metropolitan university, are unintentional. According to Quint, if they moved towards a metropolitan model because of the budget deficit, the plan wouldn’t work.

“When we transition to a metropolitan university, it’s going to give definition to USM,” said Quint. “It will give us a distinct brand in the region that we’ll be able to market, and in turn become much more attractive to a host of students.”

Addressing the concerns and criticisms of potentially spending $900,000 on a new focus during financially troubling times, Quint said that USM’s future can’t just be dependent on cuts but investment as well.

“If there are folks out there that actually want to invest in USM, and move it forward, the metropolitan university is certainly an area they could do that in,” said Quint. “If people want to see a bright prosperous future for this university, this is the direction we’re moving and everybody is going to need to invest.”

Online sexual harassement training now mandatory for all students and faculty

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

By: Brian Gordon

Last Monday the board of trustees voted to make a federally mandated sexual harassment training mandatory for all students and faculty to complete.

According to Sarah Holmes, assistant director of student life and diversity, there has been an increase in public attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus over the last 18 months.

The White House has made it a federal mandate that any higher education institution receiving federal funds needs to provide sexual harassment training.

“Between 50-60 colleges across the country are currently being investigated by the department of education because they are not fully complying with Title IX,” Holmes said.

Title IX is the federal law that ensures equal access to education. Holmes said people usually think of it as the federal policy that dictates that both men and women can participate in the same sports activities. However the law also facilitates equal access to education and to ensure sexual violence,] or harassment does not interfere with a persons ability to learn.

In the Gorham residence halls there were 15 reported instances of forcible sexual assault in 2012. Last year there were only four. There was also one case of stalking and two cases of domestic violence.

Joy Pufhal, dean of students, said that the lower numbers last year can be attributed to the fact that students had someone to talk to in the form of a full time coordinator. According to Pufhal, victims of sexual harassment were able to build relationships with her and there was more disclosure.

“We can always do more. But this online training gives us the foundation to start,” said Holmes. “If you take the training, you will pay more attention to domestic violence, or other forms of harassment.”

The other schools in the UMaine system echoed the numbers found at USM, according to the Clery Act, which says that colleges and universities must release an annual report of their crime data.In Orono last year, there were 24 forcible sex assaults on campus and in the near vicinity. Farmington had only one violent dating offense and one instance of stalking. One instance of stalking was also reported on the Bangor campus. There were two reports at Fort Kent of a hate crime by category of protected class, which may or may not have been due to a person’s sexual orientation. Both Presque Isle and Augusta reported no cases of sexual assault.

No crime reports could be found for LAC or Machias campuses.

Holmes is also part of the campus safety project, a grant funded initiative by the Violence Against Women Act to help stem sexual assault, abuse and stalking. VAWA is the law that people are most familiar with, that makes it mandatory for the police to arrest someone if they get a domestic abuse call.

Pufhal is also leading the Campus Safety Project and she said while numbers are low at USM they can be deceiving. People may not want to talk about abuse and simply just don’t report it. According to Pufhal, with thousands of commuter students a lot of abuse may happen off campus that don’t get reported to the school.

“There are no numbers for sexual harassment on campus, only crimes that may stem from harassment,” said Pufhal. “Sexual assault is the most extreme version of sexual harassment.”

Pufhal said that she hopes that this mandatory training helps curb sexual harassment and abuse.

“When institutions pay attention to the issue, people come forward for help,” Pufhal said.

Student senate donates $500 to Noyes St. fire victims

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

By: Alex Huber

By a vote of nine to four, the student senate passed the motion to donate $500 to support Nathan Long and Kyle Bozeman, survivors of the Noyes Street fire that claimed the lives of six individuals.

The student senate’s donation would be in addition to the $2,000 already raised by the dean of students office. The donations would be meant for expenses such as food, clothing and other possessions lost.

“We’re talking about $250 each, for two individuals who lost their homes,” said student senator John Jackson. “Put yourself in their shoes.”

Some senators feared that the money would not be spent properly. Jackson responded to these concerns stating that proper oversight would be possible through the dean of students office, which is running the campus wide donation collection for the two victims. The donation will have restrictions so that it can’t be used for recreational use

Another concern was the fear that the donation would set a precedent that will require the senate to pay more money in the future. Some senators, such as Ashley Caterina, don’t want the senate to be responsible for every disaster that happens.

“What if a whole dorm burns down, do we give everyone $250 dollars?” Caterina asked.

Ultimately the majority of the senators felt that the need to support two students in their time of need was more important than fears of possible future ramifications.

“I understand the complexity of the situation,” said Jackson. “I understand that we could potentially be setting a precedent but at the same time we also need to show the senate is out in front and focused on people.”

“We were elected by this community to make these decisions and I can’t think of a better cause than propping up two of our own,” added Senator Matt Wilkinson.

