Saturday, October 21st, 2017

Student Life lays off Portland director Christopher O’Connor in downsizing efforts

Christopher O'Connor, the former director of Portland Student Life, said that he was somewhat relieved to be laid off and didn't want student protesters to fight for his job.
Randy Hazelton
Christopher O'Connor, the former director of Portland Student Life, said that he was somewhat relieved to be laid off and didn't want student protesters to fight for his job.

Posted on July 08, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

An interim organizational chart for the Student Life department.
Courtesy of USM Student Life
An interim organizational chart for the Student Life department.

The department of Student Life announced recently that it would be eliminating the director of Portland Student Life position in an effort to downsize amidst recent budget cuts.

Christopher O’Connor, the now former director, said he could feel something going on within the department and that he almost expected being laid off.

“The way the structure of student life has changed over the past year and recent responsibility changes, I knew something was going to happen,” said O’Connor.

According to Susan Campbell, the chief Student Affairs officer, the decision was made based on changing demographics in USM’s enrollment and the need to work with less with the university’s current financial state.

“It wasn’t based on any individual, it was based on programmatic decisions,” said Campbell. “We’re trying to flatten the administrative structure and put more people directly in contact with students.”

“Our enrollment is dropping,” said Judie O’Malley, assistant director of Public Affairs. “You have to size your organization to fit the number of people you serve.”

Members of the group Students for #USMFuture reached out to O’Connor and asked him if he wanted them to fight for his job as a part of their recent protest efforts.

“You couldn’t have been more deliberately offensive to students,” said Philip Shelley, a member of the protest group, of O’Connor’s firing. “We’re asking them to look at administrators’ salaries and the cut the very active and very loved student life director.”

O’Connor told protesters to fight for the position, but not him.

“I don’t care about me. I care about the students,” said O’Connor. “I personally don’t agree with putting students in that place. They shouldn’t have to rally for our jobs. I don’t want my job back. In many ways, I’m relieved to be out of there.”

Joy Pufhal, the executive director of Student Life, said that the decision to let O’Connor go was not easy.

“It was a great loss for me personally, for the department and for USM,” said Pufhal. “These  are hard decisions that unfortunately have to be made. We have to get out of these times at USM where we’re cutting and cutting and cutting.”

O’Connor’s responsibilities have been divided between other Student Life employees and the department has been restructured. Jason Saucier, the former director of Gorham Student Life, will now lead student life as a whole.

O’Connor was skeptical of the restructuring, and spoke about the ‘boots on the ground’ initiative that began when Theodora Kalikow became USM’s president two years ago.

“I didn’t know how I could be anymore involved with students,” said O’Connor. “We’ve barely kept enrollment up in Gorham. Gorham has been spiraling for the past four or five years, and now we’re taking that staff, no disrespect to them as professionals, and task them with maintaining Portland as well? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Pufahl said she was very confident in the new structure and believes that they can deliver the programs students are used to with a smaller staff.

“Some folks are going to panic, but the sky’s not falling,” said Pufhal. There’s a lot of work to get done, but we will do it. We must do it. I care very deeply about the students and I will do everything in my power to deliver the best student experience possible.”



    “Sad. However, necessary. They wouldn’t have cut him otherwise.”

    Oh, of course they would have. You think every position every laid off was “necessary”? No, it’s always nothing more than an effort to line the pockets of bigger fish. USM learned that trick from corporate america.

  • rmsull

    So happened I emailed Chris just last week about a GA position. Didn’t know he had been laid off. Seems like a great guy. Seems to me his position is important. In general, I’m not a supporter of big government or big, centralized institutions. Leaner, flatter is better (for the students), but I think that his job should have been spared.

  • WeAreLegion

    Hey, at least they kept the Women’s and Genders studies program intact, because we all know how many employers are begging for graduates with that degree. As an employer, that’s what I want, a militant man hating feminist causing hate and discontent at every opportunity. Anyone who has gone to USM, knows these beasts are holding the school hostage. The worst part, our taxes support these land whales.

  • 4aBetterME

    Looking at the interim organizational chart…it looks like they could flatten the organization by eliminating the Director of Student Life or the “executive” director of student life. USM went after high dollar salaries. Flatten the organization more…get rid of one of the director of student life positions!

  • Michelle Leeman Buczacz

    Chris was there when I enrolled in 1998! It’s a sad state of affairs when belt tightening squeezes out someone who has given so much to the University.

  • Jason Cassidy

    USM is extremely top-heavy, yes? It’s not administrative paychecks…it’s administration period. Student life is THREE TIMES bigger than it was when I was there 91-97. They’ve added, and added, and this in turn causes an increase in payroll which is simply not sustainable. Look at that chart they show in the article. I could cut 5 people from that and students would be almost completely unaffected.

    We all know the administrative costs there are unacceptable. How did you think this was going to be remedied? Bunnies and flowers? No, they need to cut all kinds of administrative positions…so that they can keep faculty and programs in place.

    I feel for the guy…there’s a human cost. Sad. However, necessary. They wouldn’t have cut him otherwise. With any luck, they’ll be more such cuts, along with the cutting of the fluff money at the administrative level as well.

  • George Townsend

    Yet they make a phony job at $200,000 for one of their elitists? The whole university system is corrupt to the core.

  • ELC

    I think it’s funny that the motivation was to increase the faculty/staff contact with students. I can think no one that is as involved with or considerate of students and the unique challenges that we face. USM is doing it wrong.

  • Booger Nose

    typo in the title: No “of” needed after “off”

  • olivia

    as a recent USM alum (and previous high school drop out) i am tremendously proud of myself, the work i did, and the degree i earned. i am, however, ashamed of my alma mater, and like o’connor, somewhat relieved to be out of there. i will miss my department, and fear that it will be cut to make room for those huge administrative paychecks. gross, usm, gross. do you really wonder why enrollment is down? do you think pissing off current students is really going to up enrollment? alums could be an asset, both monetarily and in their praise… kalikow and others: you’re really messing this up.