Faculty morale takes a hit in new round of budget cuts

Posted on March 04, 2012 in News
By Noah Hurowitz

Provost John Wright speaks at the Faculty Senate meeting Friday.
Justicia Barreiros
Provost John Wright speaks at the Faculty Senate meeting Friday.

With the possibility faculty and staff could lose their jobs in a new wave of budget cuts, morale is low reportedly low amongst at faculty at the University of Southern Maine, which is facing a grim $5.1 million budget shortfall projected for the upcoming fiscal year 2013.

Classics Professor and Faculty Senate Chair Jeannine Uzzi said the looming threat of job loss has faculty morale at rock bottom.

“Morale is the worst I’ve seen it in my ten years here as a professor,” Uzzi said Friday following the March Faculty Senate meeting. “It seems like there’s no plan. It’s just crisis after crisis. People are looking for jobs.”

The deans of the three major colleges, tasked with slashing $1 million apiece from their operating budgets, have proposed cuts to Provost John Wright, who oversees academic affairs, from personnel to academic programs at USM. After making recommendations to President Selma Botman, the administration will make public the proposed cuts in a presentation to the Board of Trustees at their March meeting.

Each college has a budget of about $16 million, and in already lean economic times, trimming a full $1 million from the operating budgets is no easy task. The administration has mandated $300,000 in cuts from Lewiston-Auburn College, and Wright cut $800,000 from the provost’s budget earlier in the year to make up for an earlier shortfall stemming from low enrollment last fall.

The bleak budget projections come following a drastic 12.3 percent decline in enrollment over the last decade and the Board of Trustees’ recent decision to freeze in-state tuition for the next year, the outlook became even bleaker.

USM Student Body President Chris Camire said he appreciates the impact of the tuition freeze on students’ budgets, but recognizes its negative effect on USM’s budget. “When this was announced there was a lot of applause at Student Senate, but not from me,” Camire said. “When you stop taking in money from somewhere you have to cut money from somewhere else. This is a morale booster for some students, but for those of use who really care about the university and where it’s heading, it’s not looking good.”

USM has lost over 300 students just since 2010, with most of those being full-time, degree seeking students. And with enrollment down, administrators are pessimistic about getting the numbers back up.

“I don’t see another thousand students coming here next year,” said Wright. “That might never happen again.”

With about $15 million of each college’s budgets tied up on personnel, the colleges may be forced to cut jobs.

“Operating budget is very small, so it doesn’t give you much wiggle room,” Lynn Kuzma, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences told The Free Press Tuesday. Kuzma said nothing is definite but that personnel cuts are “not off the table.”

Neither the deans nor the administration have made any proposed cuts public yet, but all stressed they doing what they can to minimize the impact on students and academics.

“Our goal is to bring as little harm to students as possible,” Wright said Friday. “If we do have to cut folks, others will pick up the load.”

Wright said faculty and staff are “doing well and responding positively” to the bad news, but Uzzi said the uncertainty here is unnerving to herself and other members of faculty.

Uzzi warned the budget cuts will “eviscerate” the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“I thought I would spend the rest of my career here,” Uzzi said. “I love the university and I love the students, but I have a family to support.”

Complicating the matter is the fact faculty continue to work without a contract and negotiations with the University of Maine system remain in mediation over eight months since the previous contract expired. One of the major issues in the negotiations has been that of faculty raises. The Associated Faculties of the University of Maine have demanded a higher pay increase than the .5 percent the system has offered. But a wage increase would only compound USM’s budget woes the provost said.

“If AFUM settles with a raise, the system doesn’t give us that money. That comes out of our base,” Wright said Friday.

Andrew Anderson, dean of the College of Science, Technology and Health, said his college examined the number of students in different programs and whether departments had surpluses in their budgets last year when looking for where to cut. He  said the first areas they’ve looked at are cutting unfilled positions and reducing the operations budget, which is only around $1 million for the college. The unfilled positions could be from people who have left or from recently created positions that haven’t been filled yet.

Economics Professor Michael Hillard asked Wright at the Faculty Senate meeting Friday about the existence of any system-wide “rainy day” funds. “There is some awareness of savings accounts and reserve funds,” Hillard said. “This certainly looks like a rainy day. Are there truly any existing rainy day funds that we can draw on?”

Wright said he is unaware of any contingency funds that could plug all or part of the budget gap. He said funds last year were used for necessary repair projects on campus, and $1 million in federal stimulus money that was available last year is not this year.

 

Paul Koenig contributed reporting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: