Though the retrenchments and position discontinuances that were announced last March have since been rescinded, the process by which faculty members were selected for layoffs is still seen as unclear.
One of the reasons that understanding the process is important, according to Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is that if, as President Kalikow has said is possible, the university enacts another series of faculty cuts in the fall, those cuts will have to follow the same criteria as the last, since those criteria are outlined in the faculty union contract.
Last week, Kuzma explained to the Free Press what those criteria are. “I had to get a crash course in it because the retrenchments were mostly in my college,” she said.
At the time of the retrenchments, the term heard the most often was “last hired, first fired,” which Kuzma said was true after a certain point, although certain other considerations complicated the absoluteness of that rule. The Provost’s office identified departments with a high faculty-to-student ratio, and within those departments they looked at faculty reductions proportional to the faculty-to-student ratio.
Faculty were then divided into categories listed in Article 17 of the faculty union contract, determined by how many years faculty members had been employed at USM, divided by three year increments.
There were, however, a series of other considerations detailed in the faculty union contract, including faculty members’ individual qualifications, the departmental needs for those faculty members’ areas of specialization, and a priority toward minimizing any effects detracting from affirmative action.
These considerations, rather than rumored “deals” alluded to in a short series of Free Press live tweets, are the reason “last hired, first fired,” was not the only rule determining faculty cuts.
The Free Press reached out to Provost Michael Stevenson, who Kuzma credited with the retrenchment and discontinuance decisions, and from whom she said she had received her information on the process. When asked about the criteria for faculty cuts, the timeline for that process, the source of his information about what constituted “departmental need,” and what’s next now that the retrenchments have been rescinded, Stevenson responded to the Free Press in an email, “Having given your questions some serious thought, I think there may be other discussions that might be more beneficial.” He then suggested that next week would be a good time for these discussions.
“The idea was that, ‘are people taking deals to save their jobs?’ And the answer to that was ‘absolutely not,’” Kuzma said.
According to Kuzma, in only one degree program did the provost need to make a judgement call between two faculty members who began working at USM at the same time. In that case, both faculty members teach the same category of classes, constituting the same departmental need.
Those two faculty members were English Professor John Muthyala and Associate English Professor Deepika Marya. The Free Press approached both Marya and Muthyala for comment, and neither replied by press time.
According to Kuzma, since the two both teach postcolonial studies in the English department, the two remaining considerations were individual qualifications and the effects on affirmative action.
“They’re both Indian, from India. John is a full professor, Deepika is not,” Kuzma said.
Because of this, she said, qualifications rather than affirmative action were the relevant consideration, and Muthyala was selected not to be retrenched. “The explanation given to me [by Provost Stevenson] was that he was a full professor, and he outranked her,” Kuzma said.
She acknowledged that another consideration related to affirmative action could be gender, and that there has been criticism that a disproportionate number of faculty who were selected for retrenchment were women. However, she said, unlike many other departments, more than half of the English department faculty members are women.
“In this case, her status as a woman, if more than 50 percent of the faculty are women, does not override the issue of qualification,” she said.
The time has come again, after more than a decade, for the USM honors program to be reviewed, and according to program director Nancy Artz, the timing is right.
“It would be fair to say that USM’s fiscal reality in recent years and future budget projections affected the timing of the review,” she said. The honors program would have been affected during the recent retrenchment, with the layoff of Professor Kaitlin Briggs. With the recent reversal of the faculty cuts, Briggs will stay on, but Administrative Specialist and Office Coordinator Nan Bragg will still be laid-off after May.
According to Artz, funding for the program has been shrinking for the past few years, even though she believes the program could successfully expand if additional funding were available because of strong student interest in the courses. Fifty-seven incoming students for the fall have signed up for priority registration in one of the program’s four entry-year experience courses, Artz said. In total, they plan to enroll 62 students in the EYE courses. “In other words, our EYE sections are more or less full before registration has even started,” she said.
“If we had more funds, we could offer more sections,” Artz said. However she, like the honors students in attendance on Thursday, were optimistic that changes in the program would not hinder its future success. “The budget is sufficient to deliver our required courses and remain a vibrant community,” Artz said.
