Friday, October 19th, 2018

BoT eliminates two programs, despite outcry

President David Flanagan sat with the board of trustees as 63 people waited in line to criticize his plan.
Sam Hill
President David Flanagan sat with the board of trustees as 63 people waited in line to criticize his plan.

Posted on October 27, 2014 in News, Uncategorized
By Sam Hill

Just over two weeks after USM President David Flanagan announced the administration’s plan to close two academic programs to battle the university’s budget deficit, the elimination of the undergraduate French and graduate applied medical sciences programs have been approved.

The UMaine system board of trustees approved the elimination plan with a 9-2 vote before over a hundred students, faculty, alumni and community members who had packed into Sullivan Gym to hear their decision.

63 people signed up to speak during the public comment period, which ended up lasting nearly three hours, all in support of one of the programs or against the faculty retrenchments likely to come at the end of the month.

“I’m here to ask you to slow down this train,” Jerry LaSala, a professor of physics and USM faculty senate chair, said to the board, taking issue with the fast-paced actions of the administration. “There was no consultation with faculty or students before the announcement and the deadlines for comment were so quick – it was basically the very least you could do.”

Other speakers complained about the board’s haste in eliminating the programs, saying that the community would gladly assist them in finding cost saving measures, if only they were given the opportunity.

Bryan Bozsik, president of the Bioscience Association of Maine board of directors, told the board of trustees to postpone a vote until it could complete an adequate impact report and study how the eliminations would affect the surrounding community.

“In the proposal you are considering today, both the association and the industry do not feel like these criteria were met,” said Bozsik, echoing the concerns of other leaders in the medical field, including speakers from Maine Medical Center, Maine Molecular Quality Controls and IDEXX Laboratories.

Alumni came to speak about their experiences at USM and how they felt the eliminations would affect the quality of education at the university.

“I am insulted that you have told me that my studies are not important enough to continue here, that my professor is not worth keeping here,” said James Spizuoco, who double-majored in classics and political science, two programs that will be hit with faculty retrenchments this month. “The person who got me into law school is just a number to you, just a position.”

He argued that cutting programs and faculty would not save money, but cost USM in the long-run, as students will leave or stop enrolling because they’re losing their mentors.

LaSala spoke on that same issue, comparing the administration’s situation to that of a bus company.

“When they cut back the number of buses, then there’s fewer passengers because [the buses] don’t go where you want them to,” he said. “And that’s the road we’re going down here.”

Max Reinhold, a graduate student in the applied medical sciences program, said that without the faculty and labs, he wouldn’t be able to gain the real world skills he needs to compete in the job market.

“You don’t ask a carpenter to learn carpentry online and you don’t ask a molecular biologist to learn without a lab,” said Reinhold. “Earning a degree is not the same as getting an education.”

“I come from a non-traditional science background. I’ve worked hard to balance my workload and be a full time graduate student and what I ask from the administration is the same hard work,” he said. “Elimination is the easy way out, but it’s not a long solution. [Instead of working] I could go sell one of my kidneys, but that’s not a good long term solution.”

Despite the hours of student, faculty and community testimony, administrative leaders stood by their plan to eliminate the programs.

“I am here today along with Provost [Joseph] McDonnell, in partial fulfillment of the mandate you gave me,” said Flanagan to the board. “What you asked of me then is that we put this university on a financially sustainable basis so we assure it’s long term future as best we can. I believe the plan we are putting before you today is an important building block and an overall strategy for achieving the goals you set.”

Flanagan noted that there were alternative plans in front of the board, but none of them were viable in terms of the system’s financial situation. He said continuing to offer the same programs would force a tuition raise to at least $10,000 a year and that planning to close down a campus would easily take over a year to plan and execute.

UMaine chancellor James Page, who chose to save his comments until the end of the discussion, stated plainly that the plan put forth by Flanagan was a good choice and was a necessary move to put USM in a healthy financial state.

“Time is now dictating events,” he said. “The structural budgetary gap is real and its effects are now immediate.”

Trustees Shawn Moody and Kurt Adams openly opposed the cuts, citing a lack of time to spend studying the data and concerns raised by industry leaders as reasons to take more time considering the proposal.

All other trustees voted to eliminate the programs.

“This is not an easy decision for any of us,” said Samuel Collins, chair of the board. “However, we cannot ignore the facts. We have to plug the hole before the ship sinks.”

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