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Faculty Senate seeks more attractive retirement incentives, suggest closing one campus

USM Free Press News Feed - Tue, 2014-10-14 10:54

In light of the administration’s plan to eliminate 50 faculty positions and two academic programs, the faculty senate has proposed alternative plans that include better incentives for early retirements and the possible elimination of one of USM’s three campuses.

According to Tom McDonald, an associate professor of business computing, closing off a campus has been discussed before but never in a formal proposal. Flanagan has asked for an analysis on the costs of each different campus to help him identify if this proposal is feasible and worth considering. The senate didn’t point to any specific campus to be targeted for elimination, but proposed that all three should be examined for areas where money could be saved.

“I will take that proposal [to eliminate one of the campuses] to the chancellor and the board of trustees,” said Flanagan. “We’re willing to listen to any proposal, if we have time.”

Offering retirement incentives to over 100 eligible faculty members to potentially reduce the number of retrenchments was also deliberated at length after being proposed by professor of English Bud McGrath. Changing the terms of retirement would have to go through the U Maine system’s Human Resources Department before they would be implemented. Lydia Savage, a professor of geography and anthropology, asked whether or not meeting the proposed retirement quota would save certain departments from retrenchments, but Flanagan declined to answer.

“So retirement may not save a department?” asked Savage. “I need clarity on this issue.”

Jeannine Uzzi, an associate professor of classics and vice chair of the faculty senate, agreed that the issue wasn’t made clear and said that there is a great deal of confusion concerning retirement and retrenchment and how the two pots of money differ from one another. Uzzie asked how is it possible that paying severance to fired faculty is cheaper than awarding early retirement benefits.

The Provost McDonnell responded to Savage and said that it really would depend on where the retirements come from and that we have to look at the larger picture of closing the budget.

“If we get the 50 or 60 retirements we hope for, it’s certainly going to help save the budget,” said McDonnell. “But it may or may not lead to retrenchments.”

Despite the uncertainty the senate voted unanimously that overall the retirement packages should be made more attractive. According to Bud Mcgrath an English professor, an incentive like offering 18 months of pay plus benefits, the amount that a faculty member would of been paid out if laid off, might influence some faculty’s decision to retire early. The Provost said that about 20 faculty so far are on board for early retirement, but they need more.

“Offering incentives are always better than trying to coerce people, either by fear or guilt,” said Joe Medley an associate professor of economics. “I’ve been told by colleagues at the University of New Hampshire, for example, that our current incentives for retirement are ridiculous.”

According to Medley, incentives for retirement is a strategy that is not uncommon in other universities.

After over an hour without making a statement, Flanagan said that he will take any proposal seriously but the time to deliberate is quickly running out and decisions need to be made now.

“We can’t just wish this deficit away,” said Flanagan. “There’s no more time for aspirational objectives.”

Flanagan’s plan to cut 50 faculty positions would take off about $6 million off of the $16 million budget deficit and must be finalized by Oct. 31. According to Flanagan the remainder will come from administrative cuts that will be announced in November.

Flanagan noted that he’s a newcomer bringing serious changes to USM and that he’s aware that he can’t really appreciate USM as much as all the people who have dedicated such a large portion of their life and energy to this academic community.

Still some faculty members feel that the administration could be collaborating and working more closely with the faculty to bring solutions that are supportive of departments, instead of destructive. Uzz,i for example,detailed her efforts to build a classics major over the past year that could be franchised across all seven campuses. According to Uzzi, she saw plenty of enrollment, even from students in Farmington and Presque Isle, and worked hard to establish a comprehensive classics curriculum but now is simply being fired.

“Last year I was asked to build a system and I did it, and it’s working, but now it’s over and I’m being retrenched,” said Uzzi. “The system did nothing to support me. I just want to know why I was asked to do all this work, just to be fired.”

Uzzi said that she thinks there is no real plan apart from just frantically trying to save money. She believes that programs like hers could work with a tiny bit of support, but there is just no real collaboration with the administration.

“Where is all our work going?” asked Uzzi.

Savage also spoke out for a closer relationship between the administration and faculty, noting that several departments have already gone through several reconstructions over the past six years without any real advice from up top.

“All they’ve said is that these departments [French and applied medical science] are just too expensive,” said Savage.

Savage said that she asked the President last week what will happen when we lose the $3.5 million from tuition once the 50 faculty members are gone in the spring. Flanagan simply said that “we’ll just have to cut more.”

“I don’t know what’s left to cut; we’re bare to the bone,” said Savage. “We’re competing with SMCC and in good faith I would tell students to go there. It’s half the cost and if we can’t offer more than them, how can we ask them to incur debt to get a degree that lacks integrity, rigor and the faculty that can sustain an education.”

The recent plan to cut the undergraduate French program and the master’s program in applied sciences would affect five and three faculty members, respectively. The topics of these cuts were also met with much displeasure from members of the faculty senate, including Nancy Erickson, an associate professor of French.

“I’m here to ask the faculty senate to help me convince the administration that French be considered important and be granted a stay of execution,” said Erickson. “We’re not low hanging fruit to just be picked off.”

Erickson said that her department trains students that stay in Maine and graduates twice as many French majors as the national average.

The senate meeting extended for an extra 30 minutes and the members didn’t even have a chance to talk about specifics on the budget agenda. They did, however, get a chance to read through the student senate resolution that stated the student members would be more actively involved in finding solutions to the budget deficit. Several members of the faculty senate applauded the students for their tenacity, proficient use of language and grammar and a well developed understanding of USM’s extensive issues.

“Can I just say that the students here kick ass,” said Uzzi.


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