Thursday, January 17th, 2019

‘This is an experiement’: Faculty expresses concerns for budget timeline

President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell respond to faculty concerns at the first faculty senate meeting of the year. Though they only accounted for two items on the agenda, the duration of the meeting was spent discussing program eliminations and budget cuts, and extended beyond the two-hour timeframe.
Baylie Szymanski
President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell respond to faculty concerns at the first faculty senate meeting of the year. Though they only accounted for two items on the agenda, the duration of the meeting was spent discussing program eliminations and budget cuts, and extended beyond the two-hour timeframe.

Posted on September 15, 2014 in News
By Emma James

The Faculty Senate was set to spend last week’s meeting discussing a report from the Metropolitan University Steering Group, but after reports from President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell, the rest of the meeting was spent on topics that weren’t on the agenda: this year’s budget deficit, program eliminations and how to combat dropping enrollment.

The faculty seemed concerned about a timeline for USM and how quickly the university will have to make changes to address the budget issues that have lingered for so long.

“It’s mid-September, and I just got an email from the Provost’s office saying that we still need to have discussions,” said Rachel Bouvier, professor of economics. “It strains credibility in my mind that we have to act in six weeks, maybe less. It concerns me that this process is going to be grossly mismanaged, or that those decisions have already been made, and we’re asking for participation and it’s not going anywhere.”

Flanagan started his address to the faculty by mentioning a report done by Clayton Christensen, a Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, which indicated that the bottom 25% of every tier of struggling colleges and universities will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years.

“We have two goals,” Flanagan said. “To make sure USM is not one of the 25% of colleges going out of business, and to continue to provide affordable public education that is accessible to Maine residents.”

Flanagan suggested USM mimic the University of Maine at Fort Kent, lowering out-of-state tuition, to hopefully bring in more full-time enrollment, saying that he thinks the price for out-of-state students is counterproductive. If USM has lower costs for out-of-state students, more seats could be filled.

“[We’re] making money, by offering a lower price, but one that still cover costs,” said Flanagan. “We’re thinking along the same lines of how can we do a better job at marketing our product.”

Mark Lapping, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service, indicated that the board of trustees have said that anyone within a 50-mile radius of any University of Maine System school could be charged in-state tuition, including those in New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire has only one public engineering school. We could be New Hampshire’s second engineering school. We could be New Hampshire’s nursing school. The only competing programs would be University of New Hampshire,” said Lapping. “Our farthest west point of one of our campuses is in Gorham and a 50-mile radius from that point takes in a good deal of New Hampshire. That would mean that a New Hampshire student would be charged Maine tuition in our programs if we attempted to institute the board allowance.”

In response, Flanagan acknowledged that New Hampshire is a very serious threat. UNH is discounting its out-of-state rates down to Maine in-state rates.

“When we talk about recruiting from other states, we should take care in what we recruit for,” said Flanagan. “If we have a standard across-the-board discounted price, that’s not necessarily going to help solve our problem. We need to be more targeted in the kinds of students we look for so we can compete in price and compete in a way that will marginalize revenue and will exceed our marginal costs.”

Joseph Medley, professor of economics, asked how many empty seats programs have, and where they specifically were. McDonnell didn’t give specifics, but said “a number of classes.”

“Please find out where the empty seats are as a starting point,” said Medley. “I’m not hearing that you know. How can we have an enrollment problem when the seats aren’t there for students to fill? What I’m underlining for you is that if you don’t know where the empty seats are, you don’t know what to cut.”

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies, had looked into the number of classes offered every year and reported that information at the meeting.

“In fall 2010, USM offered 2,123 separate classes,” said Feiner. “In fall 2013, 2,076 classes. This semester we have 1,891 classes. We are down 232 classes compared to fall 2010. From the anecdotal evidence, the classes that are not being offered are classes that were full the last time they were offered.”

Provost McDonnell reported a few different paths USM could take. The Academic Portfolio Review and Integration Process (APRIP) committee was designed to imagine the university system as a whole, rather than as seven distinct universities. It identified programs which they thought would be good programs to connect: nursing, recreation, business, engineering, marine science, history, education and humanities.

One way the system could do this would be to offer programs exclusively online for a major, or for one university in the system to be the host of a program that offers face-to-face classes while the other universities only offer the classes online. Lastly, he mentioned that one could imagine a hybrid where some classes are offered online and others in the classroom setting.

Lucinda Cole, director of women and gender studies and associate professor of English, expressed concern and indicated that many faculty feel that the aforementioned options are putting the system at great risk.

“The issue of these statewide degrees seems good, but I’m wondering if this experiment that we’re conducting will undermine radically the prestige of the university system,” said Cole. “People won’t want to pay for online classes the amount they do for face-to-face.”

“Online might be one option, but when we think about it, there are only so many options,” said McDonnell. “Moving faculty. Closing campuses. I don’t think we’re at the point of exploring all of them.”

Nancy Gish, a professor of English, explained that there are things that you simply can’t learn online.

“How do you identify where online and non face-to-face learning can be done?” Gish asked. “Probably you wouldn’t want to have neurosurgery by someone who learned to be a surgeon online. My point was not that online can’t happen, it’s that where and when.”

Flanagan welcomed a timeline to enact by fiscal year 2016 and ended the meeting by proclaiming that his vision for USM is “financial sustainability.”

Lydia Savage, professor of geography, rebutted.

Savage said, “I think budgets reflect values, and we should choose values first.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes from Nancy Gish to Nancy Richeson, a former professor of recreation and leisure studies at USM

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