Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Petition to reverse cuts drafted by AAUP member

Posted on December 10, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

A petition has been published online representing the wishes of scholars and teachers all over the world to reverse the cuts and restart the process of addressing USM’s projected $16 million budget deficit. So far the petition has over 300 signatures on it.

This petition comes as a response to the recent sanction by the American Association of University Professors, that casts USM as an institution that blocks access to academic freedom. According to AAUP members like Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor from the University of Eastern Michigan, USM’s administration has violated guidelines that were set out in their statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure.

Bunsis also believes that the elimination of five academic programs and 50 faculty members was implemented as a way to raise money for the metropolitan rebranding instead of to combat the budget deficit. The petition letter states that the rationale behind the cuts should be questioned citing USM’s solid reserves, annual operating cash surpluses and a very high bond rating.

According to the signers of the petition, the term “metropolitan university” is just an ambiguous buzzword and USM may actually be in strong financial condition.

Bobbi Brewer, an accounting graduate, said that he’s looking forward to the results of the independent audit of USM’s finances that is being planned by the Students for USMFuture group.

“By signing the petition, I was hoping it might get others to sign and that maybe someone on the board of trustees would take notice of an alumni expressing disgust at what is occurring,” said Brewer. “I have paid USM more than $100,000 during the pursuit of my degrees and they will not see a single cent more from me because of how they are handling this [budget situation]. It’s appalling.”

Casey Mccurry, a classics graduate, agrees and adds that USM’s situation exists because of more than just money issues. According to Mccurry, the administration fired one of the schools most profitable professors, Jeannine Uzzi from the classics department, even after one of her colleagues, Peter Aicher, chose to retire early.

“This isn’t about filling a gap; this is about punishing an educational agenda that [Governor Paul] LePage and others are displeased with,” said Mccurry.

Another local signer of the petition, Katharine Thomas is a first year graduate student in American and New England studies, a program that was eliminated in September. Because of her own personal investments lost in the administration’s decisions, Thomas said she signed the petition out of indignation and frustration. For Thomas, “metropolitan university” is just a nice term with a sneaky agenda.

“It seems to me that what is going on at USM is a reflection of the larger, national educational crisis that involves gutting public programming, especially that of the liberal arts, in favor of a more business-style, money-driven model,” said Thomas. “I could not be more opposed to that.”

While members of the administration, like Chris Quint the executive director of public affairs, read and take the online grievances seriously, they also stand adamantly by their decisions revolving staff, faculty and program cuts.

“We take them, we read them, but all it is is a petition,” said Quint. “I believe in them [petitions] and totally respect their purpose of promoting someone’s cause. But in this context however, it’s not a cause. This is a university that’s here to educate students.”

Quint noted that while the petition currently holds 339 signatures on it, USM is an institution made up of over 6,000 students and 1,000 faculty.

According to Quint, some of the outrage expressed by members of the USM community might stem from a less than adequate understanding of the term “structural gap,” and the availability of the school’s $3 million in reserve funds. The reserves need to be kept to at least 20 percent of the entire budget, to pay for things like construction or maintenance for example.

“Our structural gap is real and the use of our reserves doesn’t make it go away; it only balances it temporarily,” said Quint. “And you want to have sufficient reserves. It’s not just a rainy day fund.”

Addressing the concerns that the budget deficit might be exaggerated or fabricated all together, Quint said that the administration has been conveying the numbers to the faculty very clearly since before Theo Kalikow was in office. Quint said that President Flanagan goes to every faculty senate meeting and explains where the deficit is and what it consists of, sometimes with powerpoint presentations.

“There are certain faculty here who refuse to believe facts. We invite anybody to come over and look at the budget for the tenth time,” said Quint. “How many different ways can we convey this information? Outside the university nobody questions our numbers.”

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