USM Free Press News Feed
In the fall, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences issued a survey to ask students in the department which kind of learning they prefer. A resonating 92 percent answered that they prefer in person instruction, with two percent preferring online, and five percent preferring the blended classroom concept.
Leonard Shedletsky, professor of communication, has focused his teaching efforts online but does enjoy both.
“While the two contexts differ in many ways, there are ways in which they share significant features,” said Shedletsky. “What I have in mind is the potential more and more to meet live or synchronously online, to discuss, hear one another’s voice, see one another, share documents, view texts and videos together and to feel the immediacy of one another.”
Shedletsky noted the results of the survey, but advised that they be considered very carefully.
“These data should not be taken too literally without deeper examination,” Shedletsky said. “I believe that when people imagine the comparison there is a tendency to imagine scenarios that are not realistic. There is a tendency to romanticize the classroom, a world of give and take, authentic talk, engaged debate. Little of that is actually true, however.”
Matthew Killmeier, chair of the department of communication and media studies, explained that the survey was taken in class, which may cause some bias. He also recognized that when the department offers online classes, they fill up quickly.
“The bias is this survey is one we did in class,” said Killmeier. “When we offer an online section of something it usually fills up right away. There is demand. There is a considerable number of students that do do exclusively online.”
Killmeier went onto explain that one of his students, a blueberry farmer in Washington County, completed his communication degree completely online.
“It’s got potential if you do it right, recognizing that online is not for everybody, and I think a lot of students would attest to that,” said Killmeier. “It demands a lot more of the student. They have to be very self-disciplined because it is asynchronous.”
Ashley Belanger, sophomore biology major, believes there are pros and cons to online learning.
“[Online classes are] easier in some aspects because it’s more time friendly and convenient but also harder because it is not the first class you think of and it can be harder to focus,” Belanger said.
Belanger doesn’t believe that students should be able to complete a degree solely online, because that may deprive students of the hands-on aspect that some require to thrive. However, she does think offering online classes to those who may need it is a good route to go.
“I believe that it would be a good idea [to offer more classes online] since a great portion of our students work while going to school or have a family to take care of,” said Belanger. “It would fit better in almost everybody’s schedule.”
Lexi Huot, an undeclared freshman, is currently enrolled in her first online class at USM, but explained that she already knows that she prefers a face-to-face educational environment.
“With my class right now it’s very confusing to know what is due and how the professor wants it done,” said Huot. “Whereas, in a classroom environment they explained how the assignment should be done.”
She added that online classes are helping her manage her time better, since they are more independent.
Huot recognized that online classes are not how everyone learns.
“Many students, like myself, prefer to see the material done in front of us,” said Huot. “I also feel it is easier to engage in a class discussion when you have everyone else in front of you instead of going back to check your computer to see what your other classmates opinion is on the topic.”
Regardless of the preference, all agreed that online learning has potential, but is certainly not something that should be required, as students all have different needs.
“A quality academic experience, whether online or face-to-face is the goal we need to seek,” said Shedletsky. “It can be done if we set our minds to it.”
Last week, a team was sent to USM by the American Association of University Professors to investigate claims against USM’s execution of academic freedom and shared governance.
Chairing the investigative committee was Michael Berube, director of the institute for arts and humanities at Pennsylvania State University.
According to Berube, hundreds of requests for intervention come before the AAUP every year, regarding what he described as “shady practices in American higher education.” From those, only a handful are selected.
“The investigative process is very labor intensive,” said Berube. “We try to take the ones that we think are the most important for the future of higher education.”
USM fell into that category.
“What’s going on in Southern Maine, it seems, is pretty drastic,” said Berube. “It seems to have pretty far-reaching implications and that’s why it was authorized for investigation.”
Berube explained that the process of investigation includes two main components. First, the committee must read every document relevant to the investigation.
“I’ve read massive amounts of material, ranging from the faculty bylaws, to the constitution; I’ve gone through email exchanges, reports from the administration, various information about financial disaster,” said Berube. “We just try to get the lay of the land here.”
Berube explained that, in an investigation, the team wants to hear as much from administration as it does from faculty.
“We come in as outsiders,” said Berube. “We come in as impartial observers.”
Berube addressed the idea brought up time and time again by USM administration that the AAUP has no standing, and reiterated that it is only true in a “narrow” legal sense.
“The AAUP is in fact a nationally recognized authority on what academic freedom and governance actually are,” said Berube. “So we don’t take this stuff lightly, but we don’t come in with any preconceived notions either.”
Another member on the committee as well as a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, Howard Bunsis is in the process of the financial analysis.
Berube explained that this step has been difficult, because USM has not published all of the information or made available the numbers that they’re basing the financial crisis upon.
“President Flanagan did go over some larger scale demographic and financial projections for the state of Maine,” said Berube. “We have been able to go over published financial information of the system as a whole, but Howard Bunsis has only recently been able to get ahold of specific information about the University of Southern Maine.”
Christopher Quint, executive director of public affairs, explained that USM has been “nothing but transparent” throughout the process of closing the financial gap.
Berube also noted the difficulty in determining the financial status of USM because the numbers they’re looking at are projected, and have been for quite some time now.
“The administration’s approach on this is ‘Yeah, we’ve had a looming problem for quite some time. We’re not making this up, this is a systematic problem.”
The third challenge, Berube said, is not about the numbers or about the money.
