Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Elimination of three academic programs to be finalized this month

Posted on September 08, 2014 in News
By Emma James

Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, described his feelings as ‘disappointed.’
Bruce Raymond | The Free Press
Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, described his feelings as ‘disappointed.’
Senior Meghan LaSala and USM graduate Phillip Shelley, both active members of the group Students for #USMFuture, continue with their fundraising efforts, attempts at raising awareness and student recruitment. #USMFuture’s most recent project includes a Kickstarter page to fund an independent audit of the University of Maine system.
Bruce Raymond | The Free Press
Senior Meghan LaSala and USM graduate Phillip Shelley, both active members of the group Students for #USMFuture, continue with their fundraising efforts, attempts at raising awareness and student recruitment. #USMFuture’s most recent project includes a Kickstarter page to fund an independent audit of the University of Maine system.

In two weeks the University of Maine System board of trustees will vote on whether or not to eliminate three programs at USM: American and New England studies, geosciences and the arts and humanities program on the Lewiston-Auburn Campus.

USM administrators proposed eliminating these programs in March as a cost-saving measure in an attempt to cut an estimated $12.5 million from the budget, which will increase into $15 million at the end of this fiscal year. Former President Theo Kalikow proposed the cuts, but Interim President David Flanagan is carrying them forward.

The eliminations were recently approved by a UMS committee and sent to the full board of trustees for final voting.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Flanagan. “There did not seem to be any good reason to delay acting when it’s clear that there are going to be even bigger deficits to deal with prospectively.”

Trustee Bonnie Newsom cast the single vote against the eliminations.

“[Trustee Newsom] wanted to be able to vote on the three programs individually, but the proposal as it was was a straight up yes or no on all three programs together,” said Meghan LaSala, a senior women and gender studies major and leader in the group ‘Students for #USMFuture,’ who was at the meeting. “She spoke in support of American and New England studies and said that she couldn’t in good conscience vote in favor of the elimination of the program because of the service it provides to the region. It’s one of the only of its kind in the country.”

Flanagan agrees and notes that the American and New England studies program is remarkable and unique, but expensive, in terms of the deficit it runs and the number of students they graduate.

USM developed and applied quantitative based criteria that the programs didn’t meet. This criteria looked at enrollment, graduating students, relation to other programs in the university and faculty members.

According to Flanagan, even if the programs are cut, students currently enrolled can finish out their degrees.

Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, described his feelings as ‘disappointed.’

“I think [American and New England studies] is a very important and valuable program for the university and for the region,” said Ryden. “We’ve traditionally had a close working relationship with schools and museums and historical societies in the community, so I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the opportunity to find a way to restructure the program.”

Ryden explained that he would like to keep the program alive in any way possible – if not as the self contained entity that it is now, then in a way that’s more cost efficient and will bring in more revenue.

According to Lydia Savage, professor of geography, USM just didn’t have the resources to explore alternate options for any of the other programs on the table.

“In the board of trustees meeting, both President Flanagan and Provost McDonnell praised the three programs for their quality of teaching, research and community engagement and said that with a little investment and a little time, they could be turned around, but USM didn’t have either,” Savage said.

“So these are decisions that are being made while acknowledging that it could be different,” LaSala said.

Still, Flanagan believes that even if we could offer many majors, it would mean higher costs and reducing accessibility and affordability.

“They had developed criteria and these programs seemed to be, by any reasonable standard, high priorities for elimination,” said Flanagan. “It’s not because they’re not good programs.”

Phil Shelley, USM graduate and active member of Students for #USMFuture, feels that, since these are the same programs that President Kalikow ‘targeted’ a year ago, the elimination of them is seen as part of a ‘larger end game.’

“We won’t be able to withstand $15 million in cuts. It’ll result in a drastic change in the nature of the institution and the way it serves the people of Portland and Maine,” Shelley said.

“It’ll be a fundamentally different institution,” LaSala added.

Both believe that Portland deserves a first-class university.

“What administration and the board of trustees are doing now is dismantling the university and taking it away from the city of Portland,” said Shelley. “It’s a question of you either dismantle something or support it and let it grow.”

Despite their fights, all affected recognize that President Flanagan should not be envied for his job, according to Ryden.

“His mandate that he’s been given by the board of trustees is to balance the budget,” said Ryden. “So I think he has a very realistic sense of the position that he’s been put in. I perceive him as having to go out and dissolve a big problem that the previous administration wouldn’t or couldn’t.”

“We will have to make more cuts. We’ll try to do it strategically. We’ll try to do it consistent with hitting the priorities of the metropolitan university report. We’ll try to do it with the least pain to the USM community. We will have to reduce both faculty and administrative staff in the coming year,” said Flanagan.

These cuts will be done by eliminating individual faculty in programs that are going to continue, as well as eliminating whole programs.

Still, LaSala and Shelley believe the students remain the strongest force to be reckoned with.

“There’s an opportunity here to organize and to make a difference, but students need to take that opportunity,” said LaSala. “That’s up to us.”

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