Parliamentarian Joshua Tharpe motioned to vote by secret ballot, butr the motion was unanimously rejected ot the rest of the senate. Several senators stated a need for transparency, especially in issues such as these.

The community has shown continued support for the two men who lost their home several weeks ago. Donations are still being collected in boxes located across campus for the survivors, victims and their families.

Muskie school attempts reorganization after cuts

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

By: Annie Quandt

The Muskie School of Public Service recently celebrated it’s 100th anniversary at USM but is going to be faced with setbacks as some of its faculty have been retrenched this semester.

“There won’t be a program anymore to teach these students, due to retrenchment and retirement,” said Carolyn Ball, a member of the Academic Affairs Committee and the Muskie School. , stating that only one professor was left to teach public policy and management at the Muskie School.

Andy Coburn, the associate dean of the Muskie School, who is also a research professor for public health, explained that, on a fundamental level, these cuts have hurt.

“One faculty member has been retrenched, and a tenured-track faculty that’s contract has not been renewed. Many have chosen to retire as a result of the incentive program that the university is offering,” said Coburn. “Losing all these professors that have been here just creates a tremendous sense of loss.

He added that, for students, the circumstances leave some open-ended questions. Students and faculty alike aren’t sure what is going to be offered for degree completion; students want to know how to finish their degrees out.

“What we’re trying to do in the moment at the Muskie School, is align our academic programs more closely with what we think the needs in the community and the state are with the broad area of public service and education,” said Coburn. “We’re trying to do that with the budget realities and resources that we know we will have going forward.”

Coburn noted the limited faculty resources in light of budget cuts as reason for reaching out to research staff and the community to identify academically qualified people who can help with courses the Muskie school might need, or for mentoring to students.

The Muskie School offers graduate programs in public health, public policy and management and community planning and development. There is an undergraduate degree in geography and anthropology.

Ball added that the Muskie School is “a group of graduate programs that are preparing students for civic leadership, that includes assisting with the development of public policy, and to strengthen civic life.”

Carolyn believes that the public policy and management degree is essentially eliminated, despite the many graduates that are out there helping their community.

She listed Amanda Rector, the state economist, Mayor Michael Brennan, the mayor of Portland, Garrett Corbin, the Legislative Advocate for the Maine Municipal Association, and Kenneth Fredette, House Republican Leader all as graduates from the Muskie School. She also stated that at least fifty-six non-profit leaders are graduates as well.

“The Muskie school is a relatively large organization that also has a vibrant portfolio where we’re working in Maine and Portland with projects from social sciences to environment to public health,” said Coburn. “We’re remaining vibrant. It’s really important that students understand that the Muskie School plays an important role and will continue to do so.”

Ball noted that New England has a history of non-partisanship in local government, and that New England has more per-capita town managers than any other in the region.

“This was the only place in Maine to get a degree in public policy and management,” said Ball. “There is not an accredited program in New Hampshire, so this leaves Northern New England without a public service program.”

Coburn also emphasized the lack of other education resources in the area for public service.

“Muskie School is the only public service, public policy program in the University of Maine system,” Coburn reiterated.“Going forward, I think we’ll be offering professional education programs.”

Coburn who has been with the Muskie School for many years, disagrees with the idea of eliminating the public policy and management degree.

“At one time those two degrees were one degree, a track in community planning and development, a track in public management, a track in public policy. I think we’re going back to one degree with different tracks related to specific areas, non-profit management, public policy management, much like we used to offer,” said Coburn. “We will still be teaching public policy as part of the degree we’re offering. We will have a more focused non-profit curriculum as part of that single degree. It may be possible that there may be two degrees, but it really depends on the provost committee.”

Ball added that there has been some discussion about having a degree with some sort of environmental sustainability component, as one way for the school to try to reinvent itself.“But that doesn’t do justice to the state for the public service employees who have multiple responsibilities,” Ball said.

Coburn explained that the provost is convening faculty from the Muskie School, economics and other departments, on what the degree or degrees should look like, given the demand from students.

Ball said there is hope for the future of the Muskie School.“If the provost is willing to support one program for the state, to provide public service education that will prepare students for jobs in non-profits, state government and local government. Right now it doesn’t seem that that is going to occur.”

Both Ball and Coburn emphasized that this is not the end for the Muskie School and does not have to be the downfall; Ball said that students can reach out to their local and elected government officials for help and let them know what’s happening, and Coburn said that while it will be an adjustment, the programs should not and will not be cut. They both emphasized how important public service is to the community and how their graduates have helped and will continue to help in the community.

The outcome of the degree programs for the Muskie School is up to the provost, but Coburn has said the degree programs will still be intact, just possibly in different forms.

 

Admins to ignore AAUP sanction

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

The American Association for University Professors (AAUP), an organization dedicated to advancing academic freedom and shared governance, defined fundamental professional values and standards for higher education and ensuring higher education’s contribution to the common good, sent President David Flanagan a letter in opposition to recent cuts.

