Muskie students respond to cuts

Kirsten Sylvain | The Free Press

Posted on March 26, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Earlier this evening, nearly 40 students from the Muskie School of Public Policy met with the school’s Dean Joseph McDonnell and Associate Dean Andrew Coburn to discuss what a letter drafted by four student leaders at Muskie described as the disproportionate impact last Friday’s series of faculty retrenchments had on the school.

“We urge you to join us in making clear to the administration of USM, and the wider community, the folly of these decisions by speaking out against academic budget cuts,” reads the letter, which was read aloud by Clyde Barr at the beginning of the meeting.

“Losing faculty the way we have is deeply disturbing,” McDonnell told the gathered students. However, he reassured them that, even with the loss of two faculty members, the department will still offer all of the courses it was planning to offer.

I think we should all have sympathy for what this administration is going through,” McDonnell said, describing the financial and economic context in which the university is situated. He mentioned both the budget gap and declining enrollment, and pointed out that this is a trend in higher education in general, not just at USM.

When asked if there was any chance to repeal the retrenchment decision, McDonnell differentiated between the proposed program cuts, which include fellow graduate program American and New England Studies, but not any of the majors included in the Muskie School, and the retrenchment of 12 faculty members, which was announced days later.

The proposed program cuts will be reported on the by faculty senate by May, and will ultimately be decided by the Board of Trustees, McDonnell said. On the other hand, with regards to the faculty who have been laid off, McDonnell said he knows there is advocacy being done on their behalf. “I don’t know if that advocacy will change anything,” he said, and concluded, “If that’s overturned, it’s overturned, but it’s our job to move forward.”

The discussion of moving forward included a call for student and faculty involvement in increasing recruitment, both in USM undergraduate programs and farther afield, including rethinking out of state tuition rates. It also touched on reassigning faculty advisors to projects and the possibility of exploring new projects within the department which might be eligible for outside funding.

”I think it went well. We didn’t get the concrete answers to the issues,” Barr said after the meeting. However, he said he thought the lines had been opened for further communication.

“I can understand why they’re upset,” said Abagail Kramer of her fellow students. Kramer is graduating soon, and said she is less concerned with the effect the changes to the program will have on her own education, but she expressed sympathy for her classmates.

Kramer has organized an event called, “100 Years and 100 Stories” for Friday in Wishcamper at 12:30 in honor of Ed Muskie’s 100th birthday. Both Barr and Kramer emphasized that the event is not connected with tonight’s meeting, which was organized to help students express their concerns.

By contrast, “100 Years, 100 Stories” is intended to be a celebration of the Muskie School’s place in the community. “The fact that it’s falling at this time, it’s ironic and it’s sad, but it’s still important,” Kramer said.