Thursday, October 18th, 2018

“We’re in it for the long haul,” faculty senate meeting filled with complaints

Patrick Higgins

Posted on November 10, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

Patrick Higgins
Patrick Higgins
Sam Hill | The Free Press

President David Flanagan tried to convince the faculty senate last week that the administration’s plan was going to put USM on a healthy, sustainable path, but the faculty continued to ask the question: what plan?

Faculty are still asking the administration to provide data to back up program eliminations, faculty retrenchments, any detailed teach-out plans and a comprehensive report outlining why the university is facing a $16 million budget gap.

“Give us the evidence, give us the data,” said Lydia Savage, a professor of geography, during the meeting, noting that she had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the UMaine System and has yet to receive a report of the deficit. “We [the faculty] have much more vested interest in this than the trustees and the administration. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Some faculty also took issue with statements Flanagan made regarding faculty contracts when he implied that retrenched faculty filing grievances and going into litigation over what they thought were contract violations would only slow down the plan to close the budget gap and put USM into more of a hole.

“This is problematic,” said Rachel Bouvier, a professor of economics who is set to be retrenched. “It assumes we cannot pursue balanced budget and offer contract rights at the same time and that by following our rights, we’re somehow bringing the university down.”

Flanagan said any faculty were welcome to pursue their contract rights, but stressed that it would not help the university in the long-run.

“At the end of the day, if we were to restore status quo and wipe the slate clean, we’d still have a $16 million budget gap and we’d still have to find that money elsewhere,” said Flanagan. “I know that there are still some people, God bless them, who think there isn’t a financial crisis, who think we can walk to the system, knock on the door, ask them for reserves and we’ll be okay. That isn’t the case.”

Flanagan said, that since he was appointed president in August, that his aim has been financial stability and that he wants to keep USM affordable for Maine students. He noted that there is a demographic trend in Maine that suggest the student population is only going to decline and that everyone has to work to increase enrollment.

He criticized faculty who have been involved in recent press conferences that have claimed he’s “destroying the university,” saying that they are the ones driving students away. In turn, Bouvier said that the constant slashing of programs and faculty wasn’t exactly an invitation for students, which resulted in applause from many members of the senate.

Faculty members claimed they felt uncomfortable with the 2-year time limit on whatever teach-out plan the administration is working on and that having to tell their students they don’t know anything about it has been difficult.

“I think you’ve left your barn doors open and I think the cows have left the pasture,” said Stephen Pollock, a professor in the eliminated geosciences program.

Pollock noted that he hadn’t made serious recommendations, but has been talking to some of his students about them transferring to other universities to finish their degrees. Nancy Erickson, the one professor in the eliminated French program said it’s best to be honest with students about transferring instead of having them face a rushed teach-out program.

“I’ve heard from students who are telling their friends not to come here,” said Assunta Kent, a professor of theatre. “I’ve been telling students not to say that, but in reality, what can I promise them?”

Flanagan took in comments from many members of the faculty senate, but stuck to his guns, saying the way the administration is going about closing the budget gap isn’t ideal, but necessary for USM to succeed down the road.

“I know this is a shocking experience and is unprecedented in USM’s history. I heard one professor say recently that we’re tearing the heart out of USM, but all we’re trying to do is save it,” said Flanagan. “I sincerely hope we can find a way through this together.”



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