“Even if these projections and these predictions are true, is this anyway to run a university?” asked Berube. “Is this really the way we go about retrenching faculty and cutting programs? And that’s a procedural question, but a really important one.”
Berube explained that even if the numbers pan out, the AAUP will still be looking at whether or not the process to filling the budget gap was done in a “proper and professional manner.”
A censure, according to Berube, could have any number of effects, and depends on how willing the administration is to get off the censure list once they’re put on it.
When asked whether USM would make an effort to be removed from the censure list if the university is indeed censured, Quint said, “USM is focused on implementing the Metropolitan University concept and ensuring that we remain an affordable, accessible and quality institution for our current and future students.”
He said that the state university of New York system has been on the censure list since the mid 70s, and will be on the list forever. They have a clause that allows them to fire faculty at will.
On the other hand, Louisiana State University was censured and immediately began working to be removed.
“It’s not like we censure you and we’re done and we never talk to you again,” said Berube. “The idea is not to censure people and show that they’re bad. The idea is to get institutions to stop doing the kinds of things that are getting them censured.”
The vote on whether or not USM will be censured will go before the AAUP during their annual conference in June.
The student senate shot down a motion last week that would have changed the senator application process for the remainder of the semester. Throughout the year the senate has occasionally questioned whether or not applicants should have to gather signatures from the student body in order to become a senator. On Friday the senate decided that the signature process should remain, but only after thorough discussion.
“The petition process was put in place when the senate was set to have a busy election and thought that the seats were going to fill up instantly,” said senate parliamentarian Joshua Tharpe. “As we all know, that hasn’t been the case.”
The senate has been under seated all year and has suspended the rule requiring signatures in order to appoint senators on occasion. The requirement used to be 100 signatures but was later reduced to just 25. Recruitment was key in the discussion, as some senators said petitioning could be getting in the way of recruiting new members while they have only 14 of 21 seats filled.
“Not everyone has the go-getter attitude necessary to talk to so many strangers and get signatures,” said senator Emily Rose.
Other senators felt that the petitioning was an important part of the process.
“You should have to work to be on senate,” said senator Ashley Caterina. “If you can’t bother going out and talking to students you’re going to be working for, you shouldn’t get the job.”
“I know it can feel like a hassle and a pain,” said senator John Jackson. “But it forces you to get out there and connect with the community. It really helps put a face to our names, which is something we’ve been working to do.”
Josh Dodge, former senate chair who stepped down to take an out-of-state internship, was in attendance and explained why the signature process was created in the first place.
“There was a point a couple years ago when senate was this empty and we started appointing senators without an election just to fill seats, but there was a little bit of an outrage because people thought senators were abers of certain clubs,” explained Dodge. “With the petitioning, we at least have something saying this handful of students wanted you to be a senator. It’s not an election, but it backed our decisions up.”
There was a motion on the floor to suspend the petition requirements until the senate had at least 18 senators, but was shot down, with only four senators voting to do away with the rule.
The senate has been working to increase the size of the senate, but decided to start from the inside. This week the executive board introduced a senator retention program, pairing up veteran senators with freshly appointed ones to guide them through a handful of meetings and help them get used to their duties.
The senate also assigned senators to each of its entities, including the board of student organizations, the campus events boards and the student communications board, in order to maximize relationships with other student groups.
“I feel like this will help everyone keep on track,” said senate chair Judson Cease. “We’re moving in a good direction.”
In response to recent cuts by administration, as well as the threat of a sanction by the American Association for University Professors (AAUP), a special faculty senate meeting was held on Friday to discuss the role of the senate moving forward.
In an almost unanimous vote, the senate passed a resolution to ask for a rescindment of recent acts by administration, as well as a request for administration to work in collaboration with governance documents and the AAUP.
The senate proposed a resolution regarding what they perceived as violations of the USM governance constitution. In response to this, an investigative team will be on campus Sunday and Monday.
According to Nancy Gish, professor of English, there are approximately 1,000 concerns from universities presented to the AAUP each year, and only four or five are selected to investigate, USM being one of those.
“We are on the verge of being censured by the AAUP,” said Carlos Luck, professor of electrical engineering. “Do we know what that means?”
According to the senate, though the AAUP has no legal standing, it will effect the university as a whole in the future. Concerns regarding recruitment and retrenchment were brought up.
In an interview with The Free Press, Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, explained that USM has reached out to other universities sanctioned by the AAUP and there has been no significant impact on enrollment or recruitment.
“It’s inconsequential,” said Quint. “It doesn’t impact us. It’s in existence for them to promote an agenda.”
“The best people in the field will not apply for jobs here,” said Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies.
Mark Lapping, professor in the Muskie School of Public Service, said that people will look at the list of censored institutions and simply not apply.
“Let’s face it, it’s a buyer’s marker,” said Lapping. “It’s a blemish on the system. There are potentially more actions like this that could happen to the system.”
Lucinda Cole, director of the women and gender studies department, explained that USM would not be able to fulfill the universities purpose under these circumstances.
Quint explained, as he has in the past, that the AAUP has no standing in the matters of the university.
“They have zero legal standing. We are meeting with them as a courtesy and there will be no one else meeting with them from administration,” said Quint. “If they accept, they’ll have an opportunity to ask whatever questions they need to.”
“This is a misunderstanding of the word ‘standing.’ Most people think only or imagine only of the legal standing,” said Gish. “The AAUP has immense national standing, professional standing, moral standing, ethical standing, academic standing.”
