In the face of a potential shortfall of $11.9 million for fiscal year 2015, university officials stand behind the work of the Direction Package advisory board as the best way forward.
Besides the $5 million in cuts the university is making to meet budget in the current fiscal year, Chief Financial Office Dick Campbell also estimated last March that the university would be required to make a $3.75 million reduction for fiscal year 2015. That estimate more than tripled after enrollment rates came in at 6.6 percent below budget. Low enrollment, Campbell explained, in combination with other factors, may result in an $8.2 million drop in revenue for the fiscal year 2015, and costs could increase by $3.7 million dollars on top of this, he added, bringing the total estimate to $11.9. Part of those costs are from the university’s recent four-year commitment to increase financial aid by $1 million a year.
This, Campbell said, is “if we do nothing.” He stressed that the projection is still a working number, and it will likely change with the incorporation of spring enrollment figures and other variables, like the result of the faculty contract negotiations, which may be resolved in early January.
The University of Maine System also recently released a four-year financial analysis that projects a potential system-wide shortfall of $60 million from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019. That will be the case if enrollment, state appropriation, tuition, capital investments and workforce remain at their current levels, according to system Chancellor James Page. In the analysis, which was presented at the November Board of Trustees meeting, it was reported that each of the seven branches of the system could face a shortfall in the next fiscal year.
“There’s a lot we can do to change those trend lines,” said Page. “We’ve got to do something.” Page explained that more collaborative academic work across the system could help ease the financial burdens of each campus.
Across the system, he said, classics, for instance, has been stripped down “so that they are almost extinct, and that’s unacceptable.” Funding classics at each campus, he said, is currently financially unrealistic, but classics could be offered virtually through USM’s professor Jeannine Uzzi.
“We have to look at everything,” Page said, when asked what other solutions there may be going forward. “I can’t think of any sacred cows,” he said. The solution will likely be a combination of efforts, from attempting to increase enrollment, making cuts and looking into state funding. The system has to increase revenue and cut expenses, he said.
USM is facing a similar process in the process ahead. “That’s a very tough number, 8.6 percent of our operating budget,” wrote President Theo Kalikow and advisory board co-chair Jerry LaSala in a release to faculty and staff. “We do not yet have the answers on how we will address USM’s challenges, but the Direction Package Advisory Board is meeting frequently through February,” they wrote.
The board is made up of 32 members of faculty, staff, students and community members who, LaSala said, are tasked with defining a long-term direction for the university and helping to identify specific areas for budget reductions to meet the shortfalls.
Campbell stressed that the Direction Package will be a vital part of the work successful move forward. “The purpose of the Directional Package work is to tell us how to be looking at what we’re going to be doing in that future,” he said. “We will have to do additional modeling once we have a better understanding of what that looks like.”
USM is not unique in its financial struggles or its efforts to come up with a solution with work like the Direction Package. Campbell added. He explained that there is also a push from the for more collaboration between campuses.
It’s also clear that the university’s financial struggles are far from new. “I don’t remember a time when I was here when we didn’t face a budget problem,” said Mark Lapping, distinguished professor from the Muskie School of Public Service. Lapping came to USM first in 1994 to act as provost and has since acted in various capacities at the university. “I don’t that we were ever adequately funded,” he said. “We’re not cutting any fat. That went away years ago. We’re now cutting into the bone,” he said.
LaSala agrees with Lapping that funding for the university has always been inadequate. “Fundamentally, this is a problem that goes back decades,” LaSala said. The geographic nature of USM, with its three distinct campuses, he said, has made funding a challenge.
“When I came to USM … there was a real sense of movement. This place would sing,” Lapping said.
With reorganizations and cuts a common theme at the university, “a lot of people are tired,” he said. “The process is nevertheless important,” Lapping said.
“People thirst for honest and open conversation.”
LaSala and Kalikow stressed that they want the Direction Package work to be as transparent as possible in the November release.
All of the classes and the three majors associated with the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures are still running after the department was effectively dissolved in late October. While ‘dissolving a department’ may sound like another cut, the move was largely organizational, and left the majors intact.
No courses and none of the three majors have been cut, nor, said Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, are there any plans in place to do so. However, Spanish Professor Charlene Suscavage argues that the loss of the departmental structure places her program, Hispanic studies, in a precarious position.
“We have no visibility,” Suscavage said. Visibility is important for Hispanic studies, Suscavage explained, because it is listed as a contract major, which falls under the umbrella of the “self designed” major, though there is an established curriculum required for Hispanic Studies students. “One of the reasons we’re a small major is that no one knows that we’re there,” Suscavage said.
