The Faculty Senate was set to spend last week’s meeting discussing a report from the Metropolitan University Steering Group, but after reports from President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell, the rest of the meeting was spent on topics that weren’t on the agenda: this year’s budget deficit, program eliminations and how to combat dropping enrollment.
The faculty seemed concerned about a timeline for USM and how quickly the university will have to make changes to address the budget issues that have lingered for so long.
“It’s mid-September, and I just got an email from the Provost’s office saying that we still need to have discussions,” said Rachel Bouvier, professor of economics. “It strains credibility in my mind that we have to act in six weeks, maybe less. It concerns me that this process is going to be grossly mismanaged, or that those decisions have already been made, and we’re asking for participation and it’s not going anywhere.”
Flanagan started his address to the faculty by mentioning a report done by Clayton Christensen, a Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, which indicated that the bottom 25% of every tier of struggling colleges and universities will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years.
“We have two goals,” Flanagan said. “To make sure USM is not one of the 25% of colleges going out of business, and to continue to provide affordable public education that is accessible to Maine residents.”
Flanagan suggested USM mimic the University of Maine at Fort Kent, lowering out-of-state tuition, to hopefully bring in more full-time enrollment, saying that he thinks the price for out-of-state students is counterproductive. If USM has lower costs for out-of-state students, more seats could be filled.
“[We’re] making money, by offering a lower price, but one that still cover costs,” said Flanagan. “We’re thinking along the same lines of how can we do a better job at marketing our product.”
Mark Lapping, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service, indicated that the board of trustees have said that anyone within a 50-mile radius of any University of Maine System school could be charged in-state tuition, including those in New Hampshire.
“New Hampshire has only one public engineering school. We could be New Hampshire’s second engineering school. We could be New Hampshire’s nursing school. The only competing programs would be University of New Hampshire,” said Lapping. “Our farthest west point of one of our campuses is in Gorham and a 50-mile radius from that point takes in a good deal of New Hampshire. That would mean that a New Hampshire student would be charged Maine tuition in our programs if we attempted to institute the board allowance.”
In response, Flanagan acknowledged that New Hampshire is a very serious threat. UNH is discounting its out-of-state rates down to Maine in-state rates.
“When we talk about recruiting from other states, we should take care in what we recruit for,” said Flanagan. “If we have a standard across-the-board discounted price, that’s not necessarily going to help solve our problem. We need to be more targeted in the kinds of students we look for so we can compete in price and compete in a way that will marginalize revenue and will exceed our marginal costs.”
Joseph Medley, professor of economics, asked how many empty seats programs have, and where they specifically were. McDonnell didn’t give specifics, but said “a number of classes.”
“Please find out where the empty seats are as a starting point,” said Medley. “I’m not hearing that you know. How can we have an enrollment problem when the seats aren’t there for students to fill? What I’m underlining for you is that if you don’t know where the empty seats are, you don’t know what to cut.”
Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies, had looked into the number of classes offered every year and reported that information at the meeting.
“In fall 2010, USM offered 2,123 separate classes,” said Feiner. “In fall 2013, 2,076 classes. This semester we have 1,891 classes. We are down 232 classes compared to fall 2010. From the anecdotal evidence, the classes that are not being offered are classes that were full the last time they were offered.”
Provost McDonnell reported a few different paths USM could take. The Academic Portfolio Review and Integration Process (APRIP) committee was designed to imagine the university system as a whole, rather than as seven distinct universities. It identified programs which they thought would be good programs to connect: nursing, recreation, business, engineering, marine science, history, education and humanities.
One way the system could do this would be to offer programs exclusively online for a major, or for one university in the system to be the host of a program that offers face-to-face classes while the other universities only offer the classes online. Lastly, he mentioned that one could imagine a hybrid where some classes are offered online and others in the classroom setting.
Lucinda Cole, director of women and gender studies and associate professor of English, expressed concern and indicated that many faculty feel that the aforementioned options are putting the system at great risk.
“The issue of these statewide degrees seems good, but I’m wondering if this experiment that we’re conducting will undermine radically the prestige of the university system,” said Cole. “People won’t want to pay for online classes the amount they do for face-to-face.”