She went on to explain that the word “standing” is much broader than whether or not there are legal implications.
“If, for example, my doctor were to cause me to be permanently disabled and the AMA took a stand on this, it wouldn’t be legal in court but it would certainly have standing,” said Gish. “If it was made public in the state, it ought to have a powerful impact on people’s views of the university.”
Luck explained that the idea that censure by the AAUP only puts a “damper” on recruitment doesn’t seem like a big enough punishment. However, others explained that there are long term repercussions to take into account.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate, explained that governance is one of things considered when becoming accredited.
“I suspect that that would read down upon our accreditation,” said LaSala.
Luck also brought up the issue of recruiting local students in the area.
“What will our potential students do once they hear that USM is being sanctioned?” he asked.
Gish explained that one of the most important things that people could do was read the preamble of the constitution, which includes information about USM’s relationship with the AAUP.
“To say that the AAUP is not and never has had any participation in the policies of the governance system is incorrect,” said Gish. “The BoT is violating its own policies against the constitution.”
Quint rebutted that the only mention of the AAUP is in the preamble, which is simply an acknowledgement.
“There’s one mention in the USM constitution. That’s it,” said Quint. “We don’t have to meet with them, but we’ve offered.”
Quint said that once the investigation is through, he suspects USM will be censured, but that they’ll find exactly the same information that’s been given out since September.
“The same information [President] David [Flanagan] has given to the faculty senate meeting every time,” said Quint. “That information is we have a $16 million structural gap. They’ll find that the numbers are real. Whether they believe it or not, they’ll find that we’ve followed the processes in place.”
Quint believes the visit has a predetermined outcome, and that the AAUP did not plan their visit well.
“We’re closed on Monday and we’ve got other things to do,” said Quint. “If their intention was truly to have an informed investigation, reach out to us on days when we’re not closed or busy.”
Classrooms this spring semester will have 374 fewer students in them than last year, based on the current headcount released by the academic affairs.
While not completely final, because students may still add or drop courses during the month, the numbers of enrolled students in the spring these past three years show a steady declin–6,717 students have enrolled so far this spring, compared to 7,652 two years prior.
The general opinion, after gathering 20 individual responses from both past and current students, is that USM often serves as a prospective students “back up school.” Many said that USM’s biggest attraction is its affordability, an area that the administration wants to focus on when marketing to potential applicants. Despite its competitive price in the higher education market, USM has served as a “last resort” to students like Brianna Wolfe, a risk management graduate.
“I settled on USM,” said Wolfe. “If I could go back, I probably would have not chosen to com here, although I’ve met some great people here.”
In Wolfe’s opinion, news of program eliminations, faculty layoffs and student protests may have scared off potential applicants. According to Wolfe, USM could also use a “facelift” on its “nasty 60’s and 70’s buildings,” which might help attract more students.
“If I were applying now to colleges and I heard about USM, I wouldn’t even waste my money on the application fee,” said Wolfe. “Why waste my precious money on a place, like USM, that is going to be dead in only a matter of years?”
Douglas McIntire, an English graduate, also said that the bad press is driving away students and USM wasn’t even on his radar when he was researching grad school. McIntire’s first choice for college was USM, but “wishy washy” guidelines for his then art major and a lack of guidance sent him away to St. Joeseph’s College. According to McIntire, the only reason he came back to USM was because of finances, but after majoring in English he had no regrets.
“The English department is the best,” said McIntire. “It’s like finding a diamond ring in Goodwill.”
Sarah Gelber, a recent English graduate, agrees and said that her program was a “hidden gem,” but the school overall has a bad reputation it needs to work on. Gelber said that students in high school are hearing rumours that USM is an example of how higher education shouldn’t operate.
“What ultimately saved my opinion of USM was my program; I can’t tell you how much I loved it,” said Gelber. “I hope USM will remain the same, as I remember it, for future students.”
Although Gelber loves the city of Portland and it influenced her decision to come to USM, she believes that the lack of cohesion with Gorham may contribute to the declining retention.
“Another big issue at USM is a lack of community,” said Gelber.
John Finison, an English graduate, also came to USM because of its prime location in Portland, although it was his backup school. Finison said he was originally searching for an “authentic” college experience out of state.
“I say authentic because it seems USM tries to “reinvent” itself every few years by hiring a new marketing team, when what the school really lacks are traditions,” said Finison.
Students fresh out of high school, like Colin Broadbent and Emily Cabana, have been accepted to USM, but are still on the fence as to whether or not they’ll attend. Broadbent said that USM’s location and the athletics department are some of the influencing factors in his tentative decision to attend. For Cabana, who plans on being an operating nurse at Maine Medical Center, USM’s nursing school is piquing her interest in becoming a Huskie.
“I love the atmosphere of the Portland campus,” said Cabana. “My friends that go here already recommended it to me, and I heard the nursing program is really great.”
The reasons for leaving USM, or never even considering it as a higher education option are diverse and complex. Students cited everything from the lack of academic guidance, to the split campuses as reasons for the slow exodus of prospective Huskies. According to Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, all of the administration’s current initiatives, will capitalize on USM’s strengths and intrinsically attract more students.
Quint said that the administration has been working to recruit and market to out of state students in the New Hampshire, Connecticut and Northern Massachusetts. USM recruiters are also working to “establish a foothold” in York county, because according to Quint a lot of students from that area choose to go to UNH.
