Enrollment numbers for spring 2014 have come in lower than anticipated by the USM administration, exacerbating already difficult financial circumstances.
The 5.3 percent drop in enrollment between this spring and last spring means that, even with the emergency budget cuts, USM will bring in $1.5 million less than projected by the fiscal year 2014 budget.
Since the administration projected a rise in enrollment for FY14 and not a fall, said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, the drop in enrollment was initially expected to cost the school a $5.5 million drop in revenue. However, to offset the budgetary discrepancy USM has taken measures to decrease expenditures.
“We are spending less on facilities maintenance and repair and using one-time savings from vacant positions,” said Caswell.
The remaining $1.5 million deficit, Caswell said, will be covered by USM’s $3.3 million reserve fund, but USM is using caution in spending the reserve money.
“You have heard people ask why we don’t use such reserves to cover salaries of those being laid off. These reserves are not permanent additions to our budget. Spend the money once and it’s gone,” Caswell said. “So, if we were to use reserves to cover salaries, we could do so for one year, but next year we’d have to find new money to cover the salaries.”
USM is taking a number of measures to increase enrollment in coming semesters, including increasing high school and college fair visits across New England, an aggressive online campaign to increase USM’s online presence by using social media and search engine marketing to supplement the usual marketing campaign and a pilot program by Admissions and Student Success that will present to students in 25 schools on how to successfully transition to college.
The trend of falling enrollment at USM stretches back across several years, but USM is not alone in this enrollment drop, though. In fact, the University of Maine System has reported that enrollment numbers are 3.9 percent lower than what the system budgeted for. The only exceptions are the UMaine and Fort Kent campuses, both of which reported numbers of one percent more than what was budgeted.
Retrenchment and program cuts aren’t the only changes in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. On March 28, the CAHS faculty debated a proposed reorganization of the college.
On March 26, Provost Michael Stevenson sent out a letter to the deans of all of the colleges at USM, asking them to discuss ways to reduce the number of administrative personnel at the university.
“I would like you to invite your colleges to yet one more conversation about organizational efficiencies with the goal of reducing the number of college administrators,” Stevenson’s letter told the deans.
Kuzma distributed copies of the letter to the assembled faculty of the CAHS. “We were going to reorganize whether we got the mandate or not,” Kuzma said
The draft of a reorganization plan that the volunteer ad hoc reorganization committee presented has been in progress since early this fall.
“Everyone who was a part of the committee unanimously supported this model,” Kuzma said. However, she stressed, it is only a draft. There will be two college meetings after April vacation where the college faculty can give their feedback and propose changes, and ultimately, the faculty can choose not to use this plan at all.
“If we don’t get where we want to be, I guess we’ll see what the provost will do,” Kuzma said.
“If this has to be done, it’s better for us to do it for ourselves than to have it done for us,” said committee member and English Professor Shelton Waldrep.
The draft of the plan, which was distributed to the college, divides the 14 existing departments within the college into five administrative groups, called “schools.”
One of the most notable and controversial changes the proposed reorganization made was the division of the communication and media studies programs into two different schools. Associate professor of communication and media studies Matt Killmeier noted that no one in communication and media studies had been asked whether they wanted to be broken into two programs.
David Pierson, communication and media studies chair, said that, since being integrated into one department in 2005, communication and media studies has developed in an intertwined, interdisciplinary direction. “We want to stay together,” Pierson said.
Other points of contention included whether the reorganization would change the process for peer review and how changing the titles associated with certain responsibilities might change the protections and stipulations of the union contract.
Waldrep said that the only departments where peer review would be affected were those that were too small to currently have effective peer review systems, but English Professor Lucinda Cole remained concerned.
“I’m concerned about the complete lack of attention to peer review, and what it means for our standards of scholarship,” Cole said.
Cole also raised the question of whether there would be contractual implications if the proposed plan were put into place, since the contract details protections and regulations based on specific job titles and departmental setups, and reorganization would alter those titles and structures.