This is the second time this year the AAUP has intervened with administrative decisions, the first time was last spring when President Theodora Kalikow proposed the elimination of four academic programs, which would result in the elimination of tenured and long term non-tenured faculty.

According to the letter, USM has not acted in accordance to the statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure, developed by the AAUP jointly with the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by more than 220 scholarly and higher-education organizations.

Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, explained that all actions the university has taken in the elimination process have been based on contractual obligations, despite accusations the letter presents.

“From the purposes of who we follow, or what we follow when it comes to these layoffs or the program eliminations, we adhere to the contract, we adhere to the University of Maine system and the University of Southern Maine governing documents,” said Quint. “While we appreciate their letter, at this point we have no plans to be responding to them. They do not have any standing in this matter.”

According to Anita Levy, senior program officer of the AAUP, the organization has not yet determined next steps, as they are giving administration a chance to respond. If a response is indeed declined, there is a possibility that an ad-hoc investigation will be authorized. If this does happen, an investigation may lead to a placement on AAUP’s sanctions lists, which would seriously damage USM’s reputation even further. USM may also be placed on a “no-hire” list, which would make it difficult to hire faculty in the future.

Quint, however, argued that no new information will be found, referring to the elimination process as an “open book.”

“They’re free to take whatever action they have. They don’t have any legal standing when it comes to this matter. We adhere to the contract and we adhere to governance documents,” said Quint. “We’re a public institution. Anything that we do as a university is public information. We have nothing to hide.”

Though a reputable organization, Quint explained that they have no say in how the university is run.

“There’s a lot of things said and a lot of things thrown out there. Some of them have validity others have none,” said Quint. “The deficit is real; we’re not taking these actions because of some corporate takeover, or some ideological agenda that we have. We’re taking these actions to right size the university.”

USM is just one university that is part of what seems to be a national trend, according to Levy. Levy explained that there are a number of institutions where administrations make unilateral determinations to reorganize program in a certain way, regardless if that reorganization has educational value.

“Administrators are making these kinds of cuts and eliminating programs without adequately consulting the faculty and determining whether or not those kinds of cuts would be beneficial as a whole for student learns,” Levy said.

Quint indicated that USM will continue to operate in a direction toward financial sustainability, rather than change how things are being done to align with the AAUP’s standards.

“We’re going to continue to operate in the best interest of our students here, and do what’s necessary to make this an affordable and accessible university for our current and future students,” Quint said.

In the meantime, Levy urges students to remain involved and active on campus.

“I think students have to continue to be activists and to advocate for themselves and the faculty, and take an active role in trying to bring the administration into the daylight. They seem to want to operate behind closed doors,” said Levy. “That’s not the way to run a university.”

Over 100 students and faculty disrupt BoT meeting during protests

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:40

More than 100 students marched into the board of trustees meeting last week to protest recent faculty and program eliminations.

Students flooded into the Sullivan Gym shouting “invest in USM” and “stop the cuts” while the trustees were taking their lunch break.

“I would be concerned if you weren’t here because that would show your lack of passion for your school and your lack of passion for your courses and your professors,” BoT chair Samuel Collins said to the mob after the trustees had looked on for 10 minutes.

The protesters booed him and refused to stop, and drowned out both Collins and President David Flanagan when they tried to speak.

Protesters slowly inched forward in the gymnasium, and the trustees motioned for a recess of the meeting, while students forced their way into seats at the table. With most of the trustees standing off to the side, protesters began to speak to members of the crowd and the media at the scene.

The protesters had three demands: a reversal of cuts made by the BoT, including faculty retrenchments and the elimination of five academic programs over the past year, a moratorium on all cuts until transparency and shared governance are restored and for the university to convince the state and community to invest in USM.

“These decisions are going to be incredibility ineffective,” said Neal Young, a senior political science student.

“No one on the board has the numbers,” said sophomore English major Ben Davis, referring to two trustees who had previously said they didn’t have access to sufficient data to vote on the elimination of applied medical sciences and French. “[The trustees] should wait until they know everything about a program before they get rid of it.”

Some students at the protest who were directly involved in the affected programs claimed they had never had a chance to tell their stories or speak about their programs publicly.

“I didn’t have time to drive the six hours to Fort Kent to speak about my program when you eliminated it,” said Kimberly Clark, a student in the American and New England studies program.

“We’ve played by your rules and you haven’t listened to us,” said Chris Witham, a double major in mathematics and classics.

After nearly an hour of chanting and shouting at cameras, students returned to the gallery and let the board continue their meeting.

“Let them have their seats back so they can do the right thing,” said Meaghan LaSala, a senior women and gender studies major and a key organizer of the protest.

The trustees returned to their seats and picked up the meeting where they had left off, sticking to the agenda. A handful of protesters stayed to listen in on the remainder of the meeting, but most left the gym immediately.

Officials didn’t speak about the protest for the remainder of the meeting, but statements from Collins and Flanagan were issued later via email.