“The biggest things we’re pushing are our cost, our location and our quality programs; these are our strengths,” said Quint.
Apart from just an increase in targeted marketing, Quint cited the latest aligning to a metropolitan model, and the consolidation of student services as other initiatives that will help attract and keep students.
“We’re going to be focusing on the programs that are already doing well,” said Quint. “But there are a number of programs on the precipice of greatness. We want all our programs aligned with the metropolitan model.”
According to the enrollment comparison report, the art education, music performance, theatre, English, history, philosophy, computer science, political science, engineering, chemistry and environmental science departments were the only ones that showed an increase in students.
Paul Dexter, the learning coordinator at the learning commons in the Glickman library, said that declining enrollment and retention is a complex issue and there were many forces that contributed to it.
“This isn’t a campus centric issue, and there’s no one way to resolve it,” said Dexter. “That’s why it’s so important to think of new ideas.”
Dexter said that increasing accessibility to the learning commons, a tutoring space for students, will increase a student’s confidence with their academic path and in turn help with retention. Dexter wants to change the culture of tutoring, to mean less about remediation and more about engaging in concepts learned in the classroom.
“Tutoring at the library is directly related to a student’s success; it isn’t just for people who are struggling,” said Dexter. “We’re trying to make learning and the appropriate levels of support as efficient and accessible as possible.”
As of now, a student can go online and see the tutoring schedule for the entire semester, and choose from a multitude of subject areas, with a team of over 50 tutors, at no additional cost to them. According to Dexter, the learning commons saw 2,500 different tutoring appointments last year.
“Students leave for a multitude of reasons, and as a University we need to have a response,” said Dexter. “We need to identify those students early on and make sure we engage them and offer enough support.”
USM professors Ronald Schmidt and Jason Read have been filling holes left in the wake of the mass exodus of Portland Phoenix writers to the new alternative weekly in town, Dig Portland. The two professors have had more or less regular columns in the Phoenix, which comes out every Wednesday in Portland and the surrounding area.
Schmidt, a political science professor by trade who specializes in American politics and political theory, writes about local politics in his column titled “The Red Pencil.”
When Dig started, Dan McLeod, Phoenix editor, got Schmidt on board to replace the old political writer, Al Diamon. They met for coffee to hash it out. McLeod is a former USM student and Free Press alumni. He also recruited Read because he was a fan of his personal blog.
Read is a philosophy professor who writes his monthly column “A Closer Read” which has been about movies and how they can be interpreted from a philosophical view point. Read said he’s not going to write strictly about movies but ties in philosophy with culture, politics and maybe television, all with a Maine connection.
“I try to name drop a philosopher in every column,” Read said, in the hopes someone will pick up on it and explore it further.
Both authors found the newspaper style liberating in contrast to their academic writing which is rigidly confined and tends to be a lot lengthier.
“I like the idea of being able to write in a different vein and reach out to a different audience than I usually deal with,” Read said.
“My writing style is geared towards at least long papers or short books. With the column, you need your point to be clear in a couple of sentences. And you need to get out. It’s a challenge, but its a fun challenge,” said Schmidt.
Read isn’t going to be quitting his day job anytime soon.
“No one could make a living writing a column,” he said.
They both said they were having fun and would like to do it as long as possible, but they’d like a bit more feedback from the reading public.
Read noted, “I want to generate my first angry letter at some point.” Schmidt has received some “really nice emails,” but alas no angry ones.
As for when they find time to teach classes, grade papers and write a column? Schmidt has been squeezing it in when his daughter goes to bed. “You make time. Sometimes I’ve worked on it at 3 in the morning ‘cause that’s the time block I could find.”
Neither could speak to whether or not their involvement in column writing is the idea of rebranding USM as a “metropolitan university.”
“Community service is part of what we’re evaluated on and I think of trying to explain politics in public venues is a big part of my community service,” said Schmidt. “I do hope that over time Jason’s and my column will reiterate that USM is part of Portland and that engaging with other people in Portland and around the city about events going on in the state, is part of what a community is.”
Less than two weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced a proposal that would make two years of community college free for student workers in an effort to make college as accessible as high school is for Americans.
The program would require action from a Republican-dominated Congress and the details of the plan haven’t been released but White House officials estimate that 9 million students would participate and save up to $3,800 a year.
“For millions of Americans, community colleges are essential pathways to the middle class because they’re local, they’re flexible. They work for people who work full-time. They work for parents who have to raise kids full-time. They work for folks who have gone as far as their skills will take them and want to earn new ones, but don’t have the capacity to just suddenly go study for four years and not work,” said Obama during a press conference at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn.
“Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it — because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few. I think it’s a right for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” he continued.
The details of the plan, how it can unfold and it’s cost, should be announced during the State of the Union Address this Tuesday. The plan is modeled after the Tennessee Promise — a state-level free-college plan starting this fall, paid for with Tennessee Lottery proceeds. According to officials, the execution would require collaboration states, community colleges and students in order to pick up the cost.
While nothing has been approved, some students are excited for the plan.
Junior psychology major Kelly Kean said that two free years would’ve given her a comfortable amount of time in college to hash out her interests and pick a major without feeling pressure.
“Those first few semesters are when students take all of their general ed. credits anyway,” said Kean. “If I had the option to get those out of the way for free and they transferred easily, I definitely would’ve gone to a community college.”
