Budget cuts impede university communication

Posted on April 15, 2013 in News
By Tom Collier

While many faculty and USM staff members are still reeling from the recent announcement detailing position and budget cuts, the administration admits to finding it difficult to communicate proactively with them.

According to Provost Michael Stevenson, part of the reason that communication has been minimal is because of the short amount of time the administration has had to make cuts and budget reallocations.

“I can’t tell you 24 hours into a 10 day exercise how we’re going to find $5 million and whose jobs are not going to be there — first of all, because I don’t know,” Stevenson said. “We may be able to tell you a year from now exactly what happened.”

Stevenson was, however, able to explain how some current trends, which are affecting public universities across the country, and particularly the University of Maine System, have contributed to the budgeting issues USM is facing.

“Things aren’t the way they used to be. Tuition is flat. The number of people who are college-going in traditional kinds of categories is going down,” Stevenson explained. He also added that people who would normally come to the university to take only one or two classes for personal enrichment now look more often at online opportunities. “They’re not coming here. That’s a stream of revenue that we no longer have.”

When asked whether he worries that public perception of the cuts will deter future students from coming to USM, Stevenson said that he believes it depends on how the university talks about the cuts. “Is it a cut if you take money from here and reinvest it here — if you take money from a place where we think there are more resources than we really need and you invest in someplace else, what do you call that? That doesn’t look like a cut to me.”

“A cut, to me, sounds like you take it out of the budget, and it doesn’t go anywhere else — it’s just gone — and we do some of that, too,” Stevenson said.

Professor Michael Hillard of the Department of Economics is one of the faculty members who is uneasy with the way the administration has approached the cuts.

“The biggest problem, I think, beyond the size of these cuts is that they came up very last minute, and there was no chance to do any planning,” Hillard said. “We were given an explanation from the administration as to why they didn’t know earlier, and I think a lot of faculty are concerned about that.”

“Right now, the faculty have been exhausted by trying to participate in what’s been a kind of endlessly chaotic process,” Hillard said.

Hillard explained that the faculty work hard as teachers and scholars, doing service both inside and outside the university. “When we’re asked to try and figure out the direction and management of the university on top of that — with, frankly, unstable leadership because we have not had sustained, capable leadership at this institution for a period of about five years now — well, I’m just very concerned with where this is leading”

Hillard told The Free Press that he didn’t believe that the recent unilateral budget cuts were well done. “It’s not even clear that the economics will work out,” he said. “What’s the impact of cutting classes or teachers and faculty on revenue? Because we could be losing tuition revenue that would make the cuts unproductive.”

Stevenson, on the other hand, believes that the recent cuts and reallocations will lead to a more efficient university experience.