Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Faculty retrenched, some through voicemails

Faculty, students and community members protest retrenchments of 24 faculty members last Friday. These retrenchments signify the second phase of the administration’s plan to reduce faculty cuts and address USM’s $16 million deficit.
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Faculty, students and community members protest retrenchments of 24 faculty members last Friday. These retrenchments signify the second phase of the administration’s plan to reduce faculty cuts and address USM’s $16 million deficit.

Posted on November 03, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

Last week 24 faculty members were notified that they would be losing their jobs in an administrative effort to balance USM’s budget and address its $16 million deficit.

These retrenchments are the second phase of the administration’s plan to reduce faculty costs, the first phase resulting in 25 faculty opting for early retirements with increased incentives. Targeted faculty received letters regarding their retrenchment, as their contracts require, and phone calls from deans of the college offering one-on-one meetings on their termination.

These phone calls were meant to connect retrenched faculty with deans for support and discussion following notification of layoffs but one dean went too far, reading an entire script meant to be looked over during meetings in a voicemail to some faculty, leaving some with the details of their job loss waiting for them on their office phones the next morning.

“I was fired by voicemail,” said Paul Christiansen, associate professor of music history, at a press conference held by anti-administration groups last Wednesday. “This is pathetic.”

Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, would not name the dean who made those calls, but said that it was a mistake. The script had been put together for one-on-one meetings if faculty chose to speak with the deans and not as a method for faculty to learn of their retrenchment.

“It was never our intention for that to happen and is definitely not a USM practice,” said Quint. “We are embarrassed and disappointed that it happened.”

Meeting with retrenched faculty is not a requirement but simply a good human resources practice to make sure affected faculty are supported. Faculty could either accept or decline meeting individually.

Last spring, when the administration announced the retrenchment of 12 faculty, professors were required to go directly to the Provost’s office to receive their letters one at a time, which resulted in a full day of student protests at the law building.

“This university is just a pathetic shadow of what a university should be,” said Susan Feiner, professor of economics and women and gender studies, at the press conference.

“This school doesn’t have any idea how students in some of these majors are going to graduate. They don’t have the faculty to teach some of the core classes and they don’t have the faculty because they were fired,” Feiner said.

Most of the retrenched faculty will leave at the end of the fall semester, while a handful will stay until the end of the academic year, as per their individual contracts. Spring classes set to be taught by faculty who will no longer work here are still included in the online course guide on MaineStreet, but the instructor is simply listed as “staff.”

Quint says the administration is still figuring out how those classes will be taught but that it will likely be a combination of part-time lecturers, adjunct faculty and remaining faculty in the programs that will help pick up the slack – a direct violation of the AFUM contract. Full-time faculty cannot be replaced with adjuncts in this way.

The administration has been regularly criticized by groups of faculty and students, most directly involved with programs that have been eliminated this year, for lack of leadership and a lack of vision for what USM is supposed to look like in the future.

Quint pointed out that the administrative leadership is brand new and has been forced to hit the ground running. President David Flanagan was appointed in August, Provost Joseph McDonnell in September and Quint shortly afterward.

“We don’t like having to cut back and it’s difficult to let people go who have been here for so long, but it’s what we’ve been tasked to do and what we have to do,” said Quint.

Rachel Bouvier, an associate professor of economics who was slated to be retrenched last spring, has received notice of her termination again. Near tears, she described the situation as “heart-breaking” at the press conference.

“You’ve told me wonderful stories about what I’ve meant to you, your experiences at USM and what the economics department has meant to you,” she said to students. “You need to tell your stories to the legislators. You need to tell them that your education is not just about a diploma, that it’s not just about a degree. Your education goes deeper than that.”

“You need to step up,” she said, “Not for me, but for you and your education.”