Certainly there’s a reason to celebrate at USM since last Friday, but let’s not forget about the fine print: student protesters and faculty may have won the battle, but they haven’t won the war yet.
President Kalikow’s surprise announcement that she’s cancelling all of the faculty retrenchments she announced last month (except for faculty associated with the three degree programs that are still proposed to be cut, and has anyone said a word about contract majors like languages and Hispanic studies?) shouldn’t lull anyone into a false sense of security.
It’s no secret that the programs getting a reprieve are the ones with the shoutiest students, and with summer closing in fast, there are enough reasons for resistance to cuts to slow down without taking the most of the righteous indignation out of the sails of vocal theater students and shocked economics majors.
Not only are Kalikow’s statements about the timeline for her change of heart already not adding up, but she’s saying outright that staff cuts are still happening and probably at an increased rate. Programs are still “on the table.” Not only that, but faculty members who felt pressured to retire have already gotten that ball rolling, and even the faculty who have just been yanked out from under the knife could be back on the operating table come fall.
Students from #USMFuture have said they’re not halting their efforts, and that they still hope to make public higher education funding a ballot issue for Maine next year, and if our foray into our archives this week has taught us anything, it’s that we had all better hope they succeed. Whether you think the integrity of the university has been saved when Kalikow called off this series of cuts or whether you’re still skeptical, the fact remains that the problems we have faced this year are problems we have faced before, in different shapes at different times, over and over again.
These funding problems wouldn’t keep repeating themselves if there weren’t something at the core of the way this university that is flawed. The only way to keep from facing the same problems all over again later is to find out where that flaw is and change it.
Maybe #USMFuture will find the fundamental change the university has to make to move into the future, and maybe they won’t, but the fact that they’re looking means that maybe the issues will stay in the public eye long enough for someone to figure it out. We can’t afford to let the problem of funding USM go out of sight and out of mind until it reaches a crisis point again.
Kalikow’s statement may have come off to many as a “hopeful message,” but from her apparent lack of specificity in statements later on Friday to press, concluding that she had no idea what the next steps would be, it seems possible that the move was a temporary reprieve for the most obvious and pestersome problem –– public outrage over faculty cuts.
So what’s the takeaway point? We still don’t know what to expect. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. This conversation is not over and won’t be for quite some time, and certainly, it’s important that we approach this with a spirit of cooperation, but what we need now, more than ever, is for the administration to keep the promise Kalikow made at Friday’s Faculty Senate to work transparently with faculty, and beyond that, the administration needs to hold the staff and student perspectives in equally high regard. As a final point, we also want to implore that the administration abide by some well-thought-out process in steps moving forward (or to at least give the impression that that is the case).
Our Opinion is written by the Free Press editorial board.