Students for #USM Future recently organized a rally outside of the Maine Law Building to protest President Theo Kalikow’s final budget recommendations, specifically the three programs that are slated for elimination.
Geosciences, American and New England Studies and the Arts and Humanities program on the Lewiston-Auburn campus have been considered part of the necessary budget cuts since March, and have not been removed from the chopping block.
Convincing administrators not to cut these programs has been a goal of the student group since their first protests and on Wednesday they said they were rallying to ‘preserve’ the programs.
“We know these programs are valuable, profitable and continue to grow,” said LaSala. “We haven’t been explained why these majors are being targeted.”
On Tuesday the group announced a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $10,000, with aims to finance an independent audit of the UMaine System’s budget. They are hoping an investigation would shed light on any conflicts of interest, rule-bending and lack of oversight within the USM administration. The USMFuture Preservation Fund has raised $2,394 within the first few days of asking for donations.
The group drew a small crowd, comprised of faculty, staff and community members and many were given a chance to voice their concerns publicly..
Stephen Pollock, a geology professor, explained how rising levels in mercury are seeping from bedrock and into Maine rivers, causing many environmental problems, in an effort to show how valuable maintaining a geoscience community on campus is.
“If enough mercury makes its way into the Penobscot river, we’ll have decades, maybe centuries worth of problems,” said Pollock. “These are the kinds of issues that geosciences documents. We make society better.”
Ardis Cameron, a professor in the American and New England studies program, stressed that her academic department is not only popular, but extremely profitable. According to Cameron, it’s also one of only two of its kind of academic program in the entire country.
“It’s a human right to have access to education,” said Cameron. “We need to pause and ask ourselves does the current model best suit the needs of our region and the students who live in it?”
Many speakers and protestors argued that it’s not and there are many more fiscally responsible ways to save money, that doesn’t involve eliminating crucial programs and valued faculty members. The Faculty Senate presented an alternative budget proposal weeks ago with an estimated $5 million in savings, but according to LaSala, Kalikow turned a blind eye.
“There are a lot of ways we can save and creatively shift money that doesn’t involve students,” said LaSala. “Cut from the top and reduce the salaries of overpaid administrators.”
Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell said that there were sit-down meeting between the administration and student leaders after the group’s first protest when they were rallying to save faculty members who had been retrenched.
“Theo has made a point all along that the work of the students ought to be appreciated because, whether you can agree or disagree with what they’re saying, the students are showing that they care about this university,” said Caswell. “Certainly, everybody is aware of the points that they’re raising. They’ve been taken under consideration.”
Speakers also noted the budget for administrative cellphones. the recent hiring of Director of Public Affairs Dan Demeritt at the system-level and firing of former Portland Student Life Director Christopher O’Connor.
“It’s another chilling demonstration of how decisions are being made without clear criteria or rationales and with little regard to what is best for USM students and the community at large,” said Sarah Victor, a mother and graduate student in Occupational Therapy, on the hiring of Demeritt.
#USMFuture also revealed that they will be starting their own search for a new president.
According to LaSala, #USMFuture is going to urge the board of trustees to listen to their recommendations and give them representation on the official presidential search committee. The first order of business for #USMFuture’s search is develop a criteria for a new president that is based upon preserving USM as a comprehensive liberal arts university and community healing through transparency and shared governance.
“If they refuse to grant us representation on the committee, then we’re prepared to form and sponsor our own,” said LaSala.
Last month, Kalikow announced the formation of the Metropolitan University Steering Group, which would aid the search committee in finding a president with a more metropolitan vision. The members of #USMFuture, according to LaSala aren’t entirely convinced that the objectives of that coalition is what students want for USM.
“We all know ‘metropolitan university’ is simply a code word to help turn USM into an appendage of the corporate world,” said Michael Havlin, a recent graduate in business and economics.
Victor said that the group feels it’s time to take matters in their own hands, but that so far, they’ve been met with condescension, evasion and occasionally outright lies.
“The damage that will be left in the wake of the Kalikow administration, the LePage chancery, and this board of LePage appointed trustees, will have catastrophic reverberations in the state of Maine for generations to come,” said Victor.
Caswell noted that while the budget for FY15 has been finished, the administration will need input on next year’s budget soon.
“As we look ahead to working on the FY16 budget, we’re going to be committed to an inclusive process, so we can meet the fiscal challenges while continuing to offer and affordable high quality education,” said Caswell, noting that the form of the inclusive process has yet to be determined. “All of that has to be done with the understanding that we’re not going to meet universal agreement with the hard challenges we face.”
Editor-in-Chief Sam Hill contributed to this story.