“Online might be one option, but when we think about it, there are only so many options,” said McDonnell. “Moving faculty. Closing campuses. I don’t think we’re at the point of exploring all of them.”
Nancy Richeson, professor of recreation and leisure studies, explained that there are things that you simply can’t learn online.
“How do you identify where online and non face-to-face learning can be done?” Richeson asked. “Probably you wouldn’t want to have neurosurgery by someone who learned to be a surgeon online. My point was not that online can’t happen, it’s that where and when.”
Flanagan welcomed a timeline to enact by fiscal year 2016 and ended the meeting by proclaiming that his vision for USM is “financial sustainability.”
Lydia Savage, professor of geography, rebutted.
Savage said, “I think budgets reflect values, and we should choose values first.”
The financial aid office has recently started dispersing work-study funds to students who had been put on a waitlist. There were around 200 students on the waitlist and the first 80 have been awarded funding.
According to Jami Jandreau, the assistant director of financial aid, the office will be monitoring funds and student payroll in case more awards can be dispensed in the next few weeks. Over $7 million is set to be offered, but some students still might not get it.
“Cleaning up of funds is based on students that just don’t enroll, notify us they won’t be working or, in the most common situation, decrease their amount of credit hours,” said Jandreau. “It’s a need-based fund, so it affects eligibility.”
Jandreau said that the $7 million in funds is an overextension by more than triple what the office actually has, just to make sure the office is spending the appropriate amount when students actually start working.
Another reason for such an overestimation in the amount of money the university can award students for work-study is that a portion of the students will not end up getting a job on campus or not end up attending USM at all.
The actual amount of federal work-study awards that goes out to students each year ends up being around $2 million, with an average of 1,000 students on the payroll in an academic year. If the office actually wants to spend $2 million per year paying students, it’s required to overestimate and offer up much more than that.
According to Jandreau, the amount of students on the payroll may increase because it’s early in the fall semester.
“Many students are still searching for positions and/or getting the hiring paperwork finalized,” said Jandreau.
In some cases, work-study awards are given out to students that don’t end up working for them all year. At the same time, some eligible students intentionally seeking work-study have missed out on the opportunity simply by not checking off the “interested in work-study” box when asked on the FAFSA.
“Overlooking questions can certainly and have made an impact,” said Jandreau. “You need to carefully answer all questions on the FAFSA form because it’s the most important document concerning your financial aid.”
According to Jandreau however, if a student is timely and proactive enough to inquire about the lack of funds, the office may be able to rectify the situation if they have the funds available.
Jandreau stressed that if you’ve already been awarded the funds, use them before Oct. 1 or risk losing them for the year.
“I would strongly encourage students to take advantage of their work-study,” said Jandreau. “It’s a useful, easy way to get employed and gain real world experience.”
Sarah Snowman, a senior sustainable business management major, agrees. She has held the same work-study job for four years and has described the experience as “really great.”
Snowman was a research and administrative assistant in the department of environmental science, working with professors on various research projects. She said that it was a little difficult to find the job at first as a freshman.
In the past, she’s had trouble with actually getting the award itself.
“I’ve been put on the waitlist twice. It once took four months of waiting,” said Snowman. “I was lucky that year to keep my position.”
According to Snowman, federal work-study is a great program students should make use of, but it could use some work pertaining to how effectively the funds are distributed.
Meanwhile, Michael Shermuly a senior international business major, has had a fulfilling work-study experience as an accounting tutor with no difficulties at all.
“The [work-study] job is self-rewarding as you are helping another Husky out,” said Shermuly.
According to Jandreau, having a work-study job is a worthwhile part of the college experience and benefits students and the university as a whole.Ellen Spahn
The fate of three USM programs will stand before the University of Maine System board of trustees next Monday, but the meeting will not be held anywhere near a USM campus.
The meeting, where the board of trustees is likely to finalize the elimination of geosciences, American and New England studies and the arts and humanities program at the Lewiston-Auburn campus, will be held at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, which is a 300-mile drive from Portland.
Students for #USMFuture, a group that has been protesting administrative decisions since March, organized affected students, staff and faculty to tell the board of trustees to move the meeting back to USM.
