Earlier this month, Provost Mark Lapping released a list of 26 academic programs to be put on “probation,” facing evaluation in light of the current budget crisis.

With a deadline of April 1 to present a comprehensive plan of reform, departments and their members have been scrambling to meet the expectation, and are trying to make sense of this forewarned, though unprecedented move.

Faculty it seems, are both understanding of the move, and understandably upset, but “they’re more annoyed than anything,” said Thomas Newton, chair of the listed chemistry department.

The listed degree programs face the threat of suspended admission if their plans for reform are not deemed viable by the USM administration. This suspension would be the first step in a process to gradually phase out a degree program, though it won’t disappear until all currently enrolled students graduate.

“Trend analysis over the last 10 years shows that the number of graduates from these majors are low,” said Lapping.

“These 26 programs graduated 62 students last year. We need to rationalize resources with demand.”

In his “Moving Forward” letter on February 8, Interim President Joe Wood said that these programs were not yet being cut, but evaluated, and that any future action will not affect tenured faculty or students already enrolled in the degree programs.

However, these clarifications from Wood do not instill confidence in the faculty of the listed programs.

“My fear is that we will end up with a weaker university,” said Robert Schaible, professor of arts and humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn campus. He wants to see the administration pressed to better explain what they’re doing.

“I don’t want to see slogans and catchphrases” said Schaible, “I want to see structured, rigorous thinking that shows us how these potential cuts help us.”

In a letter to USM faculty, Lapping outlined the criteria that the listed programs will be evaluated by after their plans are presented. Lapping cited program retention, graduation trends, funding, and centrality to mission and student success as the rubric against which the degree programs will be judged.

In one of the more interesting passages of his letter, Lapping describes “internal communications and civility within programs,” as a problem that, in part, had landed some of the programs on the list.

“It’s fair to say that some departments have communications problems, and when this happens, it’s not good for faculty or students,” said Lapping.

“I’ve seen staff who are less than collegial, polite, and supportive of colleagues and students, and we cannot maintain entities that can’t practice civility.”

Lapping would not name the departments cited for incivility.

Many of USM’s hard science programs were placed on the list, including degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and geosciences, as well as master’s programs in computer science and statistics. This general field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is referred to as STEM within USM, and has been touted in the past as a core focus of the university.

According to a letter from the Maine Department of Education, 40 percent of the state industries predicted to gain jobs in the next six years are in STEM careers. Growth in high-tech jobs is expected to be much greater in Maine than in New England and the rest of the nation.

“Growth industries are not reflected in student’s majors here at USM,” said Lapping. “There is a lot of opportunity there, I just don’t understand it.”

Chemistry Chair Thomas Newton sees the inclusion of the hard sciences annoying, but not much of a surprise. “The whole thing is at odds with what USM has talked about for 10 years. This suspension would gut STEM if it passed.”

Jobs in Maine Many colleges do not describe themselves as "career-oriented universities." Technical and community colleges are typically seen as more career-based, although they typically offer associates degrees, they often lead to high-demand jobs.

Nationwide, career-growth trends show that jobs in science and technology are among some of the fastest growing, and most promising for college graduates. In a recent interview USM Provost Mark Lapping referenced the lack of students enrolled in STEM programs as a fundamental problem in the university.

"There are a lot of opportunities for students in these programs," said Lapping.

According to CareerOneStop.org, science and technology jobs are on the rise in Maine, as well as nationwide – a trend that is not reflected in degree enrollment at USM. In a time when six of the top ten fastest growing careers in Maine require a degree in computer science, less than 1% of USM students are seeking degrees in the field.

For example, projected growth in network systems and data communications analysts is expected to be 41 percent by 2014. All of the listed careers in computer science have projected growth of above 20 percent.

Other fast-growing careers requiring at least a bachelors degree include:

– Physicians’ assistants

– Rehabilitation Counselors

– Video & Film Editors

– Mental Health Workers

– Veterinarians

– Financial analysts/advisors

– Marriage and Family Therapists


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