“I understand the frustrations that led to the demonstration that disrupted today’s meeting of the Board of Trustees,” wrote Collins. “Our economic and demographic realities are forcing us to make some very difficult choices as we align the University of Southern Maine with the times and position the university as an affordable institution of higher education into the future.”

Collins noted that he and Flanagan, along with UMaine Chancellor James Page, had met with student leaders, including some involved with the protest, the day before to discuss student concerns at USM.

Flanagan, as he has in the past, praised students for being engaged with the decisions being made at USM, but said that it is unlikely anything will be reversed.

“An engaged student body is part of what makes any university great. The recent changes have been difficult for the students, the faculty, the staff and for the administration as well,” wrote Flanagan. “USM’s leadership is charged with protecting the long term viability of the University and to serving the best interests of its students. We continue to stand by the decisions the trustees have made.”

PEB and GEB merger shot down by student senate

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:40

More than 100 students marched into the board of trustees meeting last week to protest recent faculty and program eliminations.

Students flooded into the Sullivan Gym shouting “invest in USM” and “stop the cuts” while the trustees were taking their lunch break.

“I would be concerned if you weren’t here because that would show your lack of passion for your school and your lack of passion for your courses and your professors,” BoT chair Samuel Collins said to the mob after the trustees had looked on for 10 minutes.

The protesters booed him and refused to stop, and drowned out both Collins and President David Flanagan when they tried to speak.

Protesters slowly inched forward in the gymnasium, and the trustees motioned for a recess of the meeting, while students forced their way into seats at the table. With most of the trustees standing off to the side, protesters began to speak to members of the crowd and the media at the scene.

The protesters had three demands: a reversal of cuts made by the BoT, including faculty retrenchments and the elimination of five academic programs over the past year, a moratorium on all cuts until transparency and shared governance are restored and for the university to convince the state and community to invest in USM.

“These decisions are going to be incredibility ineffective,” said Neal Young, a senior political science student.

“No one on the board has the numbers,” said sophomore English major Ben Davis, referring to two trustees who had previously said they didn’t have access to sufficient data to vote on the elimination of applied medical sciences and French. “[The trustees] should wait until they know everything about a program before they get rid of it.”

Some students at the protest who were directly involved in the affected programs claimed they had never had a chance to tell their stories or speak about their programs publically.

“I didn’t have time to drive the six hours to Fort Kent to speak about my program when you eliminated it,” said Kimberly Clark, a student in the American and New England studies program.

“We’ve played by your rules and you haven’t listened to us,” said Chris Witham, a double major in mathematics and classics.

After nearly an hour of chanting and shouting at cameras, students returned to the gallery and let the board continue their meeting.

“Let them have their seats back so they can do the right thing,” said Meaghan LaSala, a senior women and gender studies major and a key organizer of the protest.

The trustees returned to their seats and picked up the meeting where they had left off, sticking to the agenda. A handful of protesters stayed to listen in on the remainder of the meeting, but most left the gym immediately.

Officials didn’t speak about the protest for the remainder of the meeting, but statements from Collins and Flanagan were issued later via email.

“I understand the frustrations that led to the demonstration that disrupted today’s meeting of the Board of Trustees,” wrote Collins. “Our economic and demographic realities are forcing us to make some very difficult choices as we align the University of Southern Maine with the times and position the university as an affordable institution of higher education into the future.”

Collins noted that he and Flanagan, along with UMaine Chancellor James Page, had met with student leaders, including some involved with the protest, the day before to discuss student concerns at USM.

Flanagan, as he has in the past, praised students for being engaged with the decisions being made at USM, but said that it is unlikely anything will be reversed.

“An engaged student body is part of what makes any university great. The recent changes have been difficult for the students, the faculty, the staff and for the administration as well,” wrote Flanagan. “USM’s leadership is charged with protecting the long term viability of the University and to serving the best interests of its students. We continue to stand by the decisions the trustees have made.”

transcript

USM Popular Queries - Thu, 2014-11-20 12:01

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Admins continue to work on teach-out plan

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

In wake of five programs being eliminated within the span of a few months, the administration is continuing to work on establishing a two-year teach-out plan so affected students may finish their degrees.

American and New England Studies, geosciences and the arts and humanities program at Lewiston-Auburn campus were eliminated by the board of trustees in September, along with French and applied medical sciences just a few weeks ago. Since the eliminations, the administration has promised that students will be able to complete those programs in a timely manner before closing them completely, but according to some faculty little progress has been made in developing a teach-out plan.

 According to Kent Ryden, chair and professor of American and New England studies, little progress has been made on developing a concrete teach-out plan, at least to his knowledge.

“The dean’s office has been in contact with students, telling them there still will be courses offered, but there are no specifics,” said Ryden. “Our students are very much in the dark.”