“It’s about as far away from Portland as you can get without leaving the state,” said Meaghan LaSala, a senior women and gender studies major and organizer of the group, at a press conference held on Friday. “Whatever the board’s reason for moving this meeting to Fort Kent, it cannot trump the students’ and the faculty’s right to speak out at this meeting about their livelihoods and their future.”
According to Dan Demeritt, the UMS executive director of public affairs, the meeting was moved to Fort Kent back in June and had nothing to do with the programs up for elimination. The locations of the September and November meetings were swapped, so the November meeting set to be held in Fort Kent will now take place at USM.
“This decision to flip the meeting back in June is based on concerns we had about weather conditions in Fort Kent in November,” said Demeritt, noting that snowfall comes earlier in the northern part of the state.
Demeritt said that the board didn’t know what was going to be on the agenda when the meeting locations were swapped and that the meeting would stay in Fort Kent.
“There have been a lot of steps between June and now that landed this issue on the agenda,” said Demeritt. “It’s a big agenda; it covers a lot of items involving all of Maine.”
Some faculty members feel that the meeting should be immediately moved back to USM, because of how many people will be affected by the program eliminations.
“The Maine people served by the programs targeted for elimination have a right to bring their views to the board of trustees. This decision marks their failure to uphold the public trust,” said Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and of women and gender studies. “The BoT is charged with protecting higher public education, not destroying it. The BoT must bring the meeting back to USM and hear from the people directly affected by their ill-informed decision.”
Feiner also quoted the Declaration of Independence at the press conference, reading an excerpt she felt related directly to the point Students for #USMFuture is trying to make. The passage read, “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”
Kent Ryden, director of the American and New England studies program, spoke about his program and how he thought it fit in perfectly with how the university is headed with its “metropolitan university” direction.
“We very much fit into the model of the metropolitan university which is now being proposed for USM because with the cultural life and cultural economy of this area,” said Ryden. “Investment in this program rather than elimination of this program would not only maintain, but deepen and strengthen those links. The sorts of links USM is already known for and wants to be even more known for.”
“I certainly hope the good work of the students at USM will spread throughout the state. This is too important to leave in the hands of just the politicians, their good intentions notwithstanding,” said Barry Rodrigue, an associate professor in the arts and humanities program. “This has to be a call that our future is at stake and whether we will continue here as a viable economy and as a viable people.“
Rodrigue noted that Maine was ranked last on Forbes’ ‘Best States For Business and Careers’ list and said that Maine would likely be left there if Mainers kept listening to the “mindless dribble” that comes from UMS administrators.
“Our administrators in the Maine System and at USM have been saying we need change. Well, the faculty and staff at USM and in the system have been begging for change for years, but it has been blocked at the top,” said Rodrigue.
“We need to invest in these programs and not cut them,” said LaSala. “As new hotels and million-dollar condos sprout up around Portland, as private money pours into this region and as Portland is consistently ranked in national media as a highly desirable place to live, we need to, as a community, assert that this region can afford a comprehensive public university that working people can afford.”
Demeritt said that those with any concerns about the meeting could contact the board of trustees in the next week through email, phone calls and sending letters.
“There’s a lot of passion on this issue. The board of trustees understand that,” said Demeritt. “These are programs that people care a lot about, but we have some tough decisions to make about the future of this university.”
An energy forum hosted at USM was supposed to be the first time Maine’s three gubernatorial candidates would speak in the same place, but come Friday morning Governor Paul Lepage refused to participate.
After a continental breakfast and networking period, each candidate was given a half hour block of time to speak on their energy plans and take questions from the office. According to LePage’s campaign, he decided to leave over a disagreement with the format of the event.
“Unfortunately, staff at an event today attempted to arrange a setting to put politics ahead of public policy,” wrote Alex Willette, LePage’s spokesman, in a statement on the forum. He said that LePage thought he would be speaking alone at the event and would not have to interact with other candidates.
Jeff Marks, the executive director of E2Tech, said that the event was spelled out for candidates and the event had been planned for a long time. Candidates were welcome to attend the breakfast and stick around for each other’s comments, but were only responsible for being there for their allotted half hour.
The first half hour, which was supposed to belong to Lepage, left the audience waiting as organizers spoke about E2Tech’s sponsors and programs at length while trying to figure out what had happened with LePage.