“It’s a great idea,” said sophomore history major Daniel Plante. “Everyone deserves to at least have the option of going to college, but obviously the money and time to take classes isn’t always there. We shouldn’t stop free education at the high school level.”
Some students like the idea, but are disappointed that they’ve missed out.
“Free tuition is great and all for those lucky enough to land it, but I’m already paying my bills, so I’m just trying to ignore it,” said senior history major Joe Derks. “I’ve been dealing with financial aid and all that year after year and now some kids just get two years for free? That’s annoying.”
“It’s one of those things you wish had happened just a few years earlier,” said undeclared sophomore Patrick Hawthorne.
Others believe that the idea is doomed to fail and won’t be approved by Congress.
“It’s an absolute pipe-dream,” said undeclared freshman Ashley Braley. “I mean, it’s nice, but it would cost so much money.
White House officials have said that serving the estimated number of students would cost American taxpayers $70 billion.
“Because in the end, nothing is more important to our country than you, our people. That’s our asset. We’ve got very nice real estate here,” said Obama. “We’ve got this incredible bounty, the God-given resources that we enjoy in this country. But our greatest resources are people.”
University of Maine System administrators will soon be interviewing candidates who have applied to be the next president at USM after current president David Flanagan leaves at the end of the spring semester.
The window to apply for the position closed in mid-December and the candidate pool has been whittled down to a workable number. Applicant details, such as name, prior experience and background will remain confidential until they are chosen as a last-round candidate and are invited to visit the USM campus, which will happen in February.
Search consultants met with small groups of USM students, staff, faculty and community members throughout the fall semester in order to gauge what USM needs in a president and leader, which resulted in the drafting of an official leadership statement which was posted along with the job description and application.
According to the statement, the new president will be tasked primarily with continuing to implement the metropolitan university vision and strategy, building enrollment by reversing headcount declines, raising retention rates and being more engaged with students and faculty.
“We want someone to be an agent of change, someone who will continue the process we started,” said James Irwin, a UMaine system trustee who has led the search committee, in an interview with the Free Press in December. “We need someone to articulate why USM matters in this community.
Flanagan has repeatedly told the Free Press that he is only on board for the remainder of the academic year and has no intention to stay at USM or apply to extend his contract into the following year.
According to Irwin, the goal is to have a new president start during the summer and be comfortable by the start of the fall semester.
When the faculty senate reached out to the USM community in early December for input on possible changes to the academic calendar, survey participants said they wanted everything to stay the same.
The idea to align the academic calendars of all seven UMaine campuses has been brought up regularly throughout the fall semester by system-level administrators as a way to unify the many arms of the system. System administrators are looking into changing USM’s spring start date, changing the dates of breaks and possibly moving from having two one-week breaks to having one two-week break instead.
The USM community says they’re content with our current schedule though, with 67 percent of 753 respondents saying they prefer multiple one week breaks over a longer break.
Right now, USM’s academic schedule is molded to match that of the local K-12 programs. Because the university has such a non-traditional student body, many respondents noted that being able to share vacations with their children is an absolute must.
“For faculty who have children in schools, having our break align with the K-12 school breaks as much as possible is optimal,” commented one respondent. “This is also true for our non-traditional students who are parents.”
If parents’ schedules didn’t match up with their children’s breaks, they would have to find childcare coverage, which can quickly become expensive in many cases.
“Not having the same time off will greatly impact their attendance in classes,” wrote another respondent on students with young children.
Other comments noted that switching to a two-week break would halt any progress being made in class and that students can forget a lot in or find it hard to get back into the swing of things after two weeks of vacation.
“The one two-week break makes it seem like school is done,” wrote a respondent. “Going back after [would be] really difficult.”
“You should definitely keep the two separate one week vacations. It provides us students with the opportunity to get a small break in between stressful classes,” wrote another.
There were some supporters of the two-week break among the replies, most citing the want to align our spring break with other colleges for serious vacation time and general unity of the campuses. Some supporters of the change still recognized that this would be an inconvenience to parents.
When the survey was distributed, there were some in the community who were alarmed, thinking that USM was going to alter our breaks for the coming semester, which would affect vacation plans which some people plan months ahead of time.
Christopher Quint, the executive director of public affairs, emailed all students, staff and faculty, reiterating that the administration was gathering input on possible changes to vacations in future academic calendar years, not the spring of 2015.
Now that the framework to balance USM’s budget has been drafted, the administration has focused its efforts to securing a bright future for the school, through four main initiatives that they hope to have completed before President David Flanagan steps down at the end of the semester.
“The budget is balanced and the hardest part is over,” said Quint. “We’re shifting our efforts to the future now.”
One of these goals includes putting together the framework behind USM’s new persona as “Maine’s Metropolitan University.” Quint said that he wants to get the right people involved and engaged in their advising group, and is always open to feedback from faculty and the community.
“We’ll be hosting a series of ‘lighting chats,’ which will be an opportunity for us to exchange questions and ideas with community members,” said Quint.
According to Quint, the ultimate goal during Flanagan’s time here is to send USM along a path that leads to the receival of the Carnegie Designation by 2020. According to their website, the Carnegie Designation is the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in American colleges. It’s what Quint described as, “the gold standard of what it means to be a metropolitan university.”
A second goal for the administration this spring semester is a redesign of some of the academic departments. While Quint didn’t get into specifics, he did say that the three colleges will be restructured to align themselves with the metropolitan model.
