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Flanagan balances the budget

USM Free Press News Feed - Wed, 2014-12-10 19:24

The administration announced last week that they have successfully created a framework to balance USM’s budget for the next fiscal year and close its $16 million structural gap.

When everything is finalized, the university will have eliminated 160 positions to retirements, layoffs and nixing vacant jobs. The university will be saving $7 million from faculty positions and $5 million from staff and administration eliminations.

“We made difficult decisions to arrive at this framework, decisions that involve choices about organization, infrastructure, reserves and, most challenging of all, personnel,” wrote President David Flanagan in a letter to the USM community last week. “We are sad for the individuals affected and the loss to our community of talented colleagues.”

According to Flanagan, the framework was designed to reduce costs in all sectors of the university, so not one group was feeling the entirety of the eliminations.

“This does not conclude the layoffs, but it’s virtually the end,” said Flanagan at last week’s faculty senate meeting, mentioning that the administration was still looking to consolidate other offices, like research and development.

Some faculty members still took issue with the faculty eliminations.

Christy Hammer, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences and president of the USM branch of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, asked Flanagan to rescind the faculty retrenchments that were announced last month.

“You use them in your ads and then you fire them,” said Paul Nakroshis, a professor of physics.

Nakroshis said that he had done rough estimates of how much money the university will lose because of the retrenchments, taking the number of students taught by the 50 professors who were either fired or retrenched and adding up those tuition dollars. He said it ended up around $16 million, more than double the savings the administration say they’re saving through retrenchments.

“I’m not planning on losing all of that tuition income,” said Flanagan, saying that USM will have to alter its class sizes to match regional competitors.

Hammer noted that most of the faculty being retrenched are middle-aged and have kids when she tried to convince Flanagan to reverse the administration’s decision. AFUM contracts require universities to retrench junior faculty before older, more expensive professors

“I’m sorry the AFUM contracts require an order to layoffs the way that it does,” said Flanagan.

Flanagan repeated that looking for more funding from the state government is a focus of any financial analysis at USM.

Flanagan said, “It’s hard to do given the state’s economic climate and dealing with those who are in charge, but we’re working on it.”

Petition to reverse cuts drafted by AAUP member

USM Free Press News Feed - Wed, 2014-12-10 19:18

A petition has been published online representing the wishes of scholars and teachers all over the world to reverse the cuts and restart the process of addressing USM’s projected $16 million budget deficit. So far the petition has over 300 signatures on it.

This petition comes as a response to the recent sanction by the American Association of University Professors, that casts USM as an institution that blocks access to academic freedom. According to AAUP members like Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor from the University of Eastern Michigan, USM’s administration has violated guidelines that were set out in their statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure.

Bunsis also believes that the elimination of five academic programs and 50 faculty members was implemented as a way to raise money for the metropolitan rebranding instead of to combat the budget deficit. The petition letter states that the rationale behind the cuts should be questioned citing USM’s solid reserves, annual operating cash surpluses and a very high bond rating.

According to the signers of the petition, the term “metropolitan university” is just an ambiguous buzzword and USM may actually be in strong financial condition.

Bobbi Brewer, an accounting graduate, said that he’s looking forward to the results of the independent audit of USM’s finances that is being planned by the Students for USMFuture group.

“By signing the petition, I was hoping it might get others to sign and that maybe someone on the board of trustees would take notice of an alumni expressing disgust at what is occurring,” said Brewer. “I have paid USM more than $100,000 during the pursuit of my degrees and they will not see a single cent more from me because of how they are handling this [budget situation]. It’s appalling.”

Casey Mccurry, a classics graduate, agrees and adds that USM’s situation exists because of more than just money issues. According to Mccurry, the administration fired one of the schools most profitable professors, Jeannine Uzzi from the classics department, even after one of her colleagues, Peter Aicher, chose to retire early.

“This isn’t about filling a gap; this is about punishing an educational agenda that [Governor Paul] LePage and others are displeased with,” said Mccurry.

Another local signer of the petition, Katharine Thomas is a first year graduate student in American and New England studies, a program that was eliminated in September. Because of her own personal investments lost in the administration’s decisions, Thomas said she signed the petition out of indignation and frustration. For Thomas, “metropolitan university” is just a nice term with a sneaky agenda.

“It seems to me that what is going on at USM is a reflection of the larger, national educational crisis that involves gutting public programming, especially that of the liberal arts, in favor of a more business-style, money-driven model,” said Thomas. “I could not be more opposed to that.”

While members of the administration, like Chris Quint the executive director of public affairs, read and take the online grievances seriously, they also stand adamantly by their decisions revolving staff, faculty and program cuts.

“We take them, we read them, but all it is is a petition,” said Quint. “I believe in them [petitions] and totally respect their purpose of promoting someone’s cause. But in this context however, it’s not a cause. This is a university that’s here to educate students.”

Quint noted that while the petition currently holds 339 signatures on it, USM is an institution made up of over 6,000 students and 1,000 faculty.

According to Quint, some of the outrage expressed by members of the USM community might stem from a less than adequate understanding of the term “structural gap,” and the availability of the school’s $3 million in reserve funds. The reserves need to be kept to at least 20 percent of the entire budget, to pay for things like construction or maintenance for example.

“Our structural gap is real and the use of our reserves doesn’t make it go away; it only balances it temporarily,” said Quint. “And you want to have sufficient reserves. It’s not just a rainy day fund.”

Addressing the concerns that the budget deficit might be exaggerated or fabricated all together, Quint said that the administration has been conveying the numbers to the faculty very clearly since before Theo Kalikow was in office. Quint said that President Flanagan goes to every faculty senate meeting and explains where the deficit is and what it consists of, sometimes with powerpoint presentations.

“There are certain faculty here who refuse to believe facts. We invite anybody to come over and look at the budget for the tenth time,” said Quint. “How many different ways can we convey this information? Outside the university nobody questions our numbers.”

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