Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Students petition to save faculty members

Posted on November 10, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

Some students in programs affected by recent retrenchments have jumped at the chance to defend their professors’ jobs and are trying to get them rehired.

Last week there were numerous petitions circulating on campus that demanded that some faculty members either retain their positions at USM or be rehired.

“It’s just horrible, so horrible what’s happening here,” said senior criminology major Laura Dow.

Many students taking classes in the criminology department were canvassing the Portland campus early last week, looking for students to sign a petition to rehire Sandra Wachholz, an associate professor who was notified of her retrenchment the previous week. They sent the petition along to Provost Joseph McDonnell before a meeting with Wachholz. At that time the petition had less than 50 signatures, but it has been growing online.

Dow transferred to USM from a Boston university for the criminology department and was assigned Wachholz as an advisor.

“I just fell in love with her immediately,” said Dow, noting that Wachholz would regularly set aside time for extended advising appointments.

Dow said the goal is to convince the administration to hire Wachholz in a vacant position in the school of social work, a program students feel she would fit into nicely.

Students majoring in physics, a program that faced potential elimination last fall, have also created an online petition to save Julie Ziffer, an assistant professor of physics who was retrenched.

According to students, Ziffer was set to teach the last class in a three class series on classical physics. All three are major-requirements, but students are worried that there will be too much work for the remaining professors to handle.

“If she’s not there in the spring to teach that class, I won’t be able to finish,” said

Deb Hilton, a transfer physics major. “I planned my life around the university’s schedule. They said, here are the classes you’re supposed to take, here’s the schedule, deal with it. I’ve been dealing with it, they’ve messed with it and now I’m basically screwed.”

Spring classes set to be taught by retrenched faculty are still on the schedule, but the instructor for each course is listed simply as ‘staff.’

According to Christopher Quint, the executive director of public affairs, the administration is still working out who will teach those courses, but that it’s likely to be remaining faculty in those programs or part-time hires.

Nick Anna, a transfer physics major, said that the lack of clarity in instructors is troubling.

“It’s indicative of a lack of planning by the administration,” said Anna. “If cuts are needed, they’re not doing it in an intelligent way.”

The petition to save Ziffer’s position is addressed to Governor Paul LePage, as well as the state house of representatives and senate.

“We know they [government officials] can’t come down here and say, let’s save this one professor at a university. We’re hoping this will get someone’s attention so we can tell them if they don’t invest in Maine’s universities and they don’t invest in students, they’re sending this state into an economic death spiral,” said Anna.

Anna said that a major in physics has been listed as one of the most lucrative degrees in many studies, and that making it difficult for students to graduate in the program is a disservice to the state.

Anna also said that with the increased workload the remaining faculty are likely to have, his job opportunities and chances to attend graduate school after graduation will diminish.

“Our ticket to grad school is research and assisting in research. These cuts will leave the professors no additional time for research, which means students aren’t researching, which means they aren’t getting admitted to grad school,” Anna said.

Overall, students described the retrenchment of faculty as confusing.

“There’s so much confusion about what they can and can’t do [with faculty contracts] and they [the administration] aren’t giving anyone time to dig through the details and know what’s actually happening,” said Alex Knight, a double major in math and physics.

Both the group of physics students and Dow said that they would continue to look into ways they can help their professors and that more information needed to be made public regarding the retrenchments.

“The most upsetting thing for us, the students and faculty at USM, is just not knowing what’s happening,” said Dow. “None of it makes sense and it’s difficult to take action as students when we don’t know the specifics or what’s going to happen next.”

 

 

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