A small group of honors students met in Hastings Hall on Thursday to discuss the program with three external reviewers who will submit a report on the program in May. The review, which started in September, is aimed at improving the program through self-analysis and ensuring accountability to stakeholders.
Artz explained that another goal of the study is to try to better understand how much money the program brings in at USM and how much it costs. As Artz explained, the honors program is uniquely structured, making it difficult to quantify its success. Reviewers will use student surveys to understand how many students cite honors as a reason to come to USM and stay at USM. They will also talk about how honors faculty are funded, as the honors faculty are all within other departments.
Program review is required periodically by USM’s accrediting body, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and by the University of Maine System, Artz explained.
Bragg’s position was added to the program at a time when USM wanted to expand the program, but that expansion, Artz explained, never happened, so it has been relatively well-staff compared to other similar honors programs. “Nan has been wonderful at fostering a sense of community and supporting individual students in myriad ways, so the elimination of the position is clearly a loss for the program,” Artz said. “That said, comparable programs function just fine with one support staff member rather than two, so we can too.”
Assistant Director of the program Bethany Round also transferred to Student Success this semester. A search has already begun to fill the position, but with Bragg gone, the position will consolidate the two support staff positions.
“This…[position] is more important than ever now that we’ve gone from two support staff lines to one,” Artz said.
In fiscal year 2013, 106 students were enrolled in honors courses and 123 seats were filled with some students enrolling in multiple courses, though relatively few students complete an honors thesis –– four to eight students have done so over the last four years, Artz explained.
“Because we are not a degree-granting program and because we encourage students to ‘sample a course’ … the concept of ‘completing’ the program isn’t as meaningful as ‘completing’ a degree program,” Artz said.
Students at Thursday’s meeting highly praised the program as a unique and enriching experience and said that they were confident the program would succeed despite its loss this semester. “I think the biggest thing will be losing the presence in the office,” said honors student and sophomore economics major Kyle Robinson.
Freshman honors student and health science major Collin Skilling added that he was confident that despite the loss of Bragg, the program would continue to provide an active learning community for students. “It’s a strong program,” he said.
“We’ve already told students that they need to take greater responsibility for maintaining our learning community,” Artz said, and a number of the students at Thursday’s meeting seemed ready to help out. They have already started work on creating a peer mentorship program to help incoming honors students.
“In the dozen years since our last review in 2001, the honors program has changed considerably, as has the institution’s fiscal reality,” Artz said. “The time is ripe to reflect on the current state of the program and consider new models of honors education.”
Brendan Butler is first year student with a lot going on.
He has not yet declared a major, but is already a member of the Phi Mu Delta fraternity, is a part of two bands, and has participated in many shows and community service activities. He has aspirations to make changes at USM and wants to create a place where all students, commuters or residential, can enjoy their college experience to it’s full potential.
“I want to make an impact on USM to make it a more cohesive community. I want it so even if you commute to the school, it’s going to feel homey,” said Butler. He decided to attend USM because he felt it would allow him to play music, make connections and be a member of a good community.
Butler is the head of the committee in charge of the Dance Marathon, a first time Phi Mu Delta event. It’s scheduled to take place at the Costello Fitness Center in Gorham next semester the night of Nov. 8. “I am focused on making the dance marathon successful and hopefully make it a hallmark for USM,” said Butler. He plans on making it a big event, bringing in more than just the students in the dorms.
Since Butler is a commuter student himself, he said he feels as though everyone should be able to have an equally enjoyable experience at USM. He believes that since USM is such a large commuter school, it is harder to meet people and make friends. Butler was introduced to Phi Mu Delta at orientation and got to know some of the leaders and was able to join the fraternity. When asked why he decided to join a fraternity, he said, “I wanted something that connected me a little.” He met a lot of people, and made a lot of friends, and he credits that to the fraternity.
Butler is also in two bands, Pinebrook and Thingamajig, in which he has performed more times than he was able to recall and has volunteered to play for free at various events. He will be involved in many shows over the summer and is extremely dedicated to the bands.
During all this, he is still a full time student at USM with a plan to possibly double major in political science and sociology. He plans to positively impact USM by making it a more involved and inviting community for all students.
