On Nov. 14, USM received a letter from The American Association for University Professors (AAUP), an organization dedicated to advancing academic freedom and shared governance, defined fundamental professional values and standards for higher education and ensuring higher education’s contribution to the common good, in opposition to recent cuts. The university is now under investigation as a result of a noncompliance in responding on time.
The association legally has no standing in regards to what happens at USM, but due to national credibility and respect in the educational world altogether, USM’s unwillingness to comply with AAUP standards may affect its success as an institution down the road.
President David Flanagan responded to the initial letter on Dec. 3, a week after the given deadline as given by the AAUP, indicating that, while USM has not followed AAUP standards, it has been in compliance with contracts.
“The University has undertaken retrenchment pursuant to the contract in order to address what are real and demonstrable financial needs present at the University of Southern Maine,” Flanagan wrote.
The AAUP argued that USM had to file “financial exigency” to cut staff and programs in the way that it is, but Flanagan argued that this is not the case.
“You are correct when you state the University of Maine System has not declared a condition of financial exigency,” Flanagan wrote. “In fact, it is under obligation to do so based on the negotiated terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the University of Maine System faculty and applicable Trustee policy.”
The AAUP did send a second letter, indicating its future plans for USM, which was sent before Flanagan initially responded.
They explained that the actions of USM have raised significant issues of academic freedom, tenure and due process, that they describe as basic concerns” the academic community.
“In situations of this kind, our experience has indicated that it is desirable, in fairness to the institutional administration, to the affected faculty members, and to the institution as a whole, to establish an ad hoc committee composed of professors from other academic institutions, to conduct its own full inquiry without prejudgment of any kind,” wrote Anita Levy, senior program officer of the AAUP.
The executive directors has authorized the appointment of members to fill this ad-hoc committee to investigate USM.
The committee, according to Levy, will be provided with relevant available information for its examination and will arrange for a site visit, expected in January, in order to consult in full measure with the chief administrative officers, affected professors, and such other members of the faculty and administrations, to ensure that the university will have a full opportunity to present its position.
The letter ends with indicating the AAUP’s receptivity to resolve concerns without the necessity of an investigation.
Flanagan continued to stress that USM had followed all protocols, and the AAUP has no standing in matters at the university.
Although the AAUP Recommended Institutional Regulation on academic Freedom and Tenure, is not a part of the University of Maine System’s governing policies and has never been adopted as such, both the trustees and decision makers at USM working together have followed all applicable university policies and procedures,” concluded Flanagan. “The role of the faculty has been fully respected in this process.”
The online portal to submit applications and be considered as a candidate for USM’s presidency has closed, but the search for a new leader is far from over.
A presidential search committee has and will continue to be working on narrowing down the number of applicants into a workable number of people to be interviewed starting in January.
Heading the committee is James Irwin, a board of trustees member, who said that he’s hopeful that his group will be reviewing excellent candidates.
The rest of the committee is made up of representatives from the faculty, staff, student body and outside community. According to Irwin, the plan is to find a leader that understands the ins and outs of higher education, but also one that exhibits entrepreneurial qualities.
“We’re not only looking for someone who’s climbed the ranks at an academic institution,” said Irwin. “We want someone with a track record of building successful relationships and partnerships with organizations.”
Current interim president David Flanagan has stated to his staff that he won’t be considered as a candidate and that he’s only serving as president until a new one is found.
“We’ve been accepting applications on a confidential website,” said Irwin.
The current timeline is as follows, but according to Irwin, is not etched in stone. The committee is meeting this week to review and discuss the first big batch of applications. In January the committee will meet again to trim down the applicant pool even further to a group of people that can be invited for on-campus interviews. This would be the time that the names of the finalists would be released to the public.
“The whole process won’t work if we can’t protect the names of the applicants,” said Irwin.
The committee hopes that sometime prior to the March board of trustees meeting that they will have three-to-four names to recommend to the chancellor. Once the board approves of a candidate, then the plan would be to have that person start before the fall semester begins.
According to Irwin, the new president will have to be someone that embraces the new metropolitan model, a vision he believes most of the USM community has accepted.
“We want someone to be an agent of change……someone who will continue the process we started,” said Irwin.
Irwin said that a good academic leader is a person that can communicate, identify problems and understand the real purpose of higher education: to provide students with the resources they need to build enriching and meaningful lives and careers.
Irwin said, “We need someone to articulate why USM matters in this community.”
By: Alex Huber
Last week by joint efforts from the Portland and Gorham Well and the multicultural center and health services, free HIV screening tests were made available to all students. These tests were given out as part of USM’s recognition of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1st. In addition to the free testing, educational events took place on Monday.
USM went beyond a single day of observance. The screening tests were available all week. The test kits used are newer and less invasive than a standard blood test, which is what has been used in the past for HIV testing at health services.
These new tests use a cheek swab and allow results to be seen in less than half an hour, a major improvement over the blood tests. With the blood test, a student wouldn’t have their result on the same day. With the rapid test, they get them before leaving.
These free tests were given to USM by Maine’s Department of Health Services. In total the university received 125 tests. In addition to the tests, the department also provided training to the health services staff.
Unlike normal health services procedures, these test, as part of World AIDS Day, were anonymous. Over the course of the week nearly 40 of these free anonymous tests were administered. Lisa Belanger, the director of health services, was pleased with the number considering that it was the week after break.
“When you’re providing an event on the Monday after a four day break, it’s challenging,” said Belanger.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, there were 39 new cases of HIV in Maine during 2013. This brings the total number of people diagnosed to 1706 people living in Maine with HIV. Belanger said that that number was lower than the nationwide average.
“If you compared us to other states of a similar population like South Dakota,we have relatively low rates,” Belanger said.
One in seven people who have contracted HIV are unaware of their disease. Belanger urges students who think they may need an HIV test to contact health services. Though the tests were intended for this past week, Belanger has said that the tests will remain anonymous and free until supplies run out.
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.”
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.”