LePage was able to make a public appearance, but it was at the unveiling of a new, Maine-branded car to be driven by NASCAR driver Austin Theriault in the upcoming Nationwide Series race at the Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 20.
Congressman Mike Michaud arrived just in time to speak during his time block and only mentioned LePage when discussing his energy policies. Michaud did not stay after his own remarks to listen to candidate Eliot Cutler.
“On behalf of all three candidates, I want to apologize to you for the shenanigans this morning. That’s not what democracy should be all about,” said Cutler before he spoke on his energy plan. “It’s a disservice and frankly an insult to you as voters.”
Cutler said that he would make it his goal over the 53 days left before election day to make sure that voters would not see a similar spectacle again.
“It’s not just about being better than LePage, about wielding the veto pin less or about being a nicer person. Those are all pretty low hurdles,” said Cutler on the gubernatorial race, cueing laughter from the audience. “It’s about putting someone in charge as governor who can look beyond the next four or eight years and make smart decisions about Maine’s long term future.”
As of last Friday, there are 1,570 students at USM who have a $942 charge on their account for a new health insurance plan, but have not finished the plan’s enrollment process and are not receiving any benefits.
The insurance plan was made mandatory by the University of Maine System this past summer. Students without health insurance will have to confirm their insurance enrollment to get access to their ID card and benefits, while students already enrolled in a health care plan elsewhere can opt-out by signing a waiver before Oct. 1.
So far, 3,924 students have opted-out of the plan, 517 have enrolled and 1,570 have not done either.
“We’ve been putting information out there and reminding people for two weeks now and have a few weeks left, but some students have not done one or the other,” said Lisa Belanger, the director of health services.
Belanger said that Health Services has been sending out information about the opt-out deadline through MaineStreet messaging, physical and digital postcards, emails and social media, but that it’s sometimes difficult to get information to students at the beginning of a semester.
“I think there’s a lot of information that comes to students at the beginning of the year and that, after a while, they pick and choose what they’re actually reading,” said Belanger. “Also, returning students might think they already know everything about our health insurance system and ignore it, even though it has been changed.”
Belanger also noted that some students could find health insurance intimidating if they’ve never had to deal with it before, but said that enrollment and opting-out are both simple to complete. Students who opt-out are immediately refunded the charge on their account if it was paid out-of-pocket or with financial aid.
“Some might just be putting it off because they’re expecting a complicated process, but it’s really simple,” said Belanger. “It’s just a matter of logging on and filling out some basic info. It’s very brief.”
Students have already been signed-up and billed if they meet a certain criteria: taking nine credits or more as an undergraduate and six credits or more as a graduate student. Students taking clinical courses in the school of nursing or the athletic training program, and students in the occupational therapy program have to enroll as well as a program requirement.
Enrollment and communication issues aside, Belanger said that she thought the new health insurance plan was a good move for students.
“It provides a good product for a reasonable price. There aren’t many plans that are this affordable,” she said, pointing out that it covers an entire year for less than $80 a month and that it complies with Affordable Care Act requirements.
Belanger said that the plan is a bit of a hybrid plan, but one the University of Maine System decided would benefit the most students. It doesn’t include coverage of dental or eye care and isn’t designed for students with chronic health conditions, but is great for preventive care and helping to pay for prescription drugs.
Details on the plan and the waiver process are available online.
Belanger said, “We just want all students to know that they can call us if they have any questions.”
The 43rd Student Senate held their first meeting of the semester last Friday and, while there was little official business on the table, attendance and filling seats in the senate was talked about the most.
Throughout the meeting, the importance of communication and attendance was discussed multiple times, and it was announced that four different senators would become less involved in different ways as the semester progresses.
Senator Christian Webb was excused from the first meeting by other senators, but it was made known that he would likely be missing the first five meetings of the semester as he went through tutoring training.
Senator Nick Marcketta and Senate Chair Joshua Dodge will be leaving after the fall semester and Senator Keegan Delaney, who was absent, is likely to resign.
Dodge said that he isn’t concerned and the senate goes through natural phases of losing and gaining members.
“The beauty of the senate is that it’s fluid, but stays structured. I’m confident that we’re going to have a handful of competent new senators soon,” said Dodge.
