Friday, October 19th, 2018

Faculty and students in the Franco-American community distraught over proposed cuts

Kelly Donaldson, senior foreign language major, opposes cuts.
Sam Hill
Kelly Donaldson, senior foreign language major, opposes cuts.

Posted on October 27, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

Last week, Nancy Erickson a French professor at USM, logged onto her computer and learned in a mass email that her department and position were slated for elimination by an administration that is attempting to bridge a projected $16 million budget gap.

“The announcement email from the Provost to the entire community was the way I found out that I was fired,” said Erickson.

Erickson, who’s been teaching French at USM for over 18 years, has worked 15 hour days frantically trying to convince the administration to reverse this decision, however the proposal got finalized last Friday at a meeting where the board of trustees voted 9-2 for the cuts. Erickson said however, in an email to her supporters, that this fight is far from over. After the six hour meeting, Erickson spoke to President Flanagan and several trustee members about devising a viable plan to implicate a French major across the entire U-Maine system.

“I will work with my colleagues around the System on our current proposal which the System failed to implement before, and will submit a new proposal in the next few weeks,” said Erickson.

Erickson also created a Facebook page called “Saving French at USM,” which has served as a forum for students, faculty and community members to express their mutual outrage.

Erickson said that she’s received many inquiries from students that are worried about whether they will be able to finish their degree in the spring, to which she wasn’t able to give a clear answer.

The general feeling concerning this issue among several students and community members is confusion. According to upset students, the administration is turning their back to an academic department that appeals to Maine’s largest ethnic group. Maine has 300,000 Franco-Americans, according to 2012 census data, and the majority of them live in USM’s backyard. Taking Flanagan’s new vision for a metropolitan university into account, many students find it “ridiculous” and counter-intuitive to remove French from USM’s curriculum.

According to Thomas Bahun, a newly appointed student senator and senior double major in history and political science, the administration has overlooked the cultural and economic impact of the French department.

“Their strategies are just short term patchworks,” said Bahun. “French is such an integral part of our metropolitan community. It needs to stay; it’s valuable.”

Bahun said he couldn’t think of a legitimate institution that didn’t offer French and this decision is going to negatively impact enrollment and the reputation of USM as a whole.

According to Bahun, professor Erickson has graduated more French majors than anyone else in the state, but at the last board of trustees meeting he attended, the members were claiming that the department is not producing enough major graduates.

Indeed Erickson graduated fiveFrench majors last year, which was fourth in New England among public universities. But according to Erickson, the department services a broad spectrum of students, not just majors.

“I’m not just teaching 10 students, I’m teaching around 150,” said Erickson. “There are a lot of people that value language learning and want to learn how to be culturally sensitive.”

Both Bahun and Erickson said that French is often an elective choice for students and this shouldn’t be ignored. Learning a language arms students with valuable skills that translates over into many different academic and business applications.

Whitfield Palmer, a senior art history major, said that he’s been using his French minor to supplement his major as well as gain a leg up in his military career. Palmer said that learning French actually helped him pick up Italian quite easily while stationed in Sicily for the Navy. His French fluency was put to use as well, while he worked as a translator to the Algerian and Moroccan navy.

“It teaches you how to think,” said Palmer. “It’s vital in my area of study.”

According to Alex Lyscars, a senior political science major, if the administration offered a more comprehensive curriculum it would attract more students to the program.

When asked to address the French community’s concerns with this cut, Chris Quint, the director of public affairs, replied, “ “While we are proposing to eliminate the French major, which is averaging only 4.8 graduates a year, we will continue to meet the needs of those students who want to take a class, or multiple, in French.”

“Entry level French courses are just not going to cut it,” said Lyscars. “If there were more classes and opportunities offered, there would be more graduates.”

According to a poll conducted by the University of Maine in 2012, students with French heritage would prefer to see more courses offered in schools. These students are also more likely to base their enrollment decisions on which school has courses in French language and culture. With thousands of Franco-Americans living in Maine, students like Lyscars are baffled as to why the administration doesn’t capitalize on this demand.

“It’s like their trying to cut the University out from under our feet,” said Lyscars. “It’s ridiculous that such a talented professor [Erickson] is losing her job. She’ll survive, but this is her heart and soul.”

“I will fight this,” wrote Erickson in an email to her supporters. “Thank you so much for your support. I made all the difference in the world.”

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