Friday, April 27th, 2018

Invest in USM: An open letter and petition addressed to President Flanagan and the BoT

Posted on January 12, 2015 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

The following is the entirety of an online letter and petition opened in mid-November. 508 people have signed the petition as of print-time.

Dear President Flanagan, dear Trustees:

We the undersigned, scholars and teachers from colleges and universities around the world, write to express profound concern about the decision by the President and Trustees of the University of Southern Maine to decimate its faculty, eliminating fifty positions currently occupied by tenured or long-standing non-tenured members of the faculty.

This decision has been taken in clear violation of AAUP guidelines as set out in the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure  (1940), which provide that any such decision must be made in close consultation with the faculty and with procedural safeguards for faculty members who face termination.   The process leading up to these decisions at USM — which include the decision to close five programs and to consolidate many others — was kept secret from the faculty.  Many tenured members did not learn of their terminations until they were publicly announced.  This is unconscionable and bespeaks a profound failure to appreciate the values that have informed American higher education for the past half-century.

This violation of core procedural norms would be bad enough if there were a compelling rationale for the cuts.  But the stated rationale — the need to close $16 million “budget gap” — has been called into question by credible independent observers, including Eastern Michigan University Professor of Accounting, Howard Bunsis, who notes that the USM system is in fact “in very strong financial condition, with solid reserves, annual operating cash surpluses, and a very high bond rating”.

It is clear from public statements that the real purpose of the cuts is to facilitate a quick reorganization of the system, converting the University of Southern Maine from the strong regional university it has long been into a “metropolitan university” (a buzzword favored by the administration whose meaning has never been explained).  We cannot judge the wisdom of this reorganization, but we can say this: decisions about the core academic mission of the university must be made in meaningful consultation with the faculty. They are the experts on higher education at USM.  They know the students, the institution, and the community in the way that a small number of administrators, most with no significant experience in higher education, simply cannot.

This lack of input from the faculty is reflected in the nature of the cuts, which make no academic sense. The university has moved to close the French department, despite the fact that Maine has one of the largest Francophone populations in the United States; the program in Geosciences, despite the growing relevance of geoscience to industry and public policy; and the program in American and New England Studies, despite the fact that this is one of the most distinctive programs in the University.  It has moved to consolidate the departments of philosophy, history and English, despite the fact that this collection of fields is a hodgepodge with no clear intellectual unity, and the list goes on. A university in which students cannot study modern languages, or in which students interested in climate policy cannot learn the basic science necessary to address this issue, is a university that no longer pretends to fulfill the function of a university: to provide its students with access to an education in matters of central intellectual and practical importance.

We urge the administration and the trustees to reverse the cuts immediately and to restart the process, involving the faculty, the students and the public in a sustained and transparent discussion of the future of the University.

To view the current signatories, or to sign the petition yourself, go to: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/usmletter

 

Gideon Rosen is Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton and a visitor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study.  His new book, The Norton Introduction to Philosophy, will be out in January.

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