Williams: Vote of ‘no confidence’ would hurt university on the mend


In the past few weeks, there has been an incredible amount of confusion regarding the vote of no confidence in University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman. The controversy regarding pay raises seems to be the catalyst that drove this petition to the president’s desk. It is not.

President Botman took office and inherited a large amount of debt incurred by former university leadership. She was able to pay off that debt to the university system early and get us in the black for the first time in many years. The news of a $5.1 million shortfall next year is due to an in-state tuition freeze, recently set by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. Before this shortfall, Botman dedicated another one million dollars to financial aid and housing — reducing the residential deficit and bringing more students to USM.

In the process of filling a huge budget gap, President Botman worked with faculty, staff and students to come up with a reasonable way to restructure how this university works. There was a lot of deliberation about how the university would look after and some people were pleased about the change while others were upset. The university administration mandated a minimum of 12 full-time faculty or equivalent per department while faculty was under the impression that they would be in charge of organizing themselves.

A survey of faculty has shown high disapproval ratings for the president’s leadership through the reorganization of the university. Regardless of where I stand on the reorganization process, it’s important to take a step back and remain objective.
On April 9, our new UMS chancellor, James Page, released a statement:

The University of Southern Maine is facing challenges that demand significant change. I support President Botman’s efforts to address these challenges, and at the same time I take the concerns raised by the Faculty Senate in its recent action very seriously.

Respecting the Faculty Senate process, I am committed to engaging with all members of the university community to address their concerns. It is nevertheless essential that — at all times and especially now — the university community act in a unified way to serve our students and the people of Maine.

As of right now, I thank President Botman for the work she has done for this institution and I respect the faculty for speaking out in regards to what they need. In order for this university to be successful in the future, we need to work together NOW. In my personal opinion, a vote of no confidence in President Botman is creating some very negative media attention, which may cripple the university from expanding and fixing our recruitment and retention problems. I encourage the faculty and administration to open up their lines of communication and to come up with a solution that will not hurt the students at this institution of higher learning.

TJ Williams is student body president-elect and the current president of the Board of Student Organizations.


0 thoughts on “Williams: Vote of ‘no confidence’ would hurt university on the mend

  1. Are you saying the budget problems are actually because tuition was frozen? USM’s budget woes are indeed a long standing sage and were inherited by President Botman. By no means did she walk into an easy job and one must be prepared to face opposition. 

     You seem very familiar with some long term history and that is an important perspective for a student leader. What is the history of tuition increases that have impacted the students you represent and what budget choices did USM’s leaders make while tuition was pushed over 50% in six years? Weren’t tuition increases shared as last choice measures by University of Maine System leaders while lobbying the Education committee who decreased state appropriations? Hasn’t USM enrollment decreased by almost 2000 students in the past several years? Surely this is a complicated picture. History chooses one event to serve as the catalyst for change.  

    Objectivity is critical for decision makers, but objectively almost every side is “correct” and reasonable. That is not the debate nor the problem The issue is what is realistic and we never want to go there. But you are often the one voice of 7,000 students. Is this an objective position? Or are you paid to serve to share passionate opinions and interests in an objective manner with the administrators who ultimately make the decisions? Is it reasonable to expect student leaders to raise the issues? I hope the system allows you to safely share a student’s opinion without fear of repercussion. You represent a specific interest group. The decision makers: the BOT or President represent all interest groups. Rest assured they know the dynamics, but they need to be reminded of the student impact in the moment. You have great responsibility on your shoulders. 

    1. Speaking from personal opinion, he does not represent the student body. He was elected to the position by 300 tops. 300/7000, is not very impressive, and most definitely not a good representation of the student body.

      1.  Yes, I agree. Also let us Not forget that He is the President of the USM Student body on 2 campuses, Portland and Gorham. There is a completely different President of the USM- LAC Campus, which is the 3rd campus of the University of Southern Maine system. So he represents 2 out of 3 campuses. The 3rd campus has its own Student Senate/ Government with its own USM- Student Body President. & I am the current Student Body President at the USM , LAC Campus. That information needs to be noted because T.J is only maybe representing the students in 2 campuses of the University of Southern Maine. There is a 3rd Campus that is not represented by T.J. and in fact may have different feelings about all this. I think as leaders this has been very difficult for us but at the same time it has been a time when we must reflect on what really is going on here….what are the REAL issues? The fact is that many students are slit on this and most do not even know what is going on or why it is happening. So to say that one leader is representing the entire student body/opinion is absurd to say the least. As leaders we should be out there trying to listen to what students on our Campuses are saying and thinking…..not so much trying to make a statement ourselves. We need to look at and see what the needs of the students we serve are…