Provost Joseph McDonnell explained that, though some argue there are ambiguities with the process, administration is taking their obligation seriously to provide students the opportunity to graduate in these programs.

“We’re working to that objective,” said McDonnell. “We’re trying to make sure courses are in place for the spring semester and beyond that. Because there are so few students enrolled in these programs, it does give the opportunity for individualized plans.”

According to Ryden, the dean’s office has contacted students saying there will be ANES courses offered, but possibly not by current faculty, and with no specifics about what those courses may be.

“A real point of confusion is what’s going to happen with students working on their master’s theses. Students are still frustrated,” said Ryden. “We’re very much in the dark. They haven’t been given any guidance, specific guidance, at all by the administration.”

S. Monroe Duboise, associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology in the applied medical sciences program, also had limited knowledge on what the teach-out plan will look like, stating in an email, “I wish there were more that I could tell you about the plans being made. Meetings of the CSTH dean with individual faculty members are proceeding. I cannot predict what the end result will be at this point. I don’t have any additional information at present.”

McDonnell noted that not all students take the thesis path, and that conversations are starting to happen regarding their preference for degree completion. He also reassured that the administration is working on securing part-time faculty to teach the required courses, as well as faculty to advise in thesis research.

“I think students need to be able to see a path,” said McDonnell. “Exceptions can be made, but I also think students will want to see what’s being offered to them each semester, rather than having the whole thing open-ended.”

McDonnell explained that it’s about what the university can offer and a students’ schedule; students are not restricted to a two-year timespan.

“We do have the option to tailor these plans for each student,” said McDonnell. “Students ought to know when courses are being offered so they can plan their schedule.”

Still, to some, this plan seems difficult to interpret and unrealistic, given that USM is such a nontraditional school.

“Administrators are taking action and only then figuring out repercussions,” Ryden said.

According to McDonnell, however, some plan is better than no plan. It’s better to have courses planned out over a two year span so students know when they’ll be available than to have it completely up in the air. This way, he believes, students have a visible path to continue on toward graduation, with the understanding that some exceptions can be made beyond the two-year plan.

“These are difficult times for the university, faculty and students,” said McDonnell. “It’s important that we work together cooperatively to serve the students in light of the budgetary constraints we are facing. I deeply appreciate the cooperation of faculty in best serving out students.”

Chronicling USM’s national media attention

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

The American Studies Association has launched a new website with a map featuring schools across the nation they believe serve as examples of “assaults on academic freedom.”  USM is on that list.

the ASA is citing USM’s most recent faculty layoffs and elimination of undergraduate and graduate programs as reasons for inclusion.

The project, which is considered ongoing, aims to document all the schools that violate academic freedom, cut departments and programs and participate in research surveillance. They also include schools that practice close policing of protests, especially ones that lead to violence and discrimination. The ASA have called upon the scholars, teachers, administrators and activists of America to pay attention to these troubling patterns in public higher education. So far there are 25 American universities on the online map. 

“We were already sensitive to the kinds of pressures that our colleagues [at USM] were working under,” said Matt Jacobson, former ASA president and acting director of public humanities at Yale. “We’ve been especially alert to situations where high-achieving programs were under threat.” 

According to the introduction on the website, the ASA hopes to call to attention these “crimes against education” and show that these situations are not isolated incidents. Jacobson said that USM’s decisions, like national ones made towards education, are guided by a narrow, utilitarian vision. 

“We hope to raise questions about our educational priorities as a society,” said Jacobson. 

 Immense budget gaps, mass layoffs and the shrinking or elimination of popular academic departments are all issues that are part of larger trends nationally. ASA, along with many other institutions’ blogs and publications, compare USM’s crisis with problems across the country, all of which can have potentially devastating consequences. 

“For the last 50 years there has been a tug-of-war between educators and non-educators for the soul of the American university. Educators are losing to politicians in some places and to corporate board members and regents in others,” said Jacobson. “Local struggles in this setting are most often cautionary tales about the power that non-educators have over educators.”

USM’s steady decline in enrollment and projected budget shortfalls have been documented for many years now. However, instances of USM’s future being discussed, through more national channels, has been relatively recent.

The first wave of attention USM received was back in March when former president Theo Kalikow announced the elimination of American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and humanities at Lewiston/Auburn and recreation and leisure studies. Soon following was the first in a series of layoffs or “retrenchments” of a dozen faculty members. Protests by the new founded campus group, Students for #USMFuture, were held and USM started to peak in the national higher education spotlight. 

The goals and activist initiative of the group prompted a note of support from renowned linguist, philosopher and cognitive scientist, Noam Chomsky, who wrote to theatre graduate, Caroline O’Connor, “Very glad to learn about what you’re doing. Badly needed. I hope you have good success.” The messages of concern and coverage of the protests and administrative decisions trickled in from sources like, Inside Higher Ed,  Naked Capitalism, Occasional Planet, Popular Resistance, The Real News, Aljazeera, Common Dreams, as well as every local media outlet. 