The Phi Mu Delta fraternity and University Neighborhood Organization co-hosted a cleanup of Longfellow Park with a block party to follow in the hope that the events will bring USM and its neighbors in Portland together.
Phi Mu Delta, which only formed in 2012, also hopes that the event will help establish them within USM. “It … helps get our name out there and show that we are here and we mean business,” said Phi Mu Delta Community Service Chair Gabe Weeden. “Phi Mu Delta is here to help and willing to work with several different organizations on a wide variety of community events.”
The volunteers at Friday’s event cleaned up the park, raked and mulched. “We still have a lot to do, but it’s great to be working with the students here,” said city council member Ed Suslovic, who came to help in the cleanup.
This is the second year that the organization, which is a group founded in 2006 to help the Portland community and the universities in it connect and understand each other better, teamed up with Phi Mu Delta to clean up the park. This year they are adding a community block party on May 3, and the block party will feature USM performers.
“One of the reasons I joined [the fraternity] was because we did this last year and all of the neighborhood kids came out and started to help. It was really fun,” said Phi Mu Delta member and junior Ryan Jordan. “It’s great to see the community helping out again.”
Last year, the fraternity cleaned up the park as part of the USM Day of Service but for this year, Phi Mu Delta has been taking the lead in managing the event by going to planning meetings and helping the University Neighborhood Organization with every aspect of the event from marketing and artwork to their social media presence.
“We love working with Phi Mu Delta Fraternity. They are a dynamic group of hard working young men,” said University Neighborhood Organization president Carol Schiller. “We’re very impressed with their initiative and drive to get involved and make good things happen.”
“Portland, USM and university neighborhoods are lucky to have such talented, professional and thoughtful young people that care and want to make a difference.” said Schiller
USM performers at the block party include the USM Dance team and the band Thingamajig featuring Phi Mu Delta brother Brendan Butler.
The USM New Sorority Interest Group and Circle K volunteers are also helping to organize this year’s events, and several community partners are sponsoring it, including the Shipyard Brewing Company (which will donate Capt’n Eli’s soda), Leonardo’s Pizza, Key Bank and Minuteman Press.
The University Neighborhood Organization is also advocating that Portland dub the area between Stevens avenue and Bedford street the education district. “This would be a big boost to USM and UNE’s ability to brand and market their institutions and this area,” said Schiller.
With the cleanups done on Friday, the volunteers are already preparing for the next event. “The May 3rd Block Party is a time for everyone to come outside and celebrate spring, have a slice of Leonardo’s pizza, try Capt’n Eli’s hand crafted sodas, listen to Thingamajig music, watch the USM dancers, join the bike parade, play games, explore the PPL Bookmobile, pick up a free Key Bank coloring book, meet your neighbors and enjoy the day,” said Schiller.
Come next semester, Dickey Wood Hall will be entirely offline to students. Due to a combination of low on-campus enrollment and the unpopularity of the towers, they will remain empty during the next school year and possibly beyond.
“We’ve made this decision for now, but we’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen in the future,” said Executive Director of Student Life Joy Pufhal.
Pufhal said that keeping the towers empty will save the university roughly $170,000 through saved expenses on maintenance, heat, electric, staff and other operating costs. She also said the towers would cost $2 million to demolish and that renovating it would essentially cost more than building an entirely new building elsewhere.
Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell said that with current enrollment projections, the towers simply won’t be necessary. The campus had about 1,500 rooms in 2011, he said, and enrollment that year didn’t come close to filling those available spaces. This year USM officials predicted that there will be 1,066 students on campus next year, said Campbell. He explained that that number of students could be housed next year without using Dickey-Wood.
Pufhal echoed him. “I’m confident we can accommodate the student need for housing with the remaining six residence halls,” said Pufhal.
The closure of Dickey-Wood was one of the most common cost-saving recommendations to come out of the Direction Package Advisory Board work, but both Pufhal and Campbell said that it wasn’t entirely a cost-based decision. They both said the student experience will be changed for the better with this decision.
“The community will benefit from consolidating students,” said Pufhal. “We want to help create a more vibrant community in a more modern space.”