Suscavage said she has tried to make Hispanic Studies a traditional major and that it has been voted in as one by the Faculty Senate three times, but it has never gone further than that. “Our provost would have to send it to the Board of Trustees, and he doesn’t want to,” Suscavage said.
When asked in an email why he has not explored this option, the Provost told the Free Press, “I am hopeful that the University of Maine System will find a way, much like Dr. Erickson is doing with French, to marshal resources from across the system to support a Spanish major.” He noted that since USM’s Hispanic Studies major is not listed as a system-approved major, the University of Maine at Orono is the only campus in the system that officially offers a Spanish major.
French Professor Nancy Erickson described the work Provost Stevenson mentioned. “I have been working with all the UMaine System campuses on a proposal to deliver the French major to campuses which do not have one and to share resources among the campuses that do but are strapped for resources. I met with the Provost and the Dean in mid-December to give my report and discuss this. My report is ready.”
When discussing this move toward inter-campus language programs across the UMS, Suscavage described the situation as “very dicey,” stressing the importance of in-person instruction for the first three semesters of a language class and the extremely small numbers of students who have opted to take the online version of her own blended class so far.
The three majors, French, Hispanic studies and classical languages and literatures, will each be taught by one full-time faculty member once Peter Aicher, the second remaining full-time classics professor at USM, reaches the end of a phased retirement next year. Each major is looking into different ways forward, following the decision that a department of three faculty members, all of whom teach different subjects, is not sustainable. “Essentially, we lost two-thirds of our faculty over the last 11 years,” said Associate Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures Jeannine Uzzi. “When people retire and aren’t replaced, you essentially kill the program.”
Uzzi added that classics, her own department, in some ways has more in common in terms of curriculum with history, philosophy and other liberal arts fields than with French or Spanish language classes. “There is no curricular reason why we should be together as one unit,” Uzzi said.
Administration for the three majors is currently going through Dean Kuzma’s office. “The Dean and the faculty are now working together to determine next steps in finding appropriate academic homes for the relevant programs,” said Stevenson.
However, what those departmental homes might be is far from being decided. “Everything is speculative,” said Erickson, who was adamant that, despite the administrative changes the three programs have undergone since Oct. 23, the dissolution of the department is not certain.
“You can’t just dissolve a department, that’s not how things are done,” Erickson said. She went on to say that no further meetings had been scheduled to determine the future of the department, a fact that she confirmed again two weeks later. She said that that the department’s status would remain undefined until further steps were taken. “I don’t know what is likely to happen,” Erickson said.
Suscavage is similarly uncertain. “We’re all in limbo,” she said. “The next step is reorganization.”
One thing that is certain is that, as an administrative unit, the MCLL department is no longer functioning. Kuzma confirmed that administrative work for the three majors is being done through the dean’s office while further arrangements are explored. “The changes in MCLL are purely administrative. I cannot emphasize that enough,” said Kuzma in an email to the Free Press in November.
An agreement on faculty union contracts may be closer than it has been in two and a half years after a tentative agreement was reached in November.
The proposed contract covers a four year span, including the past two and a half years and a year and half into the future.
“I feel like we’re finally turning the ship around,” said Christy Hammer, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences and president of the USM branch of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine.
The agreement was reached on Nov. 15, and was the final addition to the November Board of Trustees meeting on November 17 and 18. On the second day of the meeting, the motion to allow the Chancellor to ratify the proposed contract passed unanimously.
“It’s a tentative agreement until all parties agree,” said psychology Associate Professor John Broida, who is the USM representative to the AFUM bargaining committee. The next step, Broida said, is the Dec. 7 meeting of the AFUM bargaining committee, who will vote on whether accept or reject the agreement. No matter how they vote, the contract will go on to be voted on by the union members. If the union members do not approve the agreement, the contract will go back into negotiations. “The idea of the council is that they have all the information and will be able to help others,” Broida said.
The contract, which has been stalled largely over questions of pay raises and health benefits, comes in the context of budget shortfalls across the UMS. In a press release sent out following the Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 18, Leonard said, “The settlement with AFUM occurs in the context of an overall Trustee strategic change package designed to close a significant financial gap while meeting mission responsibilities … Costs associated with this agreement will not be borne by students or their families, but by reductions and efficiencies.”
One of the provisions in the contract which addresses the system’s fiscal situation is a financial incentive for older faculty to retire, with a greater incentive for retirement at the end of the current year, and a lesser incentive for retiring at the end of the 2014 to 2015 year.
“One thing [in the contract] many faculty think will help rebuild a stronger USM in the future is that there is an enhanced retirement incentive,” Hammer said.
