Senior members of the University of Southern Maine faculty have gathered enough votes to trigger a faculty-wide referendum for a no-confidence vote in USM President Selma Botman.
Faculty Senate Chair Jeannine Diddle Uzzi dropped the petition off at Botman’s office Wednesday after physics professor Jerry LaSala, presented it to her. LaSala and a group of senior faculty gathered 53 signatures — roughly 15 percent of faculty at USM — from full, tenured faculty over the last week and a half.
The petition was drawn up three or four weeks ago, LaSala said, partly in response to a survey conducted by the faculty union that showed significant discontent among faculty regarding the administration and USM’s academic reorganization approved in May 2010 by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that this is a chronic and apparently unchangeable solution,” LaSala said.
LaSala said he expects the vote of no confidence to pass, given the results of the recent survey and from his observations of discontent amongst a majority of the faculty.
“Essentially she doesn’t learn from past mistakes and repeats them,” LaSala said of Botman.
The referendum will likely be conducted either by an Internet ballot overseen by a survey company or by mailing ballots to an independent company, LaSala said.
In order for the vote to be considered “representative of the views of the faculty,” according the Faculty Senate bylaws, there must be a two-third majority vote among faculty or the Faculty Senate. The results would then be passed on to Botman and the board of trustees.
Botman said she has no plans to resign in the event of a no-confidence vote.
“My goal is to advance this institution,” she told The Free Press on Wednesday, before receiving the petition. “I’m confident we will be able to build an institution students are eager to come to, that faculty and staff are eager to come to.”
The petition was only given to full, tenured faculty, LaSala said, to protect non-tenured faculty or faculty going for promotions, from retribution from administration. Faculty members start as assistant faculty, move up to associate faculty and then become full faculty — with usually around six years between each promotion.
Mark Lapping, professor and executive director at the Muskie School of Public Service, signed the petition but said he would only do so if junior faculty were protected.
“People are scared on this campus,” he said. “They have been intimidated.”
However, Botman denied any past or future retribution or sanctions against faculty or staff for their opinions toward the administration.
“It would be small-minded and counter-productive to cut off the life of the university,” she said. “If you can’t have the first amendment in an institution of higher learning, where can you have it?”
The survey of faculty earlier this year conducted by the USM branch of the Associated Faculty of the University of Maine and provided to The Free Press last week by a faculty member revealed a high degree of faculty discontent. Over 75 percent of respondents said they either “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree” that “administrators are providing competent leadership at USM.”
Uzzi, serving as the chair of the Faculty Senate, said she’s heard mixed opinions from other faculty about the vote. She said the best indication so far has been the AFUM survey and expected the result would be no confidence by around 60 percent of the faculty.
“Faculty really wanted their voices heard on that survey,” she said. “And the results were not flattering for the administration.”
Some faculty expressed frustration at the way the academic reorganization was implemented.
The reorganization began in August 2010 when Botman announced that budget deficits called for a rearrangement of USM’s academic structure and was completed in spring 201. Shrunk the five colleges at USM in Portland and Gorham down to three, eliminating two dean positions. The Faculty Senate passed it with the belief that the faculty and deans within the colleges would have the power to organize themselves in departments and schools.
However, administration mandated a minimum of 12 full-time faculty, or equivalent per department — a sticking point heatedly debated for a large portion of the following academic year.
Uzzi said the administration botched the implementation of the reorganization so poorly that it’s still not complete. Uzzi, who was on the design team that originally drafted the reorganization plan, said everyone else on the committee has signed the petition or is no longer working at USM — except for Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, and Tim Stevens, special assistant for planning and project development and senior adviser to the president.
Uzzi said she would have signed the survey, but it wasn’t distributed to her since she’s only an associate faculty member.
Caswell and Stevens recently made headlines when Botman rescinded the controversial raises they received in October after public backlash following an article in The Portland Press Herald.
Lapping said the petition wasn’t about controversial pay raises at USM, but he saw them as the last straw.
“I think that just it was sort of the other shoe falling if you know what I mean,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Eileen Eagan, professor of history, stands on the other side of the line and disagrees that the petition would pass. She said although a large number of faculty are angry, she didn’t think the majority of faculty would say yes to a vote of no confidence.
Eagan said “there are a lot of people who think Selma is a pretty good president” and some are bothered by this “hardcore group” of faculty members spearheading the petition. She also said she was worried the referendum may only further anger people at USM.
Student Body President Chris Camire also came to Botman’s defense in the form of a letter emailed to some members of the USM community Wednesday. Camire wrote that he’s found Botman to be incredibly receptive and student-centered.
“I need to stand up and defend the students because this turmoil is disheartening and demoralizing them – it is weakening USM as a whole,” Camire wrote.
Camire urged administration, faculty, staff and students to work together. He said trying to remove Botman will only make problems at USM worse.
Uzzi said her feeling is, if the referendum passed, the board of trustees and chancellor would probably find an interim president for USM. But LaSala said he’s not sure how they would react to a vote of no confidence in Botman.
“Our feeling is they aren’t listening, they haven’t listened and there’s no reason that will change,” said LaSala of the administration.
Noah Hurowitz contributed to this report.