This past year each floor in Wood tower was occupied, but only the second floor of Dickey tower was used. There are 368 beds available in Dickey-Wood. During the 2012-13 school year only 229 of those were occupied and that number has dropped to 158 in the past year.
“We don’t usually see returning students go for the towers,” said Director of Gorham student life Jason Saucier. “More often they go for singles.”
Pufhal said that the empty rooms throughout the towers were not building any sort of community among the residents and that she felt there were a lot of students isolated because of it.
“I think of the students who stay there during breaks and have their few floormates leave,” said Pufhal. “We don’t want any student to have to feel that way. We want them to know they’re in a community where they’ll always have someone.”
Because of the way the towers are designed there are less rooms on each floor in comparison to other dorms on campus. Pufhal also said that the towers, which were built in the ‘70s, are run down and that she would want students to be in some of the campus’s newer buildings.
“That’s not one of the great construction eras, to put it mildly,” said Campbell about when the towers were built.
The towers are currently home to three living-learning communities including The Rainbow floor, which is dedicated to an LGBTQA community, a quiet floor and the Southern Main Outdoor Recreation group floor. According to Saucier, the Rainbow floor will be moved to Philippi Hall, the quiet floor to Anderson Hall and the location of SMOR is currently up for suggestions.
“I think this will, in the end, given students a stronger sense of community on campus,” said Pufhal.
Sidney Dritz contributed to this article.
One of USM’s most prestigious pieces of architecture may have reached the point where it’s more trouble than it’s worth to the university, according to a recent University of Maine System maintenance report.
When President Kalikow announced her first round of proposed cuts in February, one of the considered cuts was the Stone House, home of the Stonecoast MFA program for creative writing, the Stonecoast Writers’ Conference and a Book Arts Conference directed by Rebecca Goodale each summer.
According to Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell, the Stonehouse costs significantly more money than it brings in.
“The Stone House and the MFA program are two different things,” said Campbell in an interview with the Free Press last week. “You could have those at another location.”
English Professor Nancy Gish, who directed the Provost’s Writing Seminar at the Stone House for thirteen of the program’s fourteen years, has a different perspective that relates to the importance of the Stone House for the programs it houses. “In my judgement, it was one of the most important parts of the [Provost’s Writing Seminar] program,” Gish said of the house.
2013 Stone Coast MFA graduate Karla Fossett agreed. “I think that the program relies on the house –– the house is where everything happens,” Fossett said.
The Stone House, which was designed by John Calvin Stevens in 1918, is one of the oldest buildings owned by USM, and was, at the time that the UMaine system commissioned a report on building conditions from Sightline, which was delivered in January, 2014, one of three buildings with the highest deferred maintenance and renovation costs per square foot.
The report, said Campbell, was presented before last summer’s series of renovations, making the Stone House the property with the most outstanding costs required to maintain it.
“The Maine system has an aging campuses [sic] with more space in high risk categories than peers. This means that life cycles of many building components are at or past their useful life,” read the Sightlines report, compiled by Jim Kadamus and Emily Morton.
Fossett cited the house’s historical nature and atmosphere as assets to the program. “I always felt really lucky to be able to work in this place that has such historical significance,” she said.
Fossett also described the Stone House as the heart of the MFA program, and explained that students taking part in the program live and do most of their work in various locations, often from a distance, and that the natural beauty and isolation of the location creates an important atmosphere during the workshop periods where the students are together.
Amanda Pleau, another recent Stone Coast graduate, said something similar. “it’s a little bit lonely,” she said of the scattered nature of the students between workshops, “but then we get to the residency and it’s like summer camp.”
According to Campbell, discussions are underway about what to do with the property. “It could be on a historical register, it’s not now,” said Campbell. He said the building might be sold, or converted to a different use by a new owner.
“There are times you might not sell it for a profit as much as for eliminating the cost of using it,” said Campbell. According to Campbell, the cost of operating the Stone House comes to $45,000 per year on top of the money the university receives from the programs which use it. This cost is the minimum needed for limited use, and does not include deferred maintenance costs, including repairs to the sewage system, well and water system, slate roofs, boilers and heating, and the hazardous abatement material necessary to make those repairs. There are also costs associated with meeting various codes the Stone House currently does not meet, like electric codes and ADA compliance.