        1. Bridget.

           I applaud you reaching out to the “Free Press” and writing in this forum. It is, after all, run by and funded through Portland-Gorham’s Student Senate… Another interesting “USM Identity” issue… 

          I am deeply sorry for your status as a second-class President. I assume you like every past USM LAC Student Body President will not stand on the stage at graduation while USM’s “Portland-Gorham Student Body President” (P-G SBP) will….. I assume you are not granted access as the Ex Officio member to the Prestigious USM Board of Visitors as TJ will be and every other quote “USM” “Student Body President” and to the countless other committees that shared governance requires…

          It is important to note that the position is elected by Undergraduate Student Activity Fee Paying students of P/G. Graduate students who have paid the fee have NOT been allowed to vote and while there is a Graduate Student Council this is new and access to all committees is still given on the whole to the P-G SBP. . Similarly, there is NO system for Distance Education Student of USM who pay their student activity fees to the centers run by the University of Maine at Augusta.

          You are not alone in your disenfranchisement nor are you the first  student leader to address this issue. There is an op-ed about it from several years ago. I hope you advance it for it is a critical one about equal access to educational opportunity and privilege, ethical and responsible leadership  and ultimately what USM truly does in the co-curricular arena rather than shares in its mission statement.

        2. clarification: There is a third campus that did not VOTE to have T.J. represent them…. However, this position is THE position consulted for student voice by USM Admin. When positions for USM (all campuses) search committees for Presidents, Provosts, etc. occur the Student Body President is approached to serve or to appoint someone else to serve…. 

          It is important to note: this system is INHERITED and in NO way a problem created by any student present or past who has held the Student Body President. Sadly, this can be seen as “personal” when it is not.  

      2.  Obviously.. a vote of no confidence for a paid Student leader who does not represent the true issues of students in public might be a logical step. For his career his work and obvious diplomacy will serve HIM well, but will it serve the students he represents? Does this matter? How much is he paid? $6500 + or – to advance administration speak?  Does he know the history of student issues presented to the university? THAT is the history a STUDENT LEADER should be sharing….

        You may define your opinion as “personal,” but if a survey of students was completed I think it likely that most would disagree with the opinions and actions of many paid and recognized student leaders. And you share basic math… Also, what demographics does he represent and is he seeking to know the students he is responsible for?

  2. President Botman did NOT inherit a debt she had to fugure out how to pay back. That work was done prior to her arrival. In 2007-2008, then Interim President Wood worked with the USM faculty and staff, with the the UMS staff, and with the BOT Finance Committee to bring USM expenses into line with projected revenues going forward. The balanced budget that President Botman inherited for 2008-2009 also funded a multi-year repayment plan to UMS for loans from the reserve that had covered prior-year deficits. Only subsequent to her arrival, when she was faced with a new reduction in state funding and decline in enrollment, did that budget become inadequate.  And she made the decision to pay it back early…one wonders if that was wise given the current budget deficit of which declining enrollments account for only a small fraction. She has yet to explain the remainder after announcing a surplus last year.

    1. Botman did choose to pay the debt early and perhaps the wisdom behind that decision is questionable.  Joe Wishcamper  who was the Chair of UMS BOT at the time stated in a public Finance and Facilities meeting that the BOT and UMS Office would reexamine whether USM needed to pay the debt to the system…. so it did surprise those who knew this was a possibility. 

      One might also wonder if it was a proactive and realistic response to enrollment and appropriation trends that began while Pattenaude served as President. Her choice significantly impacted the perception of donors, USM advisory boards, legislative leaders, the public and other interest groups to boost their confidence that USM was indeed “moving forward” fiscally responsible, chastened by past budget deficits and the poor budgeting practices outlined in PWC’s audit. 

      1. Interesting thought that this was perhaps proactive and helped USM in some way but I guess I would aks Botman to provide both her rationale for early repayment and evidence that it has helped USM in some way. There has certainly not be an influx of donor funds or increased legislative support.

        1. Yes…. I would appreciate her rationale. Botman’s FY 2009 budget closed at a surplus. In a report to the BOT Fin/Fac committee  approximately $800,000 in unused financial aid explained the surplus. But if  a University operates with hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance the idea of a budget surplus is patently absurd or even a “balanced budget” is inaccurate. Annual debt is incurred as physical plant maintenance continues to accumulate without a strategic plan to address it. 

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