“Does this program make sense in this department? What classes or programs could we combine to create administrative efficiencies? Those are the kinds of questions we’re asking ourselves,” said Quint.
The third administrative project under way is an amelioration of student services. According to Quint, the administration is in the process of recruiting a new vice president of enrollment management that would be overseeing athletics, student life, admissions, financial aid and academic advising. The other effect an increased attention on student services would be an easier time for students to engage with the community and find internships.
“The idea is that when a student walks on campus, they’ll have both an academic and professional advisor,” said Quint. “This will make it easier for a student to plan for both life in college and life afterwards, which in turn will help with retention.”
Retention and recruitment is something that Quint believes should always be worked on. This semester Quint said the administration is going to have a “laser-like focus” on ways that USM can increase its applicants and keep them from leaving.
“We’re out in the field aggressively working on it, from marketing to admissions,” said Quint. “We’re going to deploy 900,000 more dollars right now to current students through financial aid. We don’t want them to get to a point where they feel like they have to leave because they can’t afford to stay.”
Quint said that in the future he hopes that USM is able to widen their advertising reach, and progress from email and Facebook ads into more radio and television spots.
After 28 years as head coach of the men’s ice hockey team, Jeff Beaney retired over the winter break and the reason why has been left unclear.
According to Chris Quint, USM’s executive director of public affairs. Beaney would have ideally finished up the rest of the season with his team, but a “variety of factors” spurred talks of Beaney’s early retirement amongst Bean and President David Flanagan.
Quint mentioned an anonymous letter that was sent to both Bean and Flanagan expressing some concern with the longtime hockey coach. Quint said he didn’t care to get into the full details of the letter, but that it was first mentioned in the press by the Maine Hockey Network.
“Now, after Coach Beaney announced his retirement, we’re looking towards the future and the hope of rebuilding this team,” said Quint.
Beany declined to speak about his retirement to the Free Press, but told the Maine Hockey Journal that the decision to retire was not entirely his.
“The decision was made [President] David Flanagan. I didn’t choose to leave now on my own. There are six weeks left in the season, and I would have liked to finish them out. [ Athletic Director] Al [Bean] is taking the blame, but the decision was not his,” Beany told a MHJ reporter.
The Division III Husky’s are 1-9 this year and have suffered nine consecutive losses. Beaney has been working with the hockey team for 30 years and 28 as head coach. The last time the team had a winning season was in 2008. Since Beaney’s time at USM, the Huskies have been 260-380-50 and without a championship title.
“The hockey team has been struggling for some time now,” said Quint.
In the meantime, former player and assistant coach, Ed Hardy will take Beaney’s place as coach, but just temporarily. According to Hardy, he was the last person to know of Beaney’s retirement and received a phone call saying the hockey program was “in a bit of a jam.” After meeting with Bean, he agreed to take over Beaney’s position.
“Hardy’s our new interim coach,” said Quint. “He’s here to stabilize the team and start building towards a new season. Once that’s over, we’ll announce the search for a new, permanent coach.”
As of now, Hardy plans on submitting his name for consideration as the new, permanent head coach.
Hardy has coaching experience with the Lewiston Maineiacs as well as at North Yarmouth Academy, Casco Bay Youth Hockey and the New England Wolves junior team.
According to Hardy, his goals are to make sure the four seniors on the team get the most out of their last season playing, citing that college is supposed to be the best years of a person’s life.
“I don’t want them to leave here with a bad taste in their mouth,” said Hardy. “Win or lose, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to have some fun doing it.”
Players like freshman double major in international business and marketing, Victor Ivarsson thought highly of former coach Beaney and are sad to see him go.
“This is an unfortunate situation for us all, but we’ll rebuild and get even stronger,” said Ivarsson. “I enjoyed having Beaney as a coach and I’m positive many others did as well.”
Quint is also optimistic about the future, adding that although they’ve faced some challenges, the team still has a lot of potential.
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.”
The recent administrative push to make USM more attractive to potential applicants, and henceforth more profitable through a “metropolitan” rebranding, is going to come with a $900,000 price tag.
According to Richard Barringer, the head of a steering group created to implement the initial plans for the metropolitan university vision, the rebranding is necessary for the future of the university.
The steering group of over 30 members have been working since June to define what exactly a metropolitan university is and how they can bring that model to USM.
“Amidst all the chaos, the work [of the steering group] has proven to be a very positive experience,” said Barringer. “I have no doubt that the repurposing of our university is critical for a successful future.”
According to Barringer and members of the administration, becoming a metropolitan university involves crafting academic programs around the needs of the community and local industries. Ideally, under the model, the university would serve as a one stop shop for employers to fill internships and entry level positions with students that learned the relevant skills.
Barringer said that he was upfront with the cost and if we want to see the benefits of the vision, we’ll have to pay the price. The $900,000 budget is an estimation based on surveys and observations on how other schools have made and paid for a metropolitan transformation.
According to Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, research has shown that a metropolitan rebranding has cost other schools anywhere from $100 per student to $600 per student. Quint said the steering group’s plan will likely cost USM student’s $150 each, the low end of what other schools have paid. Quint noted that Cornell is spending over $40 million this year on a metropolitan restructuring.
Quint also said that part of the budget includes the salary of a new director, who will lead the metropolitan efforts once the final report of the plan is released on Dec. 4.
“Once we publish the report, this group will be dissolved,” said Barringer. “We need to hire or re-assign someone to continue the job we started.”