“We’re fighting it,” said current Stone Coast MFA program director Justin Tussing. Tussing told the Free Press he has attended meetings with the president, the provost and Dean Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
When asked about the maintenance costs, Tussing said, “From where I’m standing I don’t think that it’s necessary to do that all at once, but I don’t think administration see the numbers in the same way I do.”
Tussing suggested that one way to bridge the gap between the money brought in by the Stone House and the costs required to maintain it would be to reach out to other groups in the area to share the space and form creative partnerships.
“We’re really problem solving right now, but I’m encouraged, frankly, with how responsive Theo and Michael have been,” Tussing said.
When asked when a conclusion about the fate of the Stone House might be reached, Campbell said, “I would hope we would make some decisions in the next few months.”
After 23 years of controlling student activity fee funding for student groups, the Board of Student Organizations may be stripped of its financial responsibilities, putting that power back into the hands of the Student Senate exclusively.
According to Student Senate chair Joshua Dodge, the BSO was originally developed so that the senate wouldn’t be overwhelmed by financial proposals and funding requests from student groups, but that it no longer functions properly.
“I think we can all agree that the BSO is a broken system,” said Dodge during a BSO advisory group last Tuesday.
A senate resolution was brought before the BSO on Friday, April 11 titled “Dissolving the Board of Student Organizations” so that senators sponsoring the resolution could get feedback. After the Friday meeting, Dodge said that while he supported the resolution initially, there was an overwhelming opposition from BSO members when the resolution was announced, and he didn’t feel comfortable going forward with it as it stood on Friday.
“I’m student-elected, so I don’t feel comfortable supporting something that the students don’t,” said Dodge.
Student Body President Kyle Frazier openly disagreed with Dodge, saying that there were a few students who spoke out, but the majority of the BSO didn’t say anything at all.
“I don’t think we should let this go just because a few people don’t agree with it,” said Frazier.
The resolution, drafted by the senate’s constitutional review committee, called on other senators to recognize the “ineffective and inefficient nature” of the BSO, citing low attendance, meetings that were not “a pleasure” to attend and a lack of fiscal scrutiny as reasons why the BSO should be dissolved.
“[The BSO] hardly looks at proposals,” said Frazier. “BSO spends and spends and spends and then they come back to the senate for more money at the end of the year. It’s irresponsible. When I spend my money, I run out of money and that’s that.”
The recommendation to dissolve the BSO and the four stipended executive board positions are introduced in the resolution as “the groundbreaking ideas of Kyle Frazier.”
According to Director of Student Life Christopher O’Connor, the Student Government Association has had a healthy unallocated fund at the end of the semester in the past four years or so, so the BSO running out of funds and returning to the senate has never been a problem. But this year the SGA was forced to cut its budget due to low enrollment at the university, and they’re planning on being more conservative with funding.”
“I purposefully didn’t go to the emergency meeting because I wanted to make sure it was student-driven,” said O’Connor. “There’s a lot to think about with this move –– the big thing being fiscal responsibility, obviously. That’s something I know everyone wants to help out with.”
Finances aside, the BSO has had trouble filling seats at meetings this past year. BSO Chair Katie Belgard cited lack of attendance as the primary reason for BSO inefficiency. The BSO needs a minimum of 28 of its 56 recognized student groups to be in attendance for the board to make quorum and be able to vote on executive issues, and it’s been difficult to get students to attend the monthly meetings.
“If we don’t have the voices of the student body, we can’t vote, and we can’t do business,” said Belgard.
When Belgard emailed a poll to all recognized student groups to see when they could meet to discuss changes, she received fewer than 28 responses.
According to Belgard, no student has come forward yet to fill the chair position for the BSO after she graduates this spring. If no one steps up to the plate, student senate has to appoint leaders in the BSO.
“It’s not working, and it’s our [the senate’s] responsibility to fix it. No one wants to run it, so why should we have it?” said Frazier.
Right now members of the senate and the BSO executive board are thinking of ways to keep the BSO, but also redeveloping the group’s purpose. One possibility discussed on Tuesday was to fold all financial responsibilities back into the senate’s purview so the BSO can focus more on group organization, working with the Leadership Development Board to teach student groups about fundraising, public relations and gaining new members. The BSO would still exists, but have different responsibilities. With the recent turnover of student senators, no action was taken on this issue at last week’s student senate meeting.
