Sunday, January 21st, 2018

BoT votes to eliminate three USM programs despite vocal faculty

James Page, the UMaine system chancellor, and Samuel Collins, chair of the board of trustees, listened to faculty members from USM defend the programs slated for elimination
Sam Hill | The Free Press
James Page, the UMaine system chancellor, and Samuel Collins, chair of the board of trustees, listened to faculty members from USM defend the programs slated for elimination

Posted on September 24, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and a professor of physics, said that he thought public comment on the eliminations were limited due to the meeting being moved to Fort Kent. He urged the BoT to table the program eliminations or open them up to further discussion, but they were voted on without comment.
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and a professor of physics, said that he thought public comment on the eliminations were limited due to the meeting being moved to Fort Kent. He urged the BoT to table the program eliminations or open them up to further discussion, but they were voted on without comment.

In its meeting on Monday, the UMaine System board of trustees unanimously voted to approve the elimination of three programs at USM.

The elimination of geosciences, American and New England studies and the arts and humanities program at Lewiston-Auburn College has been an ongoing debate since last March, but the board of trustees finalized the decision at their meeting in Fort Kent without any formal discussion.

USM faculty members made the 300-mile trek to Fort Kent to speak on behalf of the programs during the opening public comment section of the meeting, but their speeches did not sway the board to change their decision.

“Those are very difficult decisions,” said BoT Chair Samuel Collins of the USM eliminations. “It’s with great deliberation that the board of trustees looks at eliminating any programs, but we do have to face the dire circumstances that are before us and the cost of doing business. the structural gap is not going away.”

No new students will be allowed to enroll in the eliminated programs. Administrators say that students in the program will be able to finish their degrees, but there is no plan in place yet. Faculty working in those programs will be phased out as students finish the program requirements.

Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women and gender studies, questioned the business-sense of the board’s decision, pointing out the USM is offering 185 less sections as they did last fall.

“If you have fewer sections, how can students enroll in the community?,” Feiner asked the board at the beginning of the meeting. “How can they earn their degree? No one has been tracking the relationship between revenue and cost.”

Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and professor of physics, said that the proposals before the board were not the same proposals looked over by the faculty senate earlier in the year. LaSala claimed that the faculty senate only saw a portion of the proposal and far less data.

“The idea that this did not require full review by the faculty senate is very difficult to understand,” said LaSala. “There is lots of new information, some of which we’d challenge is inaccurate.”

No one on the board responded to LaSala’s comments on inaccuracies during the meeting.

“There’s a sense of great fear at USM over what’s going to happen to these peoples’ career and the years they invested at USM,” said Paul Johnson, a professor of social work. “These program eliminations have been a disaster. I know we’re talking about a new direction, what we should do and a way forward, but I don’t believe cutting programs is helping us.”

Johnson also praised students who have become more involved with USM over the past year and have been vocal about the university’s financial troubles.

“They’ve proved how much they care about the university,” said Johnson. “They’ve done this through writing to the newspapers, going to demonstrations, connecting with the press, and I think they’ve made a very strong case as students. It’s unfortunate they couldn’t make it up here to Fort Kent, because they are far more eloquent when they speak about this than I am.”

The meeting on Monday was originally supposed to take place at USM, but the location was switched to Fort Kent, the location of their November meeting, for weather considerations. This location switch has been criticized by students and faculty, which was addressed by LaSala during his remarks.

“Public comment on this is minimized by the fact that this meeting was moved to Fort Kent,” said LaSala, “and people from the outside perceive this as a way to suppress public comment.”

“It’s been a wrenching experience for a lot of people at USM to go through the elimination of these programs, but we have to make tough decisions to fix this structural gap,” said President Flanagan, pointing out the the program eliminations will put USM only three percent closer to a balanced budget.

Flanagan is likely to announce more program cutbacks and faculty retrenchments at the end of October.

News Editor Emma James contributed reporting to this story.

This story will be updated in the Sept. 19 edition of the Free Press.

  • EM Burke

    After all, this is a “university”. It might also be considered that if the university is hanging on to faculty who can’t attract students, eh…. In my day, any great professor, whatever his or her specialty, was always worth paying for. A great professor teaches across the divides. My professor in Literature, Harry Berger, taught me as much about politics and economics, as he did about rhetoric. My failings were not his. My professor in physics taught not only graduate students in physics, but those less adept at math/science…. and I was graced by having studied with one of the greats in American physics. And at the time I was at UCSC, none of the profs earned much. What they did earn was a relatively decent wage, an enormous amount of consideration and respect, and, also, because it was Santa Cruz, a nice view.

  • Curious Mainer

    Courage? they moved the meeting to Fort Kent from USM and eliminated programs that according to the President of USM only cover 5%of the gap and result in a loss of revenue. USM employees are also taxpayers and most are not opposed to budget cuts but cutting revenue is not how you build anything,

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations to the Board of Trustees for having the courage to stand up to all the pressure and doing the right and necessary thing considering the circumstances. The taxpayers of Maine appreciate your efforts even if the self serving faculty don’t see the handwriting on the wall. The university system will be stronger for your actions.