Broida also mentioned that the retirement incentive could have a significant effect on the UMS. “If the contract is ratified, we may see a significant turnover in faculty.” Broida said
“Ultimately, that may free up some resources so that maybe we can hire more faculty,” said Hammer, echoing a discussion at the Nov. 8 faculty senate meeting, where engineering Professor Carlos Luck expressed concern that it was becoming too late in the year to begin searching for new faculty members for the next year, and that no new faculty searches are currently under way.
Broida expanded on that concern, explaining the reason for the retirement incentives. “One of the concerns of the faculty and administration is how old the faculty are getting.”
Broida said the tentative agreement follows the recommendations of the arbitration report which was released in September as the last step recommended by the Maine Labor Relations Board for the span of the first half of the tentative agreement, through June 2013. The period of the contract after June 2013 was not covered in the arbitration report, and required further negotiations.
“The last big obstacle was healthcare,” Broida said. The question of where the burden of payment for increasing healthcare costs would be assigned required a significant amount of negotiation and, said Broida, “It was interesting to watch people who know numbers get very confused by the final solution.”
The final agreement, which, Broida said, may be used as a pattern for future health care agreements with other unions in the UMS, is based on the projection of a four percent increase in health care costs for each year covered by the contract. The contract says that for the first 4.5 percent increase per year, 90 percent of that increase will be paid by the administration and 10 percent will be paid by the faculty, assuming certain qualifying conditions are met. If the qualifying conditions are not met, 80 percent will be paid by the administration and 20 percent will be paid by the faculty. If the cost of health care rises above 4.5 percent up to 13 percent, the cost will be split, paid half by the administration and half by the faculty. Any increase in healthcare costs higher than 13 percent will be paid by the faculty.
“It’s wonderful that we got the contract tentatively settled,” said Hammer. She went on to describe her surprise on seeing the results of a survey conducted by AFUM which showed that a number of faculty had needed to take on summer jobs over the course of the two and a half year contract negotiations without a pay increase. “Nobody goes into higher ed to get wealthy,” Hammer said, mentioning that many younger faculty have their own student loans to pay off.
The agreement as it stands, if approved, will provide a retroactive pay raise of one percent for the 2011 through 2012 school year for any faculty who were employed by the UMS at that time, a two percent raise retroactively from Jan. 2013, and two more two percent raises to be implemented June of 2013 and Sept 2014 respectively.
The date of the union vote on the contract following the Dec. 7 bargaining committee vote has not yet been set, but Broida said he expects the vote will take place in early January.
Students are still taking issue with the implementation of USM’s tobacco ban in Gorham since the university went tobacco-free last year.
Students at USM want to see administration work and listen to them to make the tobacco ban more suited to the needs of the Gorham campus.
In the second semester since USM put its campus-wide smoking ban into effect, some people still stand behind it as a good idea while others continue to argue that it is a violation of smokers’ rights. However, both smokers and nonsmokers have said that its execution has been far from flawless.
Many students have said that the ban’s implementation in Gorham specifically needs change, whether that mean more lenience or more enforcement of the rules so that it will actually be obeyed. “When I lived in the dorms, before the ban went into effect, I found it difficult to deal with the change. [The] administration needs to make some improvements or compromises on the ban for the Gorham campus because people live there,” said Jessica Rogalus, a junior history major.
The ban’s aim was to stop all tobacco use on campus and even prohibits non-tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes. “The new Tobacco-free Policy states that e-cigarettes are not allowed to be used on campus. The state of Maine, along with the FDA, view e-cigarettes as a tobacco product as it contains nicotine and uses a similar delivery device as a cigarette.” Suzanne Roy, USM’s health promotion manager, said shortly after the ban was put into action.
“Staff have told me they know students who, because of the ban, have taken the step to quit smoking. Those of us who don’t use tobacco are relieved to see a cleaner, tobacco-free campus. Others, who have allergies to smoke, are very relieved as well,” said Judie O’Malley, the assistant director at the USM office of Public Affairs.
The lack of compliance on the Gorham campus put stress on non-smoking students who lived in dorms. “No one used to smoke near buildings because you had to be 50 feet away. Now it’s like the 50 foot rule doesn’t exist. It took two months for Residential Life or even the police to do anything about it. Every night we would have to yell out the window for smokers to get out from under our window,” said Stephanie Dodier, a senior communications major.
“The USM Dean of Students and USM Police Safety staff, continue to monitor areas where smoking violations are taking place on campus. They have spoken with persons who are using tobacco on campus grounds to remind them to refrain from using tobacco,” Roy said of the process in dealing with continued smoking on campus.
