Colleges cope with retrenchment of faculty

Student Body President Kelsea Dunham (right) discussed her involvement in the Direction Package Advisory Board's vision committee during a meeting of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences faculty.
Randy Hazelton | The Free Press
Student Body President Kelsea Dunham (right) discussed her involvement in the Direction Package Advisory Board's vision committee during a meeting of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences faculty.

Posted on April 07, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Since President Theo Kalikow announced the layoffs of twelve faculty members on Friday, March 21, the colleges of the retrenched faculty have responded by holding a series of meetings.

On March 26, a group of students organized a meeting about the effects of the retrenchment on the Muskie School, and on March 28, responses to the cuts occupied one of the two hours of a meeting of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Of the 12 faculty members the president and the provost marked for retrenchment, eight from the CAHS. Additionally, one of the four departments proposed for elimination, the American and New England Studies graduate program, is a part of the college.

“One of the reasons our college was targeted was our student-to-faculty ratio,” Dean Lynn Kuzma of the CAHS told the gathered faculty and the handful of students holding protest signs in support of the faculty crowded into the back of the room.

She echoed the sentiments of Dean Joseph McDonnell  of the Muskie School of Public service, who addressed a gathering of his own students and faculty earlier in the week. McDonnell explained that there are 75 students in the Muskie School’s Public Policy Management program and 50 in Community Planning and Development. “We currently have 10 faculty in the MPH and CPD programs,” McDonnell said. “That’s a lot of faculty resources for just a few students.”

Because of this high student-to-faculty ratio, McDonnell said, the Muskie School had been considered for possible closure, rather than faculty retrenchment.

Kuzma also said that the provost had considered more proposed program cuts within the CAHS. “He said to me, it was either [retrenchment] or he was going to ask me for program elimination recommendations. He was going to ask me for three,” she said.

Kuzma said that the media coverage of the cuts might work to the college’s advantage. “I’m hoping that the word is getting out about the value of a liberal arts education,” said Kuzma.

“This is actually the most coverage our program has gotten in 25 years,” said Professor Ardis Cameron, whose program, American and New England Studies, has been proposed for elimination.

Cameron cited lack of publicity for USM as a reason for dropping enrollment, mentioning both the TV commercials she had seen for other schools and the fact that Cumberland County is the fastest-growing region of the state. “I did not see aggressive recruiting and aggressive advertising of USM this year or last year,” Cameron said.

Kuzma shared the one-page document which, she said, was the rubric by which the provost had chosen the departments to retrench faculty from. The document, which details the number of faculty members in each department and then breaks down the numbers of courses, sections and credit hours taught, came under fire from several faculty members, including English professor Eve Raimon, who described it as a perfect example of everything that had gone wrong over the preceding two weeks, and communication and media studies professor and faculty union vice-president Matt Killmeier, who said he’d seen the same chart earlier in the year and noticed several figures were not up to date.

“There’s some real problems with this data. It’s like the Iraq war data,” Killmeier said.

The conversation turned to the Direction Package Advisory Board, which Kuzma was a part of as a member of the vision committee.

“Many of us, I think, are very excited about the idea of an urban focus,” Cameron said, but expressed concern that the metropolitan university concept that the vision committee had presented didn’t have enough space for arts and humanities in it.

Kuzma responded that the vision of the metropolitan university had been kept deliberately vague in the Direction Package presentation so that each department could find its own place within the vision. “I think the vision is broad enough, right Kelsea?” Kuzma addressed student body president and fellow committee member Kelsea Dunham, who was sitting at the back of the room.

Dunham agreed that the vision committee’s presentation had been kept vague in order to keep the committee members from getting too caught up in making sure there was a place for their own departments.

“Portland has a major creative economy,” said Dunham. “There was no lack of humanities in that [metropolitan] vision, let me tell you that.”