Bob Heiser set the tone at last Friday’s faculty senate meeting with his introduction: “Bob Heiser, school of business and who knows what else.”
For over two hours, senators discussed and debated the merits of the recently-released plan to restructure the university in the face of declining state appropriations and slipping enrollments.
Reactions ranged from to skepticism to aggravation. Some senators lamented the plan’s timeline, while others expressed concern about its effect on USM’s identity.
The design team that drafted and endorsed the plan included faculty senators Bruce Clary, professor of public policy and management, Lynne Miller, professor of professional education, and Jeannine Uzzi, chair of the classics department. But some senators had reservations about the process, and qualms with specific proposals.
Much discussion concerned the uncertainty of how different departments would be arranged within the three new proposed 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.
“Most of the feedback, some more pleasant than others, is who goes where,” said Miller.
“Nothing is written in stone and throwing stones at each other and members of the community will get us nowhere,” she added. “Everything is flexible and the feedback is coming in.”
Some faculty were baffled by the decision to place philosophy in the new Muskie College and others implored that humanities and social sciences remain together.
Members of the design team explained the rationale behind the different colleges. “We were supposed to save money on deans, to put it bluntly,” said Uzzi, chair and professor of classics. The design team attempted to break up the colleges so they will have equal faculty and student credit hours.
“Our dean can’t do some of the same things other deans can do. I would rather be in a college with a smaller faculty to dean ratio than CAS has now,” said Uzzi.
Irwin Novak, professor of geology, said he would like to see more reconcilement between economic analysis from the economic task force and acadamec restructuring.
Jim Shaffer, chief operating officer and chair of the design team and economic task force said data needs to be refined and verified before its use.
He said Provost Kate Forhan will use economic data to “guide not drive” decisions.
“The work of the economic task force has just begun and it will be ongoing,” added Shaffer.
Some senators expressed concern about the possibility of cutting professional staff.
“What we’re trying to do is cut money without cutting faculty,” said Shaffer.
He said they’re looking at some people with six figure salaries – a comment met with applause from the senate.
The most vocal proponent of the departmental breakdown came from business professors. The plan would have the school of business being absorbed by Muskie and losing its “school” title.
Heiser said putting the schools in one big “superstructure” could dilute them. “Let’s not lose our center of excellences,” he said. Some senators contended everyone believes their own department to be a “center of excellence.”
“The loss of identity is horrendous for our school and could be catastrophic,” Heiser countered. “We think there is a strong possibility we could lose our accreditation.”
But Clary said others have used the “accreditation club” to defend their department before. “There is nothing in my opinion in the proposal that will make an accredited program not accredited,” he said. “Whether there is a school or a department it makes no difference in terms of accreditation.”
Jerry Lasala, chair of the senate and physics department, suggested further research on the subject of accreditation.
“I don’t think they took our accreditation in account enough and weren’t aware of the scope of it,” Heiser said after the meeting.
Ken Jones, professor of teacher education, took issue with what he said was a detriment to the College of Education and Human Development, which would be split among two schools if the plan is approved.
“There was a lot of angst about us being split up in different colleges,” he said. “The University of Southern Maine was founded on teacher’s education. What we see happening here is a dissolution of that and a loss of identity.”
“Don’t let it just get washed out,” said Jones.
The senate agreed the majority of students won’t care what colleges their majors are in as long as the majors still exist.
Student body president Maggie Guzman said she mostly agreed with the notion but said “they will care after they graduate” if their majors have been tarnished in the view of the outside community.
She challenged the senators to include students in future steps after she graduates in May.
Economics professor Michael Hillard, criticized the timeline and the lack of transparency of the feedback.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day. It took forever,” he said. Hillard said there should be more time for feedback from the community.
Comments for the first draft are due by March 15 when the design team will go back and make changes where needed. They plan to submit the final draft to President Selma Botman March 19. Faculty will meet April 2 to discuss the final draft before Botman submits it to the Board of Trustees April 24.
The plan currently is to publish only summaries of feedback received about the proposal. Botman said there are concerns over confidentiality in publishing the individual suggestions.
Lasala agreed with Hillard concerning the need for transparency. “We do think it is important that we have the actual suggestions rather than a summary that is available to the public,” said Lasala.
There seemed to be uncertainty regarding what would actually be submitted to the trustees for a vote in April. Botman said she would only tell the trustees that “USM proposes X number of colleges” but it “would be ideal to have firm names [of the colleges].” She said she didn’t think the trustees needed to know the specific departments they contain.
“We will not know where the departments are by mid-April,” she said. Senate members raised the fact that some college names force a predetermination of what lies within.
“My hope is that by June 1 we will know what the departmental structures look like,” said Botman.
“I’ve begun to think about a time line for implementation,” she said. Botman said they needed new deans in place by the end of the school year and for the plan to be fully implemented at the start of next year.
“Why September 1? Why the rush?” asked theater professor Bill Steele.
“The longer we postpone this, the longer we are likely to be not able to balance our budget,” responded Botman. “I think we can accomplish this in lightning speed.”
“I would wage with you that we wouldn’t come out with a better product if we took a year or longer,” she said.