According to Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, everyone has the right to print what they want, but no national writers or bloggers have ever reached out to anybody within USM’s administration for a statement. 

“These national outlets and even in state, have not once contacted me or anyone within the administration, to get our perspective,” said Quint. “I’m sure if they had the opportunity to sit down and talk with us, and hear our plan for how we are making sure our university is financially viable. They would have a different opinion on how we’re doing things.”

Quint said that USM’s administration is in no way restricting anybody’s access to academic freedom. Quint makes decisions based on what is going to keep the university viable and be in the best interests of the students. 

“If they want to print whatever they want without actually talking to anyone, that’s their prerogative,” said Quint. “I can assure you that the president, the chancellor and the board of trustees have no intention of turning USM into some corporate entity.”

According to higher education commentators like New York Times writer Paul Krugman, USM’s story deserves more attention and is representative of problems in public education, like neoliberalism’s infiltration of educational institutions. 

Krugman wrote a short opinion piece and called USM’s fiscal situation an “ugly example” of how a school’s educational qualities can be degraded once valuable professors are fired and departments are gutted. Krugman also attributed sharply rising tuition and sharp cuts in state funding as factors in the financial problem. According to Krugman, USM’s administration is eager to downsize liberal arts and social sciences, which has direct educational consequences. 

Other writers, like Lambert Strether at “Naked Capitalism,” argue that USM, like many struggling public colleges, has become a microcosm of society at large, with top administrators representing the 1% who hold and delegate all the resources. Strether believes that greed and corruption have trickled down from the corporate and financial sector and has dominated some of America’s institutions of higher learning. USM’s administrators need to allocate the funds more strategically, or risk being accused of leading the school towards corporatization, which again is cited as a situation not unique to USM. 

Columnist Madonna Gauding at the Occasional Planet agrees and adds that in an educational environment where the administrators refer to the students as “customers,” where the school’s budget is being spent should be something everybody is keeping an eye on. 

Gauding hopes that the USM student and faculty protests spark a national movement that fights back against educational issues like tuition hikes, lack of funding and silencing of political dissent. 

“Students are being denied a more enriching educational experience,” said Gauding. “If we’re lucky, students will take over where Occupy Wall Street left off.”

“If we care about USM’s future and the future of public higher education, we need to stop flat funding our public universities,” said Dave Kerschner, a USM doctoral graduate. 

Regardless of where the specific source of USM’s budget deficit lies, one thing is for certain: schools are going through similar problems and using USM as an example of what can go wrong, when the administration is forced to cut faculty and programs. 

Lauren Besanko, a criminology graduate and local politician, said that she’d be surprised if USM wasn’t on the radar of players in the social justice and education arena. 

“USM’s story would fit right into the narratives on austerity and the war on education in America today,” said Besanko. 

According to Jacobson, the term austerity has become a buzzword for the easy gutting of values and programs that more Americans don’t want gutted, like a good education for young people. 

“The battle over USM cuts right to the bone of all of this,” said Jacobson. “We’re thinking that Maine will certainly be on our outlook.”

USM combines student services for savings

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

USM officials announced a plan to consolidate and centralize student services last Thursday, with aims to cut costs, recruit more students and increase retention.

Staff will begin to transition immediately, working to turn the efforts of 15 separate entities into a single, integrated division. The overall goal is to make student services easier to navigate for both enrolled and prospective students, as well as making sure all departments are on the same page.

Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, said that since he began working at USM this semester he’s heard students equate trying to access student success to a game of ping-pong.

“We found a lot of redundancy within the system,” said Quint. “There’s been no real theme, structure or strategic plan for recruiting and advising students for so long. And since there hasn’t been a plan, individuals across campus have taken it upon themselves to plan within their own department or office.”

Quint noted that most students are bounced between numerous outlets while enrolled, including general, major-specific and minor-specific advisors, and that the offices of undergraduate, graduate and professional and continuing education departments were all recruiting students separately.

“We need to constantly be talking to each other to make sure we’re all working toward the same goal,” said Quint.

Five advising positions and two administrative positions will be eliminated with the consolidation, but no one is being laid off. All but one position has been vacant and one administrator will be returning to a faculty position. Officials have launched a search for a vice president of enrollment management to lead the division.

The savings will amount in nearly half a million dollars after including the salary costs of the vice president position and will go directly toward USM’s projected fiscal year 16 deficit of $16 million.

The administration has repeatedly reported that dropping enrollment is a prominent factor in financial problems for the university and that this reorganization will likely help stop the drop.

“The charge of this new division is to more effectively serve students through one front door and to view all student service functions through the eyes of the student. We will eliminate the barriers that hinder our students’ ability to navigate their way to graduation,” read a letter from President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell sent to the USM community last week.

According to Quint, USM typically loses one third of its freshman class each year. To help reduce that rate, each student will be assigned a faculty and professional mentor when they enroll to help guide them through the ins and outs of university life and transition.

