Posted on March 08, 2010 in News
By Paul Koenig, David Holman and Dan MacLeod
The committee in charge of redesigning the academic structure of USM released the first draft of their plan last Monday, calling for reducing the number of colleges from eight to five – eliminating three deans’ positions and eight department heads in the process.
The proposal recommends restructuring USM into five distinct colleges: Nursing, Health Professions, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math College; Communication Culture and the Arts College; The Muskie College of Public Service, Management and Society; The University of Maine School of Law; and Lewiston-Auburn College.
The plan is the first definitive proposal for restructuring the university, which has seen state support drop precipitously since the recession began. Despite estimated savings of $2.3 million annually through restructuring, USM still faces a projected budget shortfall of $2.3 million in 2011 that is expected to increase to $3.4 million in 2014. The shortfall is due in part to projections that Maine State appropriation for USM will decline from $41.1 million in 2011 to $39.9 million in 2014.
The committee who wrote the draft consists of eight administrators and faculty members.
According to Jim Shaffer, chief operating officer and chair of the committee, each dean position currently costs USM $250,000 a year. By eliminating three deans along with stipends for department heads, USM can save over $1 million without firing faculty.
The proposal aims to trim another million dollars from other non-academic areas for a total estimated savings of $2.3 million a year.
The plan is open to feedback until March 15. President Selma Botman will approve the final draft on March 19 before presenting it to the Board of Trustees on April 24.?
???”I don’t think it would have any effect on students. We need to realize that schools and the departments are really separate from majors,” said Sue Picinich, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Picinich said she wasn’t concerned about losing her job since her appointment is temporary. The search for a new dean would be delayed until the plan is finalized, she said.? Botman and members of the committee presented the plan to a meeting of the Muskie School faculty, staff and students immediately after its noon release last Monday. “We anticipate that with fewer colleges but more support in those colleges this will actually be more student friendly,” said Shaffer. Muskie School faculty in Augusta participated in the meeting live with a video up-link.
Several Muskie School faculty members expressed support for the new plan at the meeting and excitement about the opportunities for more contact with undergraduate students and “three-two” degrees where students leave USM with a master’s degree after five years of study. “It’s very seldom that the work of a committee is this articulate and straight forward. It affirms the integrity of the Muskie School and offers very exciting interdisciplinary opportunities,” said Muskie professor Richard Barringer.?
If implemented, the restructuring could be a boon to the Muskie School, increasing the number of full-time faculty to 99 from six. Under the plan, several undergraduate majors from other schools would be combined under the new Muskie College.
“I think it could make us more competitive and help us attract new types of grants,” said Paul Saucier, director of the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at Muskie. “From the student side, I think the real opportunity is that more students at USM will be made aware of the work that we do at the research institute.”???
Other departments also saw the possibility of new opportunities in the proposal. “It will provide opportunity for future engineering programs to be done collaboratively with other departments in the STEM college,” said James Smith, chair of the engineering department.
“By aggregating groups you have the opportunity for new majors and new studies for students,” he added.
“A lot will depend on how the different elements of the colleges will be configured,” said Andrew Coburn, chair of health policy and management at the Muskie School. “I understand this to be a high level restructuring. I do think there are some very critical questions [that] ideally ought to be reflected in the final plan.”
Richard Grover, chair of business administration department, is also unsure how his department will change. He said his department doesn’t have 16 full-time faculty and isn’t sure if part-time faculty count towards the 16 needed for a department as outlined in the plan.
“It’s obviously a big change. My basic reaction is one of uncertainty,” said Grover. “At this point we don’t know that this really means for department chairs.”
Grover said he wondered if no longer being a “school of business” would affect prospective students from enrolling and if they would “simply not look at us and say we are too little.”
“On the faculty recruiting end, are we going to be successful recruiting faculty to be a department rather than a school?” asked Grover. “There are so many unanswered questions.”
Grover also asked how the plan would be implemented. “I haven’t seen any attention paid to implementation,” he said. “Programs are only as good as their ability to be implemented.”
“We’re really open-minded but there is some concern,” said Grover.
USM Provost Kate Forham said that the Open Space Technology method for collecting community input via the recent convocations helped the design team determine priorities for the restructuring proposal. No budgetary items were mentioned in the beginning of the meeting until later when concerns were raised on that issue.
The draft proposal is posted on the front page of the USM website. Public comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.