Students take action after Direction Package

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on October 29, 2013 in News
By Emma James

After the release of a new Direction Package on Sept. 24, students around campus have started to question the role USM serves as a public institution.

For junior women and gender studies students Jules Purnell and Meaghan LaSala, their questions about the Direction Package eventually became action, in the face of ongoing cuts, specifically the threat to their major of study.

“Last semester we were basically asked, ‘Why is your program valuable, and why should we not cut you?’ We had to do a sort of song and dance about what’s valuable about women and gender studies and what makes this a valuable field of study,” Purnell said.

Purnell sees cuts to programs as destructive to USM and as backpedaling on the part of the administration, rather than moving forward.

“[Education] isn’t just ‘Let’s see how much money we can make,’” said Purnell. “There’s a different kind of fulfillment to be gained from education, and it’s something that we’ve been missing out on in a lot of ways.”

With this, Purnell and LaSala were given the idea of “When Students Act Administration Listens: A Panel Discussion on Student Activism” by professor Wendy Chapkis. According to LaSala, the idea had been floating around, but she and Jules, alongside Chapkis, were the ones who decided to run with it.

Prior to the event, LaSala explained that the panel served the purpose of trying to engage students to bring more voices to the table and to to offer up different visions to the administration of what the purpose of USM is as a whole.

The worry they have for the lack of clarity of USM’s place in education stemmed from the language of the Direction Package, which they believe is moving further down the path of a corporate model of educational institutions.

“[Administrators] are prioritizing programs based on value systems that are about capital need rather than social need,” LaSala said.

Purnell fears for the future of programs like physics and humanities in general.

“There are a lot of other schools like SMCC that have really great programs for people for jobs in industry,” said Purnell. “So why not be a liberal arts college that’s geared more toward ‘Let’s be global citizens. Let’s think a little bit more about how our impact on the world actually impacts everybody,’ instead of just, ‘Let’s make money, right here, right now.’”

The next planned event, led by Student Body President Kelsea Dunham and Student Body Vice President Marpheen Chann, is Student Vision 2013, a two-day working session open to students only. The goal of the event is to generate student feedback to be used in what Dunham said was a more student-centered Direction Package that will be submitted to the administration.

“I organized Student Vision after I saw the administration’s direction and noticed that, in my opinion, there was a lack of student input and involvement in it,” Dunham said.

“If we could design the perfect university, and tell them what it looks like from a variety of different students: undergrads, grads, residents, commuters, traditional, nontraditional. If we could figure out the ways that we all touch the university and things that could be improved, what would that look like?”

Like Purnell and LaSala, Dunham’s concern is also rooted in the language of the Direction Package.

“It was very vague, and in my opinion, top down,” said Dunham. “It started from the trustee level and how the university is suppose to serve the state and trustees, but it said really nothing about how it’s supposed to serve students, ultimately, and I think we should be the first that are being served.”

“The Direction Package is a part of an international assault on the right to an accessible and affordable education,” said LaSala. “And especially being a public institution, USM is the only path to accessible education that a lot of people have, and to be carving out essential programs and departments from our public institution in southern Maine is completely unacceptable.”

Student Vision workshops will be held in the Faculty Dining Room and the Presidential Dining Room in Brooks Student Center on Friday, Nov. 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and 113 Bailey Hall, also in Gorham, on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.