An office of career development and community engagement will also be created through centralizing resources, which will allow the university to better connect students with internships and careers with local businesses. Quint said that through meetings with local businesses, officials have found that they aren’t looking for interns at USM simply because they don’t know where to post job openings on a USM website.

“Again, it’s something that individual departments might do well across the campus, but something we need to pull together and do well as an institution,” Quint said. “We hear so often from government officials and non-profits that they need students, but just don’t know how to get them from USM, so they look elsewhere.”

Quint says the division will be complete, organized and running efficiently before next fall.

“The concept is great and we’ve planned it well, but now it’s time for that hard work,” said Quint. “We want to be the one’s to do it right and if we can, this can really transform the university.

USM Preservation Fund meets $10,000 goal

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

By: Annie Quandt

As of Friday, the USM Preservation Fund reached its $10,000 goal. The fundraiser, which was started last spring by the protest group Students for #USMFuture, has two initiatives: One is to fund an independent audit, the other is to provide legal counsel to students.

“The independent audit’s goal would be to shed some light on the finances. [We want to hire] someone who’s impartial and from the outside, an impartial accountant, to answer a lot of these questions in terms of how profitable are these programs that are being cut. Faculty that are being eliminated are bringing in a lot of revenue on a yearly basis,” said Meghan LaSala, senior women and gender studies major and student leader for the group.

LaSala discussed the importance of legal counsel, noting that the administration is still unable to tell students how they’ll be able to finish their degrees.

“They’re firing the only professors that have the training and credentials to offer these courses that students need to graduate,” said LaSala. “When students declare a major, that’s a legal contract with the university, that they are obligated to fulfill in terms of providing students the education they signed up for.”

MA’s in applied medical sciences and American and New England studies were both eliminated. BA’s in geosciences, French and the arts and humanities program at the Lewiston-Auburn campus were also cut. 

 “About 25 faculty were retrenched, and a lot of faculty chose early retirement, but not all those retirements were able to save other faculty positions, because if they weren’t in the programs being targeted by the administration, then junior faculty were still retrenched,” said LaSala. “We’ve lost five programs since the start of the semester, but many other programs are losing half of their faculty.”

LaSala believes these are cuts that will have a lasting impact on USM. 

“We’re losing our only tenured classics professor; we’re no longer going to be able to offer a class in the major,” LaSala said.

LaSala also noted the stress some faculty face with the cuts.

“The administration is arguing that senior faculty can just teach more classes but a lot of faculty are already teaching about four classes. It also completely undermines that faculty at public universities, half of their job is to do research and to include students in that process; it’s part of their job contract that they need to do research,” said LaSala. “Faculty that is teaching five courses a semester are not going to be able to do that kind of work.”

LaSala noted that the university is advocating for a shift toward more adjunct professors.

“They’ll just replace these positions with part-time positions, but those positions are underpaid, unstable,” said LaSala. “I know one adjunct professor that calls it her volunteer job. They don’t have an office. They don’t have the resources to support students the same way that tenured faculty do.”

Paul Nakroshis, a physics professor at USM, agrees that the course load put on other professors will be too much.

With a goal of reinstating transparency, sharing governance and advocating for state investment in USM, many have donated to the fund. Not only have professors donated, but LaSala says many alumni, students, families and members of the southern Maine community have also contributed to the fund.

Nakroshis explained that he donated because he believes the students are acting more intelligently than the university governing system.

LaSala emphasized that there’s still hope for USM.

“I think there was and is another path forward for USM. That is to stop this downward spiral train of cutting courses which is only going to make our declining enrollment worse and hurt our bottom line because we’re cutting faculty that are bringing in revenue for the University,” said LaSala “We need to slow this train down.”

“We shouldn’t let this supposed crisis moment define us as an institution,” said LaSala. “The region of southern Maine deserves a first-class institution, and we as a state can afford it.”

Student worries about value of her education

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

By: Brian Gordon

The University’s graduate degree program in American and New England Studies has been abolished as part of the cuts handed down by President David Flanagan and the board of trustees. No teach out plan has been available to students or faculty, leaving students wondering how they will finish their studies in the two years the administration is giving them. They are in the process of firing tenured professors and hiring adjunct or temporary workers in their place.

One of the students affected by the elimination of the program is Kimberly Clark, a Gray, Maine native who graduated from USM with a Media Studies degree in 2003. She returned to the school in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree in ANES but now finds herself wondering what kind of a degree she is getting and what the rest of her education will be like.

“I worry about the value of my education, moving forward,” said Clark. “It’s certainly going to be a different quality than what it would have been.”

Clark is taking one class a semester and has two classes left and two internships. She has opted not to try out the adjunct teachers because they might not be up to snuff. “I didn’t want to be a guinea pig for a new professor. I make choices based on who the professor is going to be.”