For some students, the ban made them want to move off campus entirely. “The ban was a small factor in the reason I moved. It surprised me how it seems that the student body has little to no say in campus issues such as the smoking ban,” said Rogalus, who is a smoker.
“We feel the tobacco ban has been a success on all three campuses. Occasionally, I ask my colleagues around USM how it is going and I’ve heard that while there may be small pockets of non-compliance, for the most part, the tobacco ban is being observed,” O’Malley said.
Though some see things they would like to change, other students are relieved that USM is now tobacco-free. “My dad has had lung cancer twice in his life; right now it’s stage four, and he’s never smoked a day in his life. Secondhand smoke is actually really damaging, and cigarette butts everywhere are gross. The world is not your trash can,” Dodier said.
When the tobacco ban was first introduced, a group of students worked hard to try and prevent it from becoming a reality. “I am not trying to stop the tobacco ban anymore. It’s pointless, and I can’t do anything to change it. I feel almost defeated about it,” said Ana Worthing, a senior psychology major who was one of the students who protested the ban. “The president has made up her mind,” she said. “At this time it’s a done deal and set in stone.”
The ban is a group effort of everyone who attends USM. “One of the ways to succeed in creating a safe and healthy environment is for each of us to own our responsibility to respectfully approach persons who are ignoring the tobacco policy to remind them that this policy has been adopted to protect the health of everyone from exposure to secondhand smoke, a serious health hazard that is avoidable,” said Roy.
Now that the ban has been put into action, both the pro-ban and anti-ban students agree that a lot remains to be done with the ban. Both sides have a lot of ideas for what they would like to see happen in the future and hope that the administration will eventually talk to them and consider their opinions.
Paul Nelson, first year political science major, has already been working to make changes at USM and hear all student voices.
Nelson is originally from Old Town and is a 2012 graduate of Old Town High School. Right after high school Nelson enlisted in the National Guard where he worked in the United States to support operations overseas for a year and a half. Nelson still spends one weekend every month training with the National Guard, and the National Guard helps him pay for his education.
“I had friends who went into the political science major and loved it. I know that this was the best decision for me as a person and my future,” Nelson said of his choice to attend USM.
After USM, Nelson plans to continue his military career from what he’s learned as a political science major. “I plan on going into active duty. I plan on pursuing my military career for fourteen or more years so that I can give back on an even bigger scale,” he said. “I want to see things be different and be a part of something bigger than myself. I want to be able to say ‘I helped people, I saved lives,’” Nelson said.
Usually, student senate members campaign in the fall and are elected in the spring. Because this is Nelson’s first semester, the process went a little differently for him. “I was asked what I could bring to the table. My goal was to give back and get to know and support other students.”
Nelson explained he had more than classroom experience in leadership. “I also was in charge of 1,500 people when I was in Texas for the military, so I had experience leading. Then I was elected,” Nelson said.
As a senator, he said, he has already worked to make his goal of helping others a reality. Nelson works to gain students’ respect and trust by simply getting to know them. “I make it a point to meet one student every week. I go up to someone, give them a handshake and introduce myself,” he said. “I always ask what they would like to see change at USM and work to make it a better place. I want students to know that their voices are heard. USM is a large, diverse school, and it‘s important to include everyone,” Nelson said.
Outside of working in the student senate, Nelson is also a part of the fraternity Phi Mu Delta, which helps him stay involved in the events of the university, like a Rock-a-thon that raised money for St. Joseph’s hospital. The fraternity also acted as security for USM’s Royal Majesty Drag Competition, which took place on the Nov. 22. “Working with Phi Mu Delta is about promoting unity and philanthropy,” Nelson said.
At 19 years-old, Paul Nelson is one of the youngest senators at USM, and he feels that he already has made some accomplishments at USM. But Nelson also has a lot more that he plans to do to help others. He said that he wants to continue listening to students so that he can improve USM, and he urges people to attend senate meetings on Fridays to be heard.
On November 15, the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine and University of Maine System came to a tentative agreement on faculty contracts which have been under negotiation since the expiration of the previous contract on June 30, 2011.
The contract negotiations, which have been stalled over numerous issues, notably healthcare and cost of living raises, have undergone a series of steps for arbitration by the Maine Labor Relations Board, culminating in September.
The new version of the contract, which is described as a tentative agreement on the AFUM website, will be voted on by the UMS Board of Trustees as the final item on the agenda of today’s Board of Trustees meeting at the University of Maine at Farmington. It will then be voted on by AFUM at the Dec. 7 meeting of the AFUM Bargaining Council.