Killmeier, who is also the vice-president of the USM chapter of the faculty union, responded. “If they do break up departments, there are contractual implications,” Killmeier said. He also noted that in order to do so, the college would have to get the reorganization approved by the Faculty Senate.
Stevenson’s letter requests reorganization plans from the colleges by June 15.
Since President Theo Kalikow announced the layoffs of twelve faculty members on Friday, March 21, the colleges of the retrenched faculty have responded by holding a series of meetings.
On March 26, a group of students organized a meeting about the effects of the retrenchment on the Muskie School, and on March 28, responses to the cuts occupied one of the two hours of a meeting of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Of the 12 faculty members the president and the provost marked for retrenchment, eight from the CAHS. Additionally, one of the four departments proposed for elimination, the American and New England Studies graduate program, is a part of the college.
“One of the reasons our college was targeted was our student-to-faculty ratio,” Dean Lynn Kuzma of the CAHS told the gathered faculty and the handful of students holding protest signs in support of the faculty crowded into the back of the room.
She echoed the sentiments of Dean Joseph McDonnell of the Muskie School of Public service, who addressed a gathering of his own students and faculty earlier in the week. McDonnell explained that there are 75 students in the Muskie School’s Public Policy Management program and 50 in Community Planning and Development. “We currently have 10 faculty in the MPH and CPD programs,” McDonnell said. “That’s a lot of faculty resources for just a few students.”
Because of this high student-to-faculty ratio, McDonnell said, the Muskie School had been considered for possible closure, rather than faculty retrenchment.
Kuzma also said that the provost had considered more proposed program cuts within the CAHS. “He said to me, it was either [retrenchment] or he was going to ask me for program elimination recommendations. He was going to ask me for three,” she said.
Kuzma said that the media coverage of the cuts might work to the college’s advantage. “I’m hoping that the word is getting out about the value of a liberal arts education,” said Kuzma.
“This is actually the most coverage our program has gotten in 25 years,” said Professor Ardis Cameron, whose program, American and New England Studies, has been proposed for elimination.
Cameron cited lack of publicity for USM as a reason for dropping enrollment, mentioning both the TV commercials she had seen for other schools and the fact that Cumberland County is the fastest-growing region of the state. “I did not see aggressive recruiting and aggressive advertising of USM this year or last year,” Cameron said.
Kuzma shared the one-page document which, she said, was the rubric by which the provost had chosen the departments to retrench faculty from. The document, which details the number of faculty members in each department and then breaks down the numbers of courses, sections and credit hours taught, came under fire from several faculty members, including English professor Eve Raimon, who described it as a perfect example of everything that had gone wrong over the preceding two weeks, and communication and media studies professor and faculty union vice-president Matt Killmeier, who said he’d seen the same chart earlier in the year and noticed several figures were not up to date.
“There’s some real problems with this data. It’s like the Iraq war data,” Killmeier said.
The conversation turned to the Direction Package Advisory Board, which Kuzma was a part of as a member of the vision committee.
“Many of us, I think, are very excited about the idea of an urban focus,” Cameron said, but expressed concern that the metropolitan university concept that the vision committee had presented didn’t have enough space for arts and humanities in it.
Kuzma responded that the vision of the metropolitan university had been kept deliberately vague in the Direction Package presentation so that each department could find its own place within the vision. “I think the vision is broad enough, right Kelsea?” Kuzma addressed student body president and fellow committee member Kelsea Dunham, who was sitting at the back of the room.
Dunham agreed that the vision committee’s presentation had been kept vague in order to keep the committee members from getting too caught up in making sure there was a place for their own departments.
“Portland has a major creative economy,” said Dunham. “There was no lack of humanities in that [metropolitan] vision, let me tell you that.”
Two weeks after over two hundred students stormed the law building to protest faculty layoffs, the #USMFuture movement has broadened its focus and is looking to gain support from other Maine universities and the Portland community.