Dodge added that he has already been approached by numerous freshmen about joining the Student Government Association.
Dodge will likely be replaced by Senate Vice Chair Judson Cease.
“It’s in our constitution that the vice chair will step up if they have to, and I’m completely confident that he’ll be able to,” said Dodge. “He’s been my right-hand man so far.”
Last year, members of the senate were sometimes accused of filling empty seats with their friends and people of similar interest groups, because the process to appoint a senator was so simple.
They’re combating those accusations with a new petition form that would require prospective senators to get 100 signatures from students to join.
“We want new senators to be good stewards of students and not just have the senate filled with people who just don’t know what to do with their spare time,” said Dodge.
“This way, a senator has to go up to students around campus and say, ‘this is why I would be a good senator,’ instead of just interviewing with one of us,” said Senator Joshua Tharpe.
Last year, the student senate had to cut its budget and the budgets of entities like Gorham and Portland Events Boards because of a lack of funds late in the semester caused by low enrollment. This crisis meant extra hours of work for senators.
“We want people who are dedicated,” said Dodge.
Dodge said that the senate will start advertising the open seats to the student body soon, and they will be marketed more heavily than in the past.
Enrollment at USM has dropped again this year, with reports showing a negative six percent change in credit hours enrolled for the coming year.
According to Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell, declining enrollment has been one of the biggest contributors to the ongoing budget deficit, as revenue from tuition and fees make up two-thirds of the university’s income. He said that the administration was prepared for enrollment troubles, but had only budgeted for a loss of less than two percent.
“We have an unsustainable model right now,” said newly-appointed Executive Director of Public Affairs Christopher Quint. “It’s not just about cutting programs; we have to grow.”
Fewer first year students applied and enrolled this fall, and there was a drop in the number of students transferring from other universities as well, according to university reports. Out-of-state enrollment, which brings in more money, is up by 15 percent, but doesn’t balance the loss of enrollment overall.
“Too many students are choosing not to come to USM. Declining enrollments are flashing lights calling for fundamental change,” said newly-appointed Provost Joseph McDonnell.
Last spring only 319 new students enrolled, 73 less than the semester before that. The summer and fall semesters saw 1,532 first year, transfer and readmitted students enrolled which was 97 students less than last year which saw 1,629 enrolled.
This semester, Dickey-Wood Hall in Gorham has been made completely offline as a student housing option due to a drop in spring enrollment.
McDonnell says that he plans on making USM a more distinguishable higher education choice by attempting to offer more tuition flexibility, better career direction, an easier transfer experience and changing the campus culture to create a more welcoming environment.
The administration steering USM toward being an urban metropolitan university aims to increase enrollment as well, providing more accessibility and efficiency to applicants, resources for older students and attractiveness to commuters.
“A big part of our plan is expanding our applicant base,” said Campbell. “It’s a plan that we’re working on and evolving the criteria for.”
Part of this criteria includes tactics observed from schools with rising enrollment like the University of New Hampshire, such as more aggressive out-of-state recruiting.
Quint said that he will be working on completely overhauling the communications and marketing operations at USM in hopes of giving it an edge in the competitive higher education market. He will work on re-evaluating how the administration deals with admissions, how college goals are being facilitated and the use of current methodologies.
Lydia Savage, a professor of geography in the Muskie School of Public Service, said that declining enrollment could be attributed to the administration’s decision to eliminate entire programs from the university, saying that shrinking course options will bring in less students.
“How do you attract and retain students when academic programs are being eliminated?” said Savage. “It seems like it would make better use of the money to invest in the programs and student recruitment. Perhaps instead of worrying about people leaving Maine, investment in USM could help Maine keep and attract young people.”
McDonnell recognized that scaling back academic programs might result in a further enrollment decrease next year and said it will definitely not be a primary tactic.
“Recruitment and retention will be my highest priorities,” said McDonnell.
Quint admitted that it would take drastic changes to get USM’s enrollment up to par, but that the administration is up to the challenge.
“Our class sizes are appealing, and students that come to USM feel like they are at home,” said Quint, noting that focusing on the positive aspects of USM will help the most. “Students can come here for a great education combined with the beauty of Maine.”