“I will finish within the two year allotment,” said Clark. “The question is the quality and losing my professors – and who is assigned to me now?”

A search on MaineStreet yields only two classes available to Clark both to be taught in room “TBA,” on days “TBA” and the teacher as “Staff.” 

These types of results don’t inspire confidence in Clark who even used her 401k earned from eight years of working at Time Warner Cable on her education at USM. She didn’t see it as a gamble at the time; it seemed to be a sure thing.

“I invested in my education. I invested in USM because I took that money out of my future,” said Clark. “I believed getting this education would improve my opportunities and my future.”

There was a meeting Tuesday the 11th about the future of the ANES program, but Clark was busy manning the Jumbotron of the Portland Pirates where she’s a technical director of camera operations for all home games. She was hoping to at least get an email about what happened to see if there was a plan.

“The admin and the BOT have no idea what these programs do,” said Clark. “If they did they would be thinking twice.”  

Clark doesn’t think the administration is considering the non-traditional structure of USM. She has high school teachers in her classes, who want to teach a specialized course in their classrooms. There’s also undergrads and non-matriculated students allowed to take courses in ANES program that don’t receive a master’s degree.

“This university is not about just a degree. It’s about an education,” said Clark. “Education doesn’t equal degree. It’s that narrow minded thinking that’s killing the university.”

It was almost five years ago that Clark took an archeology class with Professor Nathan Hamilton who now teaches at the Muskie school. That class got her interested in ANES and Hamilton nudged her into it. Clark was hesitant after being out of school for seven years but took to the program and was glad she did.

The public history and culture track Clark is a part of focuses less on writing and getting a Ph.D later and more about how to present history to the public. Most people get jobs working at a historical site or a museum. Clark notes many graduates are working at area museums, educating people on local history, including the Victoria Mansion, the Scott Dyer Museum in Saco and The Maine State Museum has curators that went through the program.

Right now Clark also works at Maine Irish Heritage Center. She sees her American and New England Studies program being vital to understanding the Yankee identity and the diversity in the region.

“I don’t like feeling powerless about it and I don’t like seeing this program being eliminated.  I’m really so sorry for the future students that won’t have the opportunity to take classes with these professors,” said Clark. “They won’t have the same opportunity that I had.”

Transfer students unaware of budget crisis

USM Free Press News Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 12:02

Students visiting USM for an adult, transfer and graduate student open house last week mainly described themselves as being excited to come to the university, but most were completely unaware of any of the program eliminations that have occurred this semester. 

Josh Grassman, hoping to transfer to USM from Sienna College after a hiatus of a few years, was a classics major but will be transferring into the communication program.

Though he is switching majors, he described his feelings as “hurt” after learning about the eliminations of the program he once belonged to.

“I took a couple courses in classics last spring,” said Grassman. “I probably would’ve tried to take more classes if the program wasn’t cut.”

He explained that, although the cuts are saddening, as an outsider he can’t look at USM and criticize.

“Pretty soon my wallet will be a factor and my opinion will matter,” said Grassman. “I can’t complain if I’m not part of the system.”

Tiffany Hart, a student at the University of Maine Orono from 1994-1998 is coming to USM to finish her degree in construction management. She believes that in order for USM to grow as an institution, people need to enroll — not be scared off by the financial crisis.

“If USM is going to get out of it [financial crisis] they need the student numbers,” said Hart. “I’m doing my part to keep my community alive. Maine isn’t going to do well if we don’t have young professionals.”

Lyna Vladimiroff, a California native, was unaware of the eliminations that have taken place over the past two months. As a humanities major, her program was cut just a few months ago.

“Oh my god,” said Vladimiroff. “I had no idea.”

Vladimiroff hasn’t been in school for over 20 years, and has always dreamed of attending USM. She will be the first in her family to go to college.

“I think it [eliminations] are horrible,” said Vladimiroff. “It’s so impish. A lot of people can’t talk to people. They don’t know how. Arts and humanities are so important.”

She described the cuts as “detrimental,” but explained that they do not turn her away from attending USM.

In all three instances, Grassman, Hart and Vladimiroff spoke of the convenience of having a public university so close to their homes.

“It’s just easy to get to,” said Hart.

For many students, seeking an education at a different university is out of the question. Given USM’s non-traditional presence, most students have jobs and, in some cases, families that they cannot uproot to move away.

Bonnie Stearns, director of student services in the college of science, technology and health said that no students have contacted her about applied medical sciences and geosciences, the eliminated programs in her department.

“We are the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] college and that’s to our benefit,” said Stearns. “It’s unfortunate that we’re losing these amazing programs, but it’s still a robust school. STEM majors are going strong.”

All four agree that, regardless of the financial circumstances USM is facing, it’s important to move forward and look to the future, rather than focus on the negativity of the past.

“We’re supporting the programs we have while supporting our AMS and geosciences faculty and students,” said Stearns. “That’s all we really can do right now.”

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