On Tuesday, #USMFuture supporters will take to the streets of Portland and march between Monument and Congress squares to raise awareness for their cause. Meaghan LaSala, a student organizer and junior women and gender studies major, said that she hopes the march will keep students involved as they come back to USM from spring break.
“This [the march] should get students back on track when they return,” said LaSala. “We’re giving them a chance to get involved immediately.”
“Students will show up,” said Marpheen Chann, USM student vice president, when asked if he was worried at all about student involvement coming out of the spring break. “Students love events with energy where they can be vocal.”
The protests at USM have sparked interest around the state, and organizers are working toward forming a statewide coalition of University of Maine System students, called #UMaineFuture, to bring funding for public education in Maine to the forefront of every Mainer’s mind.
The ‘about’ section of the #UMaineFuture website, www.umainesolidarity.org, reads, “As students, we see our futures, as well as the future of Maine, being eroded by the negligence of big business interests that have taken over the governance of higher education.” While only the USM and UMaine Orono campuses have working student groups currently, UMaine Farmington is currently organizing and other campuses are beginning to as well, said Chann.
“Our work here at USM has started the discussion, but think of what we can accomplish as seven united campuses,” said Chann.
Student organizers gathered at the Woodbury Campus Center on Friday, March 28 to discuss their goals as they move forward. Senior classics and history major Brittany Goldych noted online comments posted to recent media coverage of their protests, many of which said student protesters were simply complaining and had no direction. She said that the public
response has opened up a discussion on what the group’s short-term and long-term goals are.
“We want solidarity in the fight to promote institutional changes that will save and better Maine’s educational system, not just for students, but for the future of the state in its entirety,” said Goldych. “Most importantly, we know we can do this, the administration and the people in Augusta know too.”
“We’re not whining anymore,” said Chann. “We’re working toward offering a solution and looking for community partners. We’re going to make public higher education an election issue this year.”
That Wednesday, students drafted a bill that called for a temporary moratorium on budget cuts while allowing time for a study into the distribution of funding across the UMS. While advancement of the legislation was denied on Thursday, it helped focus the group’s efforts, according to Goldych.
At the Friday meeting the same week, the group decided that one of their primary goals would not only be to address state funding for higher education in the state of Maine, but also to advocate for it nationwide.
“One thing I really love about this is how quickly everything comes together,” said student organizer Jules Purnell said. “It’s pretty inspiring, honestly.”
The Woodbury Campus Center Amphitheater has been reserved tonight for all students to gather and share stories about their experiences with USM faculty and staff. The goal is to bring students together and focus on their experiences rather than the budget issues.
“We all have a lot more in common than we think when it comes to our USM experience,” said LaSala.
This Friday, the #UMaineFuture coalition also plans to host a teach-in for students in Augusta. Organizers of the event are aiming to educate students from around the state about their goals, including information on the UMS budget deficit and how funding for higher education works at the legislative level, among other things.. They also hope to use the event as an opportunity to gain support from new students and legislators, said Chann.
Students have attended department meetings with deans to show their support of programs, faculty and students affected by the cuts, and a group also created the “change your major” Facebook event, in which students are invited to change their majors to a threatened program in a show of symbolic support of threatened programs.
President Theodora Kalikow said that she is glad students are getting involved in the discussion of public education funding, which she says has been on the decline over the past 30 years.
“I’ve been wondering if the students were going to get organized for years,” said Kalikow.
Kalikow knows that students are also partially protesting recent cuts made by the USM administration.
“Their [the student’s] protests show that USM is doing right by them in terms of faculty-student relationships,” said Kalikow. “Unfortunately, what we have now isn’t sustainable, and we have to work on balancing a lot of good things right now.”
“Students will make sure their voices are heard,” said Chann. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Michael Bailey, a UMaine Orono student and organizer of the #UMaineFuture coalition Skyped USM students during their meeting, applauding them for the work that they’ve done so far.
“We are the future of Maine,” said Bailey to students. “Your protests have sparked a larger movement, and I wanted to thank you. I’m excited to have so many students working together.”