The other costs associated with the rebranding are not official at this time, but Quint said they will revolve around start up costs with marketing, changing the letterhead, web design and hiring new staff.
Still many students criticize focus on the metropolitan model, saying that the plan is expensive and that USM already fits the proposed model.
According to Tom Bahun, a student senator and senior double major in history and political science, connecting the university with the community is a great idea, but the administration is simply using the metropolitan model as a facade.
“They want to promote something good, to cover up what is bad,” said Bahun referring to the recent staff layoffs and program eliminations.
According to Ben Davis, a sophomore English major, USM is already a metropolitan university and believes that Portland gives its students more opportunities than any other school in the state. Davis believes that you can’t have a metropolitan university that cuts programs and staff positions and that the term is just being used to justify those actions.
“It’s really awful that the administration is appropriating a term which could be useful in giving definition to our value in the Portland community and turning into a way to justify the senseless gutting of our university,” said Davis.
“It’s really unfortunate that whenever there is something positive and forward thinking proposed, there are those that simply criticize without taking the time to understand,” said Quint. “I hope we move beyond that eventually.”
Quint said that although the new metropolitan vision is being worked on at the same time that the USM community is trying to combat a projected $16 million budget deficit, the two efforts are completely separate. Barringer and his steering group team were never present during any budget meetings, so that his plan would be uninfluenced by the looming deficit.
“Can you imagine the response we’d get if we tried to pitch the metropolitan vision under the context of the budget situation?” asked Quint.
Any correlation between the methods use to bridge the gap and turn USM into a metropolitan university, are unintentional. According to Quint, if they moved towards a metropolitan model because of the budget deficit, the plan wouldn’t work.
“When we transition to a metropolitan university, it’s going to give definition to USM,” said Quint. “It will give us a distinct brand in the region that we’ll be able to market, and in turn become much more attractive to a host of students.”
Addressing the concerns and criticisms of potentially spending $900,000 on a new focus during financially troubling times, Quint said that USM’s future can’t just be dependent on cuts but investment as well.
“If there are folks out there that actually want to invest in USM, and move it forward, the metropolitan university is certainly an area they could do that in,” said Quint. “If people want to see a bright prosperous future for this university, this is the direction we’re moving and everybody is going to need to invest.”
By: Brian Gordon
Last Monday the board of trustees voted to make a federally mandated sexual harassment training mandatory for all students and faculty to complete.
According to Sarah Holmes, assistant director of student life and diversity, there has been an increase in public attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus over the last 18 months.
The White House has made it a federal mandate that any higher education institution receiving federal funds needs to provide sexual harassment training.
“Between 50-60 colleges across the country are currently being investigated by the department of education because they are not fully complying with Title IX,” Holmes said.
Title IX is the federal law that ensures equal access to education. Holmes said people usually think of it as the federal policy that dictates that both men and women can participate in the same sports activities. However the law also facilitates equal access to education and to ensure sexual violence,] or harassment does not interfere with a persons ability to learn.
In the Gorham residence halls there were 15 reported instances of forcible sexual assault in 2012. Last year there were only four. There was also one case of stalking and two cases of domestic violence.
Joy Pufhal, dean of students, said that the lower numbers last year can be attributed to the fact that students had someone to talk to in the form of a full time coordinator. According to Pufhal, victims of sexual harassment were able to build relationships with her and there was more disclosure.
“We can always do more. But this online training gives us the foundation to start,” said Holmes. “If you take the training, you will pay more attention to domestic violence, or other forms of harassment.”
The other schools in the UMaine system echoed the numbers found at USM, according to the Clery Act, which says that colleges and universities must release an annual report of their crime data.In Orono last year, there were 24 forcible sex assaults on campus and in the near vicinity. Farmington had only one violent dating offense and one instance of stalking. One instance of stalking was also reported on the Bangor campus. There were two reports at Fort Kent of a hate crime by category of protected class, which may or may not have been due to a person’s sexual orientation. Both Presque Isle and Augusta reported no cases of sexual assault.
No crime reports could be found for LAC or Machias campuses.
Holmes is also part of the campus safety project, a grant funded initiative by the Violence Against Women Act to help stem sexual assault, abuse and stalking. VAWA is the law that people are most familiar with, that makes it mandatory for the police to arrest someone if they get a domestic abuse call.
Pufhal is also leading the Campus Safety Project and she said while numbers are low at USM they can be deceiving. People may not want to talk about abuse and simply just don’t report it. According to Pufhal, with thousands of commuter students a lot of abuse may happen off campus that don’t get reported to the school.
“There are no numbers for sexual harassment on campus, only crimes that may stem from harassment,” said Pufhal. “Sexual assault is the most extreme version of sexual harassment.”
Pufhal said that she hopes that this mandatory training helps curb sexual harassment and abuse.
“When institutions pay attention to the issue, people come forward for help,” Pufhal said.
By: Alex Huber
By a vote of nine to four, the student senate passed the motion to donate $500 to support Nathan Long and Kyle Bozeman, survivors of the Noyes Street fire that claimed the lives of six individuals.
The student senate’s donation would be in addition to the $2,000 already raised by the dean of students office. The donations would be meant for expenses such as food, clothing and other possessions lost.
“We’re talking about $250 each, for two individuals who lost their homes,” said student senator John Jackson. “Put yourself in their shoes.”
