USM is still looking for ways to fill the $14 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year, and officials agreed, after a set of student survey results were released Friday, that students should always be the focus.

The CORE subgroup of the Direction Package Advisory Board was tasked with finding short-term solutions, trying to find reasonable and achievable ideas to increase retention, reverse enrollment erosion and reduce spending to balance the coming fiscal year.

When the Direction Package Advisory Board met last Friday for a preliminary rollout of the subgroup work, the board members considered a collection of money-saving ideas, some coming from staff and student surveys.

“We were quite pleased with the engagement with our surveys,” said Joy Pufhal, the dean of students and executive director of Student Life. “The respondent rate wasn’t anything to brag about, but the end result was significant enough to give us some real data to chew on.”

There were 173 respondents to the staff survey and 346 student responses. Top staff suggestions to cut costs included cutting administrative costs, consolidating mid-level positions and management and eliminating top leadership. There was also discussion surrounding under-enrolled programs.

Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration and member of the academic review committee said that she didn’t include handouts with the presentation, because people tend to get nervous when numbers are put on paper with programs attached.

“We’re not there yet,” said Munger.

She went on to stress the need for input from departments and programs.

“There’s a lot of innovation, a lot of good minds and a lot of passion. If you ask some people in different programs how do we do it differently, they can probably come up with some pretty great ideas,” said Munger.

The student survey responses revealed that students at USM are aware of the tension in the air around budget cuts.

“Students reported things like, ‘Faculty and staff are disgruntled and it shows,’” said Pufhal. “It’s impacting the student experience and affecting our ability to recruit new students.”

Student responses also showed that most students believed the university could be more fiscally responsible, citing recent cosmetic renovations on the Portland campus.
“At the end of the day, the major payer for the system is the student, not the state,” said Laurenz Schmidt, a member of the Board of Visitors, an active group of volunteers that assists the president of the university in various tasks. “Anything we do as a university needs to be focused on that. With the state, you can argue, with the legislature, with the governor, or the board of trustees, you can argue. With the students you cannot argue. You cannot win an argument with your customer. Your customer will just go somewhere else.”

“One of the elephants in the room is that we are a university that is declining in enrollment, and we need a growth strategy,” said Joseph McDonnell, dean of the College of Management and Human Service and a professor of public policy and management.

Toward the end of Munger’s presentation, she put a quote up on the projector that read “Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of strategic planning, but we haven’t moved,” said Munger.

This week, the advisory board is working on bringing all of their presentations together and making them more cohesive for their cumulative presentation to the President’s Council for further consideration this Friday, with UMS Chancellor James Page and Senate President Justin Alfond in attendance. From there, the cost cutting ideas will be presented to the Faculty Senate and other groups before a larger open meeting on March 14.

“Mostly we’ve [UMS colleges] spent the time fighting each other for resources. That is totally unproductive and we cannot do that anymore,” said Kalikow. “I think, the presidents of all the seven campuses have understood that we don’t have the resources available to fight those fights anymore. So we have to do it a different way, and we have to invent that different way because we don’t know how to do it.”

The advisory board’s three sub-groups reported to each other last Friday, putting all of their work together for the first time. Each group was able to receive feedback from the other members of the advisory board in order to align their goals in preparation for a cumulative presentation to President’s Council for further consideration this Friday, with UMS Chancellor James Page and Senate President Justin Alfond in attendance.

“Our feet are definitely to the fire,” said Kalikow,” and we wish that fire wasn’t there, but on one hand, it’s forcing us to actually make decisions.”


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