“We want this to be a collaborative process,” said Dodge.
Dodge announced at last Friday’s student senate meeting that the BSO will be in a transition period and that deciding the next steps will be one of the first duties of the newly elected 43rd student senate.
As a university news source, the Free Press tries to do a few different things. The ones that are the most relevant to our day to day work for publication are to cover news for and about the USM population more closely than community news outlets and to be a showcase for student work, but underneath those more obvious concerns, there is always the goal to be a publication of record for the university.
When something big happens, like the faculty retrenchments of the previous few weeks, and the retraction of those retrenchments last Friday, we don’t want to just cover the big, dramatic events. We want to have been covering them all along so that when those major developments happen, our readers can flip through our archives or the back pages of our website and see how we, as a university, got to where we are.
Up to a point, we’ve been successful in creating a record of events as they’ve unfolded, but we think there is another aspect to creating this record, and that is not just to store the information we’ve compiled, but to use it well. To that end, we’ve spent this week exploring our own archives, ten six-inch-thick volumes of newsprint dating from 1967 to the present.
In that exploration, we’ve found a series of events that took place in the middle of the 1970s that gave us a dizzying sense of deja vu following events at USM over the course of the past month. From the headlines, it seemed as though history was repeating itself, so we decided to take a closer look.
In 1976, as in 2014, a look at the Free Press shows that students reacted with outrage when more than ten faculty members were cut from the university as a cost savings measure. Nearly 30 years apart, students at USM students protested cuts made by their administrations, the Student Senate passed a resolution in support of the faculty, students from the University of Maine at Orono expressed their support for USM (then called University of Maine at Portland-Gorham). Then, like now, students traveled to Augusta to make their displeasure known, and then, like last Friday, the retrenched faculty members were hired back.
The important thing about these parallels isn’t just the mirroring, though. It is the fact that this institution is facing the same problems it faced before. These cycles point to the proposed solutions ––the same ones were proposed in 76 as now –– and indicate that the solutions didn’t work in the long-term.
The faculty cuts in February 1976 were preceded and lead up to in the Free Press, by articles chronicling student dissatisfaction with the budget for 1975-76, in which a decrease in state funding lowered from $90.1 million to $70.1 million.
A lack of adjustment for inflation and changes in the economy in the apportioning of state funding for public higher education compounded with rising costs and falling enrollments today has been cited numerous times as one of the reasons that cuts to the USM budget are increasingly necessary.
In contrast to the University of Maine system’s current promise to the state to freeze tuition, however, the 1975-76 budget decrease came in spite of a series of tuition hikes. First, in April of 1974, UMPG tuition rose by $150, a full 16 percent. Then, in Feb. 1976, the Board of Trustees instituted a $100 increase in tuition throughout the University of Maine schools, in deference to a state-wide budget situation, raising UMPG tuition to $600 per year.
Freeman also instituted a system-wide freeze on hiring and replacing faculty who left the universities without Board of Trustees approval. While Chancellor Page has not instituted a system-wide hiring freeze, USM has been under one instituted by Provost Michael Stevenson for the past year.
The UMPG Student Senate in 1976 were asked for official recommendations for where UMPG budget cut of 10 percent of its budget should fall in late January.
“The senators did accept the task [of giving recommendations about where cuts should fall to have the least negative effect on the student experience] and the one prevalent notion was: the last thing that should be considered for elimination would be academics, even at the expense of student services,” wrote Free Press reporter Eric A. Pippert in “The Senate Hour: Two For The Price of One” on the front page of the January 27, 1976 issue of the Free Press.
Senate recommendations earmarked athletics, transportation, academic chair stipends and police and safety as areas for possible cost reduction. Academic departments were listed as a last resort for cuts.
“What will happen to the quality of an academic program if the teachers know that in four years their programs will be phased out of existence?” Pippert recorded the senate as wondering.
While the USM Student Senate of 2014 made no official recommendations to the administration before they began enacting faculty and staff cuts, the senate expressed their sentiments by calling an emergency meeting and voting no confidence in the President’s Council the weekend following the 12 faculty retrenchments.
