Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Programs slated for elimination finalized

Sam Hill

Posted on September 29, 2014 in News
By Emma James

The three programs slated for elimination, American and New England Studies, geosciences and arts and humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn Campus were approved for elimination by the board of trustees last Monday in Fort Kent.

After no discussion, with the exception of the citizen comment period, the board’s vote was unanimous.

“We do have to face the dire circumstances that are before us,” said Samuel Collins, chair of the BoT. “The structural gap isn’t going away.”

President David Flanagan admits that the programs eliminated only account for 3% of the target USM has to make, even though the university will realize some $500,000 in savings.

Rose Cleary, an associate professor of arts and humanities, found the lack of discussion by the board “disheartening.”

“They didn’t take seriously other options than eliminating programs. They should be looking at ways to invest rather than cutting,” said Cleary. “I was quite disappointed with the lack of deliberation.”

Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, was not surprised by the unanimous vote.

The program eliminations were part of a consent vote, which entails several items on the agenda of the meeting being bundled together for an up or down vote.

“That struck me as a way to avoid having conversations, by not having it on the agenda as a separate item, but bundled in with unrelated things,” said Ryden. “Perhaps they were trying to avoid the possibility of discussion, and they had probably made up their minds already.”

Cleary explained that, though the vote at the board was the last procedural step to eliminating the programs, it’s not yet finalized because the Associate Faculties of the University of Maine, AFUM, has filed a grievance about the multiple contract violations over the procedures that have been followed.

According to Cleary, the grievances have been validated, so they are now entering into a preface of arbitration.

“Depending on the outcome of that, the vote of the board of trustees could become invalidated, if it’s found that the procedures administration followed violated contracts,” said Cleary. “They’d have to redo the process and the board would have to vote again.”

According to Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and professor of physics, the proposals before the board were much more detailed than the proposals presented to the faculty senate earlier in the year.

“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. The requirements of the board of trustees manual have not been met.”

LaSala also claimed that public comment was minimized by the fact that the meeting was moved to Fort Kent.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies, attended the meeting.

“I talked with trustee Moody before the vote and he told me that he was prepared to vote against the program eliminations. He was sort of blind-sided by the process,” said Feiner. “He thought that there would be another step in deliberations.”

Though the vote was unanimous, regardless of confusion among board members, Flanagan explained that more cuts need to happen to fill the gap.

“People somehow seem to have this idea that this is elective, what we’re doing. But it’s not. We have no choice,” said Flanagan. “We cannot run a deficit. We have to pay people. We have to pay our bills.”

According to Flanagan, the arts and humanities program is already covered completely by other programs, and the other programs will be taught out, so students are still given the opportunity to graduate.

Clearly disagreed, noting that the rationale to eliminate the program was because it duplicated another, but explained that that was not true.

“Arts and humanities was redesigned to be an applied program that had community engagement as a critical component of the new curriculum,” said Cleary. “That’s supposed to be what characterizes a metro university. It doesn’t make sense to me to eliminate the program.”

Flanagan explained that some faculty in the affected programs will be given the option to stay to help students finish their degrees, unless they elect not to.

“This isn’t like some guillotine dropping down and ending people’s professional lives,” said Flanagan. “I think some people are trying to create concerns where they need not exist.”

Flanagan also explained that faculty are some of the most protected employees in the country, and cuts that will be made outside of program eliminations will be based solely on a contractual basis.

“We cannot fire people at will,” said Flanagan. “What you can do is eliminate programs where you can’t financially support them, or where they don’t fit in with the university vision. At the end of the day, there does come a time when, if you don’t have money you can’t pay people, and that’s the situation that we’re in.”

Contractual basis is a matter of seniority.

Regardless of the cuts, students may elect to take legal action. The questions there, according to Ryden, is the status of the university catalog as a legal document.

“When a student matriculates into a program, language and requirements for the degree program as of the date of their matriculation are listed in the catalog and are the ones that apply to them throughout their course of study, even if the requirements change,” said Ryden. “The argument is that, basically, a promise has been broken.”

According to Ryden, though, students would have to initiate an action like that.

“Probably all it would take would be one student,” Ryden said.

Flanagan explained that he has continuously acknowledged the reciprocal need for cutting and investing in USM.

“We have to offer new courses and new interdisciplinary majors. We have to be more innovative and relevant in what we offer. I’m here to bring the university into a new era when it will be financially sustainable, affordable, accessible, quality and relevant,” said Flanagan. “That’s my job.”