In two weeks the University of Maine System board of trustees will vote on whether or not to eliminate three programs at USM: American and New England studies, geosciences and the arts and humanities program on the Lewiston-Auburn Campus.
USM administrators proposed eliminating these programs in March as a cost-saving measure in an attempt to cut an estimated $12.5 million from the budget, which will increase into $15 million at the end of this fiscal year. Former President Theo Kalikow proposed the cuts, but Interim President David Flanagan is carrying them forward.
The eliminations were recently approved by a UMS committee and sent to the full board of trustees for final voting.
“We have to start somewhere,” said Flanagan. “There did not seem to be any good reason to delay acting when it’s clear that there are going to be even bigger deficits to deal with prospectively.”
Trustee Bonnie Newsom cast the single vote against the eliminations.
“[Trustee Newsom] wanted to be able to vote on the three programs individually, but the proposal as it was was a straight up yes or no on all three programs together,” said Meghan LaSala, a senior women and gender studies major and leader in the group ‘Students for #USMFuture,’ who was at the meeting. “She spoke in support of American and New England studies and said that she couldn’t in good conscience vote in favor of the elimination of the program because of the service it provides to the region. It’s one of the only of its kind in the country.”
Flanagan agrees and notes that the American and New England studies program is remarkable and unique, but expensive, in terms of the deficit it runs and the number of students they graduate.
USM developed and applied quantitative based criteria that the programs didn’t meet. This criteria looked at enrollment, graduating students, relation to other programs in the university and faculty members.
According to Flanagan, even if the programs are cut, students currently enrolled can finish out their degrees.
Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, described his feelings as ‘disappointed.’
“I think [American and New England studies] is a very important and valuable program for the university and for the region,” said Ryden. “We’ve traditionally had a close working relationship with schools and museums and historical societies in the community, so I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the opportunity to find a way to restructure the program.”
Ryden explained that he would like to keep the program alive in any way possible – if not as the self contained entity that it is now, then in a way that’s more cost efficient and will bring in more revenue.
According to Lydia Savage, professor of geography, USM just didn’t have the resources to explore alternate options for any of the other programs on the table.
“In the board of trustees meeting, both President Flanagan and Provost McDonnell praised the three programs for their quality of teaching, research and community engagement and said that with a little investment and a little time, they could be turned around, but USM didn’t have either,” Savage said.
“So these are decisions that are being made while acknowledging that it could be different,” LaSala said.
Still, Flanagan believes that even if we could offer many majors, it would mean higher costs and reducing accessibility and affordability.
“They had developed criteria and these programs seemed to be, by any reasonable standard, high priorities for elimination,” said Flanagan. “It’s not because they’re not good programs.”
Phil Shelley, USM graduate and active member of Students for #USMFuture, feels that, since these are the same programs that President Kalikow ‘targeted’ a year ago, the elimination of them is seen as part of a ‘larger end game.’
“We won’t be able to withstand $15 million in cuts. It’ll result in a drastic change in the nature of the institution and the way it serves the people of Portland and Maine,” Shelley said.
“It’ll be a fundamentally different institution,” LaSala added.
Both believe that Portland deserves a first-class university.
“What administration and the board of trustees are doing now is dismantling the university and taking it away from the city of Portland,” said Shelley. “It’s a question of you either dismantle something or support it and let it grow.”
Despite their fights, all affected recognize that President Flanagan should not be envied for his job, according to Ryden.
“His mandate that he’s been given by the board of trustees is to balance the budget,” said Ryden. “So I think he has a very realistic sense of the position that he’s been put in. I perceive him as having to go out and dissolve a big problem that the previous administration wouldn’t or couldn’t.”
“We will have to make more cuts. We’ll try to do it strategically. We’ll try to do it consistent with hitting the priorities of the metropolitan university report. We’ll try to do it with the least pain to the USM community. We will have to reduce both faculty and administrative staff in the coming year,” said Flanagan.
These cuts will be done by eliminating individual faculty in programs that are going to continue, as well as eliminating whole programs.
Still, LaSala and Shelley believe the students remain the strongest force to be reckoned with.
“There’s an opportunity here to organize and to make a difference, but students need to take that opportunity,” said LaSala. “That’s up to us.”
According to President David Flanagan, USM’s projected budget deficit of 12.5 million is going to grow.
