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Faculty has no plan in place yet for students seeking degrees in eliminated programs

Sokvonny Chhouk | The Free Press

Posted on September 22, 2014 in News
By Emma James

The three USM programs up for elimination, to be voted on Monday, Sept. 22 at the Board of Trustees meeting in Fort Kent, do not yet have a plan for students to finish their degrees, if it passes.

According to Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, administration has not given much direction about what the future will hold, specifically for students.

“Everything is pretty much up in the air and despite asking for guidance and more information, if only so I can tell our students what their futures may look like, I haven’t been getting much,” Ryden said.

The same was true for Professor and Chair of Geosciences, Stephen Pollock, who has only had a conversation with James Graves, dean of the college of science, technology and health. According to Pollock, the conversation was brief and established that in the spring semester courses will be offered as they have been in the past, following a multi-course plan that’s been in place for years.

Still, upper level administration has remained silent.

“They [administrators] haven’t even talked to us about what will happen after, basically, October,” said Pollock. “We’ve had no direct communication with anyone in administration.”

Ryden explained that, as he understands it, currently enrolled students will be allowed a four-year window in which to finish their degree programs. He suspects that if the program is eliminated, the two full-time faculty, he and Professor Ardis Cameron, will be retrenched at the end of the fall semester.

“I don’t really know who would be teaching courses that students would need to finish their degree programs,” said Ryden. “Let alone, who would advise on theses and independent studies.”

Ryden explained that representatives from the dean’s office and provost’s office have said that they will, in collaboration, develop a teach-out plan.

“Nobody has given me any sense of what such a plan would look like, what courses students would have available to them, who would teach the courses or anything like that,” Ryden said.

“You can put the courses on the books, but you don’t have anybody to teach them,” Pollock said.

Ryden doesn’t think the administration has given much thought to what the future will hold for students.

“You’d think developing a teach-out plan would be part of developing a program elimination proposal, but that didn’t happen,” said Ryden. “It’s been more a matter of, ‘Well, let’s eliminate the program then figure out what to do.’”

Christopher Quint, executive director in the office of public affairs, explained that they are now working on a plan for students.

“We have an obligation,and commitment to our students to assure that they can graduate in their chosen major,” said Quint. “The provost and deans have initiated a process for developing a plan, now, to ensure that those students enrolled in one of the three programs being proposed for elimination to the Board of Trustees on Sept. 22 will be able to continue their programs and receive their degrees in a timely manner.”

Ryden does admit that it is possible to offer some courses, as faculty in the past have taught for the program.

“This would require the interest and permission of their home departments and getting the administrators to sign off on the whole plan. So it can be done,” said Ryden. “The faculty resources and curricular resources are here, it’s just that nobody has yet sat down with me to actually formulate the plan, any kind of a plan. The attitude’s been more of wait until after the voters [Board of Trustees] take it.”

Both Pollock and Ryden agree that the eliminations are not necessary and urge the Board of Trustees to vote against the eliminations.

“It’s very disappointing to me that in this elimination proposal process, so little thought has been given to the students and their welfare and their peace of mind, their ability to be assured that they’ll be able to finish a good program in a timely way,” said Ryden. “The discussion has been all about eliminating the degree program, but it’s disappointing and baffling to me that administration has evidently given so little thought to how the degree program will be taught out in the absence of its full-time faculty.”

According to Pollock, it didn’t have to come to this, and it still doesn’t have to be this way.

“There are alternate approaches to saving money without terminating these programs,” said Pollock. “This is going to be a major loss for the university, and I think it’s going to take USM years to recover.”

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