President Theo Kalikow surprised everyone at Friday’s Faculty Senate with the sudden reversal of all 12 of the controversial March faculty cuts, but for some, the celebration was cut short when Kalikow said later to reporters that by October, the positions of the once-retrenched faculty may be back on chopping block.
Kalikow made the last-minute decision to reverse the faculty layoffs at the meeting, she said, so suddenly that retrenched faculty had yet to receive the news. A number of shocked faculty members at the meeting praised the president for her announcement.
“Thank you President Kalikow for restoring some hope in this process,” said associate professor of nursing Kim Moody.
However, Kalikow explained later that the process going forward has, in many ways, yet to be defined. Much of the work that remains, she said, depends upon the results of the faculty committee recommendations, which have been tasked with producing alternative plans for cuts by May.
She added that everything may be back on the table after the senate committee’s proposals have been considered, including the 12 reinstated faculty members.
“It may turn out that they get fresh letters,” she said. “It may be that people who didn’t get letters [will get] them.” But any new letters will have to wait for October after the start of the new fiscal year, the next possible deadline at which faculty may be retrenched according to their contracts.
Associate professor of Theatre Meghan Brodie was one of the faculty members laid off in March. After hearing the news of the reversal from a student, she said that she was ecstatic, but she was disappointed later when she heard that her struggles, and those of her colleagues, might not be over.
“The fact that the retrenchments aren’t entirely off the table is terrifying,” she said. “I realize these are uncertain times at USM, but this is taking a physical, mental and emotional toll on the faculty, as well as staff and students. It has become a climate of fear.”
Brodie said that with the current academic job market in Maine, if she lost her job a second time she would need to sell her house and look for work out of state in a very short timeframe.
Kalikow responded to faculty concerns about her comment in a statement to the Free Press. “We need to take this one step at a time and first focus on pulling together this new, more collaborative process so that working together we indeed have viable options to the retrenchments,” she said.
Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell explained that on Friday that Kalikow asked a designated Faculty Senate committee to submit an alternate cost-saving proposal that would generate the same “savings and outcomes” as the previous cuts. That committee will have until May 31 to submit the proposal to Kalikow, at which point she will take the it “under advisement.”
Kalikow said that Geosciences, LAC Humanities and the graduate program in American and New England Studies, the three programs slated for cuts in mid-March, are still proposed to be eliminated. The Faculty Senate Academic Review Committee will have until May 5 to propose alternative cuts to Kalikow.
Kalikow said the process of staff cuts will also continue. In the fiscal year 2015, 14 staff have already been officially laid off. As part of the efforts to fill the remaining $14 million gap, on Friday Kalikow confirmed that 10 to 20 additional staff will be notified of their termination.
When asked whether or not those staff had already received their notices, Kalikow declined to comment on specifics.
At the senate meeting on Friday, the faculty almost unanimously passed a resolution defending USM staff, saying that the Faculty Senate was going “on the record in support of all staff and [asks] that staff reductions be halted immediately and until the process to right-size the university’s budget is completed. Further, staff must be involved in all levels of budget discussion.”
Brodie believes that USM can find creative ways to cut down on spending without eliminating so many jobs, saying that the next step for the university is to focus on attempting to find solutions that will eliminate the mandated staff cuts.
“I’m thrilled and grateful to have my job and to be able to spend more time with my students, but I feel like I have a knot in the pit of my stomach. Everything is just so uncertain.”