More than 100 gather in law building to protest faculty cuts

Posted on March 21, 2014 in News
By Kirsten Sylvain, and Sam Hill

A group of more than 100 students have gathered on the 7th floor of the law building this morning to protest termination of faculty.

More than 10 faculty members are set to have one-on-one meetings with Provost Michael Stevenson this morning and some think it will end in notification of their terminations.

“I’m here because I feel a lot of the faculty that is being targeted are the professors that are the most involved with their students and the community,” said junior political science major Megean Bourgeois.

“This feels political. This is bigger than just budget cuts,” said freshman economics major Nick Marcketta.

Students have been chanting in the hallway, saying “listen to me, it’s my degree” and “chop from the top.”

“We’re seeing a real attack on tenure in the state of Maine today,” said Christy Hammer, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences and president of the USM branch of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine.”They [the system] has the money. They don’t have to make these cuts.”

Update: 10:30 a.m.

Students who gathered at the Woodbury Campus Center for the 10 a.m. meeting have moved their meeting to join the students already protesting in front of Provost Stevenson’s office. Now more than 100 students, faculty and community members are gathered.

Susan Feiner economics professor is also in attendance. Upon entering, Feiner sat in the middle of the hall to start a traditional sit-in and was quickly approached by Public Safety officers intending to arrest her. Feiner was not arrested.

“We’ve worked at long time to build an economics department that maine can be proud of,” Feiner said. “They’re ruining it in a second.” What the chancellor told you about the $36 million looming shortfall, she shouted,is a bald-faced lie.” She also shouted to students in attendance that the administration are doing this on purpose to wreck your university.

Student senator Will Gattis publicly announced that he regrets supporting the Direction Package process. He is upset that two economics professors,Vaishali Mamgain and Rachel Bouvier, have been said to have been slated to be let go. “They made me fall in love with economics,” he said.

Portland PD are now gathered on the scene monitoring the crowd that has gathered, filling the entire hallway. Students read emails from cut faculty, while others show their grief.

Update: 10:55 a.m.

Tensions elevate as student Jules Purnell tries to enter provost’s office with English Professor Deepika Marya to receive formal letter of termination. Public Safety won’t let anyone in.

Update: 11:20

The number of people gathering in the hall continues to grow. Students and faculty are now sitting in, and a number of students broke off to greet candidate for governor Mike Michaud as he comes to speak at 11:30 as part of a series that featured the candidates.

Students chanting and Portland PD steps on to the scene.

Update: 11:38 a.m.

Students and faculty making a list of demands now. First on the list is “voluntary giveback.”

Update: 12:02 p.m.

Protesters still gathered, and the group is not dwindling. Word is spreading that officers may ask those gathered to leave shortly. “Some people are going to have to make some decisions,” said Professor Lorraine Carroll from English.

Update: 12:31 p.m.

Protesters are contacting office of Portland mayor Michael Brennan. They are also calling legislators from the greater Portland area, including Senate President Justin Alfond and Portland Rep. Diane Russell.

Update: 1:22 p.m.

Rep. Diane Russell in a statement said that she would not come out against president Kalikow, as she believes that “she is doing right by the university during this difficult time.” Though, she added that she supports student efforts to stand up for their beliefs. “I would be there if I didn’t have to pass a budget today,” she said. She explained that she did not feel that she enough of the details to make an informed decision.

Update: 2:09 p.m.

A group of students and faculty have decided to go to the Faculty Senate, but that body has moved to go into an executive session, so the public has been barred from attendance.

CORRECTION:

Faculty Senate has not moved to executive session. The meeting is open.

Update: 3:09 p.m.

Kalikow sent out an official statement on the cuts this afternoon in an email to faculty and staff. “We have made the painful decision to lay off 12 full-time faculty members in nine departments.”

“Our 12 faculty colleagues teach in the Departments of Art, Economics, English, Philosophy, Sociology, Theatre, the Honors Program, in the School of Music and in the Muskie School’s graduate program in Public Policy and Management,” Kalikow said. “Original plans called for 15 layoffs but the number was reduced to 12 Friday afternoon due to the retirements of three faculty members.”

Update: 3:45 p.m.

The provost and his office assistants left the building escorted by four officers, walking over a row of students and faculty, laying on the floor in front of his door to bar his way. They prepared to be arrested, writing the number of a lawyer on their hands and arms. However, no protesters were arrested. Stevenson left quickly through the back door of the law building.

Protesters officially disbanded around 3:30 p.m., but they made plans to reassemble in the same location at noon for another sit in.

Before they dispersed, protesters made plans to resume their sit-in on Monday starting at noon.

This story will be updated.

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