When Kailkow presented Direction Package in early November this year, she expressed an interest in gathering student feedback on where cuts should fall by reaching out through the student senate. However, most of the gathering of perspectives following the roll-out came from the Direction Package board and in individual comments made on the Direction Package website. It is unclear what impact either source of feedback had on the eventual decision, although the recommendations of the board were more public than the website comments, which were never made visible to the public.
The only student to consistently attend and contribute to the conclusions of the Direction Package Advisory Board was Student Body President Kelsea Dunham.
The ‘76 Student Senate’s recommendations, however, seem to have had little effect. Despite their insistence that faculty should only be cut as a last resort, in February 1976, UMPG President N. Edd Miller announced that he would send pink slips firing all 16 first year faculty members the following month as the first wave of cuts.
Further cuts, including program, followed throughout the next year. In February, 1977, the Student Senate approved funds to bus students to Augusta to watch the state funding hearings for the 1978-79 budget.
“Most observers agree that the legislature is more favorably disposed towards the university than it has been in the recent past,” wrote Neil Genzlinger in the Feb. 1, 1977 issue of the Free Press.
At the beginning of March, 1977, first and second year faculty who had been sent termination notices were all rehired. “President N. Edd Miller apologized for the termination notices and emphasized that finances were the only reason for the action,” reported David Solomon in the March 1 issue.
In the same issue, the Free Press reprinted a recommendation document of proposed solution for the university as an alternative to faculty cuts which were in the process of being reversed. The proposal for the future of UMPG was compiled by three committees of faculty and staff, and including two students, who focused on the three specific areas of Long Range Planning, Administrative Organization and budget in weekly meetings.
The focus of the three committees bears a resemblance to the focus of the Direction Package Advisory Board, the three committees of which were Vision/Identity, Academic Review and Cost Reduction/Efficiency improvement, though the 1976 committees met and assembled their recommendations in the tail end of the resolution of the faculty cuts, rather than the lead up to them.
Both sought to define a clear place for USM/UMPG within the University of Maine System and the communities it is a part of, and both hoped to make more concrete recommendations than previous groups that had tried to define the university’s future. UMPG’s plan for the future detailed the universally agreed upon need for the school to become what the document calls a “regional university center.” Their definition of a “regional university center,” with its symbiotic relationships with the city and town it is located in, and its focus on providing a comprehensive education for those environments, sounds eerily similar to the Direction Package Advisory Board’s focus on an “urban comprehensive university.”
Committees eventually determined that, after presenting their recommendations, the next step would ultimately be out of their hands.
While events at USM this year have taken place on a shorter timeframe, the rhetoric surrounding both the cuts and negative reactions to the cuts are similar, and so are the recommendations made for how to move the university forward.
“‘We are proud of our belt-tightening efforts.’ Chancellor Patrick McCarthy said, ‘But we have cut back as far as we can without jeopardizing quality,’ although Gov. Longley has continued to eye the State University system as laden with ‘fat,’” wrote Herb Adams in “… And Trimming the Bare Bones Budget,” on Feb. 3, 1976, in the midst of those cuts and budget crisis. USM’s administrators approach the current financial crisis with similar comments.
The current UMS chancellor James Page said something similar in December last year about system cuts. “‘We have to look at everything,’ Page said, when asked what other solutions there may be going forward. ‘I can’t think of any sacred cows,’ he said.”
The problem at the root of USM’s decade-long history with budget deficits that some long-time USM faculty members identify is a lack of funding for a university that in 1970, after taking on more property and facilities in merging with Gorham College, was underfunded from the beginning.
“I don’t think that we were ever adequately funded,” said distinguished Professor Mark Lapping on the Muskie School of Public Service to the Free Press in November, after the Direction Package roll-out. But nearly forty years later, he said, the situation is entirely different. “We’re not cutting any fat. That went away years ago. We’re now cutting into the bone,” he added.
The metaphors for the problem have stayed the same since the ‘70s. The question is whether the proposed solutions should stay the same, too.
Kirsten Sylvain and Sam Hill contributed to this article.
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.