Some senators feared that the money would not be spent properly. Jackson responded to these concerns stating that proper oversight would be possible through the dean of students office, which is running the campus wide donation collection for the two victims. The donation will have restrictions so that it can’t be used for recreational use
Another concern was the fear that the donation would set a precedent that will require the senate to pay more money in the future. Some senators, such as Ashley Caterina, don’t want the senate to be responsible for every disaster that happens.
“What if a whole dorm burns down, do we give everyone $250 dollars?” Caterina asked.
Ultimately the majority of the senators felt that the need to support two students in their time of need was more important than fears of possible future ramifications.
“I understand the complexity of the situation,” said Jackson. “I understand that we could potentially be setting a precedent but at the same time we also need to show the senate is out in front and focused on people.”
“We were elected by this community to make these decisions and I can’t think of a better cause than propping up two of our own,” added Senator Matt Wilkinson.
Parliamentarian Joshua Tharpe motioned to vote by secret ballot, butr the motion was unanimously rejected ot the rest of the senate. Several senators stated a need for transparency, especially in issues such as these.
The community has shown continued support for the two men who lost their home several weeks ago. Donations are still being collected in boxes located across campus for the survivors, victims and their families.
By: Annie Quandt
The Muskie School of Public Service recently celebrated it’s 100th anniversary at USM but is going to be faced with setbacks as some of its faculty have been retrenched this semester.
“There won’t be a program anymore to teach these students, due to retrenchment and retirement,” said Carolyn Ball, a member of the Academic Affairs Committee and the Muskie School. , stating that only one professor was left to teach public policy and management at the Muskie School.
Andy Coburn, the associate dean of the Muskie School, who is also a research professor for public health, explained that, on a fundamental level, these cuts have hurt.
“One faculty member has been retrenched, and a tenured-track faculty that’s contract has not been renewed. Many have chosen to retire as a result of the incentive program that the university is offering,” said Coburn. “Losing all these professors that have been here just creates a tremendous sense of loss.
He added that, for students, the circumstances leave some open-ended questions. Students and faculty alike aren’t sure what is going to be offered for degree completion; students want to know how to finish their degrees out.
“What we’re trying to do in the moment at the Muskie School, is align our academic programs more closely with what we think the needs in the community and the state are with the broad area of public service and education,” said Coburn. “We’re trying to do that with the budget realities and resources that we know we will have going forward.”
Coburn noted the limited faculty resources in light of budget cuts as reason for reaching out to research staff and the community to identify academically qualified people who can help with courses the Muskie school might need, or for mentoring to students.
The Muskie School offers graduate programs in public health, public policy and management and community planning and development. There is an undergraduate degree in geography and anthropology.
Ball added that the Muskie School is “a group of graduate programs that are preparing students for civic leadership, that includes assisting with the development of public policy, and to strengthen civic life.”
Carolyn believes that the public policy and management degree is essentially eliminated, despite the many graduates that are out there helping their community.
She listed Amanda Rector, the state economist, Mayor Michael Brennan, the mayor of Portland, Garrett Corbin, the Legislative Advocate for the Maine Municipal Association, and Kenneth Fredette, House Republican Leader all as graduates from the Muskie School. She also stated that at least fifty-six non-profit leaders are graduates as well.
“The Muskie school is a relatively large organization that also has a vibrant portfolio where we’re working in Maine and Portland with projects from social sciences to environment to public health,” said Coburn. “We’re remaining vibrant. It’s really important that students understand that the Muskie School plays an important role and will continue to do so.”
Ball noted that New England has a history of non-partisanship in local government, and that New England has more per-capita town managers than any other in the region.
“This was the only place in Maine to get a degree in public policy and management,” said Ball. “There is not an accredited program in New Hampshire, so this leaves Northern New England without a public service program.”
Coburn also emphasized the lack of other education resources in the area for public service.
“Muskie School is the only public service, public policy program in the University of Maine system,” Coburn reiterated.“Going forward, I think we’ll be offering professional education programs.”
Coburn who has been with the Muskie School for many years, disagrees with the idea of eliminating the public policy and management degree.
“At one time those two degrees were one degree, a track in community planning and development, a track in public management, a track in public policy. I think we’re going back to one degree with different tracks related to specific areas, non-profit management, public policy management, much like we used to offer,” said Coburn. “We will still be teaching public policy as part of the degree we’re offering. We will have a more focused non-profit curriculum as part of that single degree. It may be possible that there may be two degrees, but it really depends on the provost committee.”
Ball added that there has been some discussion about having a degree with some sort of environmental sustainability component, as one way for the school to try to reinvent itself.“But that doesn’t do justice to the state for the public service employees who have multiple responsibilities,” Ball said.
Coburn explained that the provost is convening faculty from the Muskie School, economics and other departments, on what the degree or degrees should look like, given the demand from students.
Ball said there is hope for the future of the Muskie School.“If the provost is willing to support one program for the state, to provide public service education that will prepare students for jobs in non-profits, state government and local government. Right now it doesn’t seem that that is going to occur.”
Both Ball and Coburn emphasized that this is not the end for the Muskie School and does not have to be the downfall; Ball said that students can reach out to their local and elected government officials for help and let them know what’s happening, and Coburn said that while it will be an adjustment, the programs should not and will not be cut. They both emphasized how important public service is to the community and how their graduates have helped and will continue to help in the community.
The outcome of the degree programs for the Muskie School is up to the provost, but Coburn has said the degree programs will still be intact, just possibly in different forms.