After this fiscal year, an additional $3 million is expected to be added to the current deficit. Flanagan put the numbers in perspective by saying that the deficit will roughly be equal to 13 percent of the university’s total budget and exceeds the entire budget of the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
“We will manage, and we will somehow close that gap,” said Flanagan. “We are discussing different approaches, all of which will result in painful choices.”
Before students moved into the dorms last weekend, Flanagan introduced his leadership team and spoke about the budget issues, saying that it was time to face some ‘tough realities.’
“We must make strategic budget choices within all parts of our house,” said Flanagan. “We’ll be working with the faculty senate and taking advice from community members to develop the criteria to fix this budget issue.”
Three academic programs are slated for elimination to balance the budget as enrollment continues to decline, and most members of the President’s Council are admitting that it’s going to be a difficult year.
Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell says that decreasing the gap won’t rely entirely on cutting academic programs and staff, but it will have to happen to some extent.
“We’re looking everywhere for solutions,” said Campbell, noting the system’s decision to sell the Stonehouse, home to USM’s MFA in creative writing. “But, in the end, we will have to make the hard choice to eliminate positions, whether they are from faculty, salaried or hourly.”
Some of the less disruptive strategies being discussed by Flanagan and his council include having fewer instructors teach the same level of course offerings and having faculty share offices. According to Campbell, spending less money on big projects, re-examining how we allocate funds to programs and making a bigger effort to recruit and bring in students will all help bridge the gap. When choosing where to make cuts, Campbell said that he will practice a similar decision-making process as when he chose to eliminate the print shop and lay off five employees over a year ago. This decision stemmed from realizing that the print shop’s equipment was too expensive and the market for the service was declining.
“We have to keep our costs down while we face the realities of this revenue situation if we’re going to make USM more efficient, accessible and affordable to the Maine people,” said Flanagan to a sparse, mixed crowd of faculty and students at a welcoming speech last Wednesday in Abromson Hall.“I think if we can control our costs, overall we’ll attract more students, and we’ll do a better job of serving the state of Maine. That’s got to be a primary focus for us in these challenging times.”
Lydia Savage, a professor of geography in the Muskie School of Public Service, believes that the administration should decrease tuition to see their enrollment numbers increase.
According to Savage, this tactic is working well for the University of Maine in Presque Isle and Fort Kent. Savage also thinks that the UMaine system should be actively investing more into USM.
“USM should be one of the top assets in Southern Maine, the population center of the state,” said Savage. “Instead, we are told enrollment is down and we must cut costs so we do, but how do you recruit and retain while you simultaneously dismantle a university by eliminating programs and student options for courses and degrees?”
“I know my neighbors are concerned about what USM will look like when their middle schoolers are ready to attend college,” said Savage. “And the President has stated that there will be more program eliminations to come.”
No matter where future cuts will be coming from, Flanagan has stated that he will practice complete objectivity and transparency when deciding which programs to eliminate.
“We’ll be able to articulate our rationale for what we’re doing, so it doesn’t seem like we’re making decisions behind a curtain,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan said that he’s a proponent of freedom of speech, but that bad attitudes and theoretical budget solutions being made popular by the local media is making the situation at the university even worse.
Flanagan shot down recent ideas including a completely arbitrary 10 percent cut of administrative staff salaries and the use of UMS reserve funds. He said that the system funds are already allotted for and that the plan to cut administration was too reliant on cutting positions from the non-academic side.
“The concepts were generally too optimistic, or too impractical,” said Flanagan. “In terms of finding a solution, it was like throwing darts at a board.”
Flanagan also said that if bitter tones across blogs and social media continue, USM will look a lot less appealing to potential applicants and their parents.
“Complaining about them [the economic factors] does not erase the deficit,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan closed off the welcome speech on Wednesday by exhibiting a great deal of optimism about the year and future of USM. Flanagan said that although it may seem strange, he’s not stressed and is ready to take on the challenges at USM.
“This is not my first rodeo,” said Flanagan. “I feel challenged and stimulated.”
“USM is a place you can be proud of,” said Flanagan. “But I will bend every effort and spend every waking hour thinking about this issue and ways I can make students even more proud to call USM their home.”