The University of Southern Maine scrambles to make budget cuts

Provost Michael Stevenson responded to faculty concerns over budget cuts at an emergency Faculty Senate meeting last month.
Patrick Higgins
Provost Michael Stevenson responded to faculty concerns over budget cuts at an emergency Faculty Senate meeting last month.

Posted on April 01, 2013 in News
By Kirsten Sylvain

Last month the University of Southern Maine community was surprised when university Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell announced that USM had to cut over $5 million for the next fiscal year. Now administrators and faculty are scrambling to make the cuts by the April 5 deadline.

Administrators and faculty were at work over break, meeting to discuss the cuts, but details on what will actually be cut have not yet been released. Neither USM college deans nor Provost Michael Stevenson would release any information on specific cuts for now. Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences did, however, state that she had not managed yet to meet the proposed cuts for their college.

The area of academic affairs, i.e. instruction, faculty and programs, is responsible for coming up with 63.4 percent – over $3 million of the total cuts.

For now, it’s safe to say that many are wondering whether faculty and staff positions or programs will be cut, and Campbell ventured to say that he thinks some of these types of cuts have already been decided and that more will be made in coming months.

“I’ve been involved in a few conversations where people have been considering either eliminating or reducing a position, and at least in one case, I know they ultimately decided that was the direction they were going to go in,” he said. “We’re still adapting, although some decisions have been made.”

Those decisions are scheduled to be reported to the system for review by Campbell for the April deadline. Stevenson said in a statement to The Free Press that the university is moving as quickly as possible, but he isn’t optimistic.
“We probably won’t make the deadline,” he said. “But as Theo [Kalikow] and I said last Wednesday evening [at an emergency faculty senate meeting called to discuss the cuts], we’ll backfill as we go along and ultimately get there.”
USM’s budget proposal will then be presented to the board finance committee in mid-May.

But for now, “We’re still in conversations,” according to Campbell. “There are still things that are in the proposal stage that may never see the light of day.”

The budget situation that he predicts USM will face over the next four years is, as President Kalikow described in a recent post on her blog “Theo’s Rants,” not a rainy day that can easily be quelled with USM’s reserve funds, but instead, is a “slow-motion tsunami.”

“This is going to be significantly more challenging than situations that have arisen in the past,” Campbell said.

These cuts over the next four years, that Campbell predicts will amount to nearly $12 million, are more than an indicator that we have some economic catching up to do. They are also a sign that USM may not be on the forefront of changes in higher education, according to Campbell.

“Higher education as a whole is necessarily going to have to change because of all of the changes that are taking place in the world that we live. People are going to want to access — and they have accessed — information differently,” he said. “The value that universities and other institutions of higher education add have to be rethought and reimagined.”

Walking over to his computer, pointing to an editorial published in The Portland Press Herald last week by editorial page editor Greg Kesich, Campbell read the first few lines. Should educators be worried? “Take some advice from a newspaper guy,” Kesich said. Yes, be worried. The changes that educators are facing in their field, Campbell agreed, are like those that newspapers have faced with the encroachment of the internet over the past twenty years.

“We don’t have the option of not changing. Technology and the internet are changing so much that it’s got to change education,” he said. He stressed, however, that the success of the university is bound to providing students with what they value and need, “and that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be tied to finding a job,” he said.

The cuts and reallocations that USM has to make, he said, have to both balance the budget and position the university better to be an active participant in the transformative changes taking place in education. “They’re connected,” he said.