At the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, faculty members expressed concern to President Theo Kalikow about the purpose and conclusions of the Direction Package committee. The committee is scheduled to present its findings to Kalikow on Feb. 28.
Many at the meeting were frustrated, saying that Kalikow wasn’t giving enough details pertaining to the initiatives of the committee. “There’s word on the street that the direction package has no direction,” one faculty member said to the president. Kalikow responded, “I think the direction package is moving along nicely. The soft rollout isn’t until next week. The details, I think, are still being worked out.”
“[The committee is] working very diligently and with great focus. I think the process is going to be very fruitful. The overall goal is to do the right thing for our students, the state and the communities where we find ourselves,” Kalikow said.
She went on to stress the scope of the undertaking and the amount of time that will need to be invested in it. “But I hope we will work in partnership with the Faculty Senate to do a good job and to set a reasonable direction for USM,” Kalikow said.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the physics department and the Faculty Senate and co-chair of the Direction Package Advisory Board, spoke to the difficulty of the committee’s task. He explained that it’s the committee’s job to create a vision for USM’s future and to save $14 million next year. “[They’re] trying to focus on both of those; it’s a challenge but they’re doing their best,” he said.
English professor Nancy Gish pressed Kalikow about how the committee was planning to serve the students of USM. Kalikow, who has not yet seen the advisory board’s full presentation, responded, “I don’t know what the hell these people are going to do. So I can’t be pinned down on this.”
Another faculty member expressed the concern that despite the committee’s findings, they would be unable to find a way to cut $14 million from next year’s budget. Kalikow said, “What I think is, we can come pretty close. It may be a combination of things. I don’t how it’s actually going to unfold.”
Some faculty expressed frustration at their inability to help brainstorm ideas to save the $14 million, when the preliminary 2015 budget is due only a month after Kalikow receives the recommendations from the Direction Package committee. One member said, “We could help with that if we knew what those ideas are.” Kalikow responded that she would not share her ideas until after Feb. 28.
Christy Hammer, president of the USM chapter of the University of Maine System full-time faculty union, told the Free Press later, “I was heartened to hear the president say that we will not let [the University of Maine, Orono] take all the resources from USM, because I think it was and has been a fear. And with USM being in the economic and cultural hub of Maine, I believe that political and community members will not be happy that we have to cut opportunities for students at USM.”
There was contention at the meeting about whether or not online classes are an acceptable substitute for live classes. University officials across the system have been discussing the possibility of working more collaboratively using online mediums due to system-wide shortfalls.
Hammer said, “What we’re afraid [of] is that UMO will take over the programs, and we don’t think that’s what the greater Portland community deserves. They deserve quality programs with real faculty and not just online access. I’m hoping they can figure out a different way to restructure the funding so that USM, that runs very efficiently, can still provide the programs to Maine students in the population center.”
Mark Lapping, distinguished university professor for the Muskie School of Public Service, stressed the economic importance of USM to the Portland community and argued that we were not properly funded to begin with. Eve Raimon, a USM English professor, agreed and added to the Free Press after the meeting, “It’s the administration’s job to keep reiterating that USM is in a death spiral.”
Kalikow will present the Direction Package Advisory Board’s findings to the Faculty Senate in a meeting on March 14.