Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Parry: USM pulled out of rip-tide but tossed into furnace by admin actions

Posted on March 23, 2014 in Letter to the Editor, Perspectives
By Kirsten Sylvain

Dear Provost Stevenson and Board,

Now I’m no economics or mathematics major, but it seems to me that by dramatically reducing the size of the faculty (and subsequently the amount of courses offered) the outcome is obviously going to be fewer students enrolled. An individual was speaking to me and others the other day about how in 2009 the amount of enrolled credit hours was about 190,000, while today that number is down to about 170,000. The real kicker, however, is that this person said that the administration has cut around 15,000 credit hours since 2009. Now bear with me–170,000 credit hours plus 15,000 credit hours equals 185,000 credit hours…Using this logic, you and the board appeared to have made the assumption that every single one of the courses that has been cut would have been completely empty.

How about a simple metaphor–a restaurant serves an average of 300 individuals a day. Then the kitchen manager realizes that they are spending a significant amount of money on the materials and cooks. He brings this to all of the various (and usually non-essential) management in the restaurant, and they decide that to cut the costs they will ONLY serve 250 people a day and let a few cooks go. After a year they realize that they are still spending a lot of money and revenues are down, and so, in order to further cut costs, they fire a couple more cooks and decide to only serve 200 people a day. The next year comes and they realize that they are now losing even more money than they were to begin with. The solution? Fire EVEN MORE cooks and decide to only serve 150 people a day.

Now you see where this is going right? You and the board referred to USM as a business–let me ask you this: what kind of business turns down customers with the hope of keeping costs down? The aforementioned hypothetical restaurant had its good days and bad days (hence the average of 300 in the beginning), but that’s how it goes. It is a silly business plan to think, “Oh, well yesterday we had a pretty bad day, and our labor-percentages were pretty high. Maybe if we don’t make as much food, thus spend less on the materials, and oh yeah, terminate a few cooks since we don’t want to serve more than x amount of people anyway…”

Then there’s the issue of firing part-time professors who are paid $3,000 per course. Now we pay close to $1,000 per class (but for the sake of shooting for lower numbers to emphasize my point we’ll call it $850)–so if I’m not mistaken there is a profit to be made as long as any one part-time professor’s class has more than five people enrolled. Lets call the average number of students enrolled in these classes 14 (again with the low-estimate)–the university is theoretically making $8,900 in profits.

Now I know that you are likely not going to read this and thus won’t answer this question, but how much does the Board of Trustees make per year off the university, and what exactly do they do to positively impact the students–that is, we the investors who are paying them? I know that as an investor, the educators are the ones I (and most of the student body) value the most. I highly doubt there is a student out there saying “They cut my program, but hey, at least we still have this super-convoluted and wasteful UMaine System-wide bureaucracy.

As the ultimate decision-makers of the university,  you know, I’m sure, and have thought about all of this before choosing to leave many of our very treasured and respected educators without a job. Ultimately I am far from alone in my disgust with the decisions that have been made in order to “save” our university–and by “save” I mean pulling out of the rip-tide only to be tossed into a furnace.

Regards,

Robert Parry

Junior Political Science Major

Director of Editing and Publishing for Words&Images

  • Anonymous

    Friends, Students, Colleagues. As we all know by now, virtually all the cuts occurred in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CASH). CASH is cash positive to the university and to the UMS. CASH brings in far more cash than it costs … what they want is for CASH to bring even more CASH to the table. By firing tenured profs. but continuing to offer the classes they were scheduled to teach, staffing them with adjuncts who work for pennies, or paying existing professors overloads (hey colleagues … maybe you should rething those overloads?) then CASH grows more cash. Irrelevant in all this are the futures of Jane and Johnny CASH majors, who will have fewer CASH classes from which to choose. The moral of this story: if you want CASH, you’d better get in the cash only check out line.

  • Alex Greenlee

    The BoT is not paid for their work.

  • Anonymous

    Each faculty member teaches three courses a year and for the specific faculty retrenched, they made money for USM. Information on enrollments and courses taught on Mainestreet. Chairs do get a course releases and teach 2 courses a semester and so again, you can do the calculations as most faculty teach an intro class that is large (30-100 depending on major and room available).

    One could argue that tuition pays for faculty and the state, grants, and special funds pay for all the buildings, staff, etc. and front line staff has been decimated – see Professor Ettenger’s letter of apology to students in The Free Press last month about the loss of staff.

    If one believes the budget crisis is real – and the system number show otherwise – surely cutting the faculty that generate tuition is not a wise choice and perhaps a pay cut for administration makes sense. Have you looked at how many VPs and Associate Provosts USM now has? Faculty have questioned the need for these job searches (conducted in the last 2-3 years) and hires have gone forward in spite of the view that they were not needed.

  • Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

    It’s not a fact the faculty terminated were necessarily generating enough tuition to ‘earn their keep’ as they had to generate 1.4 times their salary as there are also benefits to factor in. A faculty member making fifty thousand a year is actually seventy thousand with bennies. That’s 280 credit hours a year, or 93 three credit students a year.

    Doable if each faculty member teach three courses a semester with an average of fifteen students a course. Not doable if if faculty member teach two seminars a year with less than ten students a year in them.

    And let’s not forget that tuition covers much more than just faculty — it covers office space for faculty and support staff, library resources, and so forth. what do you give up to make revenues and expenses balance?

    I forgot — every Department Chair gets a course release for being Chair every semester. That means they teach just two courses a year.

  • maine shovelbum

    Something to also take into account is that graduate students pay more per credit hour than undergrads, it is close to double the cost. So cutting a grad program will lose even more income for the university.

  • Anonymous

    The facts are that the faculty that were fired generated more than enough tuition to “earn their keep.”. Why cut the source of revenues? Course sections have been cut that would have filled with tuition paying students.

  • Tom Peters

    The rejoinder to the restaurant analogy is obvious but here it is anyway: A restaurant that is losing money and does not lay off its cooks will go out of business sooner than a restaurant that lays off its cooks in response to losing money.

  • Roy Steven

    The problem with number games are the numbers are only as good as the facts and are far too simplistic. Now I agree, the analogy above does make things seem pretty darn silly. But what if the restaurant was in a town whose customers were mostly high school seniors and recently graduated seniors and let’s say that the numbers of projected graduates in that town and many of the surrounding towns is slowly decreasing (as I think you would find is the case in New England) so that your pool of customers to advertise to and to serve becomes increasingly smaller. Do you say you are only going to serve X number of customers? Of course not. Are you likely to decrease your cooks and supportive staff, probably so. If there are products on the menu that have a following but are not cost effective, they will likely be removed from the menu. If you let go some cooks (while still paying out their contracts, of course) will the customers stop coming? Not likely.
    This is overly simplistic and in absolutely no way would I normally compare the faculty of USM to side dishes or cooks (unless we were talking top chefs in the industry) but it was your analogy. I am a proud graduate of USM (2010) and a few of the names of the people that had been let go are faculty members that I studied under and to a person they had a positive affect on my time there. It saddens me to see them go, especially since there are others whom I feel would have made more sense to let go, but tenure and contracts protect them.