Last week, a team was sent to USM by the American Association of University Professors to investigate claims against USM’s execution of academic freedom and shared governance.

Chairing the investigative committee was Michael Berube, director of the institute for arts and humanities at Pennsylvania State University.

According to Berube, hundreds of requests for intervention come before the AAUP every year, regarding what he described as “shady practices in American higher education.” From those, only a handful are selected.

“The investigative process is very labor intensive,” said Berube. “We try to take the ones that we think are the most important for the future of higher education.”

USM fell into that category.

“What’s going on in Southern Maine, it seems, is pretty drastic,” said Berube. “It seems to have pretty far-reaching implications and that’s why it was authorized for investigation.”

Berube explained that the process of investigation includes two main components. First, the committee must read every document relevant to the investigation.

“I’ve read massive amounts of material, ranging from the faculty bylaws, to the constitution; I’ve gone through email exchanges, reports from the administration, various information about financial disaster,” said Berube. “We just try to get the lay of the land here.”

Berube explained that, in an investigation, the team wants to hear as much from administration as it does from faculty.

“We come in as outsiders,” said Berube. “We come in as impartial observers.”

Berube addressed the idea brought up time and time again by USM administration that the AAUP has no standing, and reiterated that it is only true in a “narrow” legal sense.

“The AAUP is in fact a nationally recognized authority on what academic freedom and governance actually are,” said Berube. “So we don’t take this stuff lightly, but we don’t come in with any preconceived notions either.”

Another member on the committee as well as a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, Howard Bunsis is in the process of the financial analysis.

Berube explained that this step has been difficult, because USM has not published all of the information or made available the numbers that they’re basing the financial crisis upon.

“President Flanagan did go over some larger scale demographic and financial projections for the state of Maine,” said Berube. “We have been able to go over published financial information of the system as a whole, but Howard Bunsis has only recently been able to get ahold of specific information about the University of Southern Maine.”

Christopher Quint, executive director of public affairs, explained that USM has been “nothing but transparent” throughout the process of closing the financial gap.

Berube also noted the difficulty in determining the financial status of USM because the numbers they’re looking at are projected, and have been for quite some time now.

“The administration’s approach on this is ‘Yeah, we’ve had a looming problem for quite some time. We’re not making this up, this is a systematic problem.”

The third challenge, Berube said, is not about the numbers or about the money.

“Even if these projections and these predictions are true, is this anyway to run a university?” asked Berube. “Is this really the way we go about retrenching faculty and cutting programs? And that’s a procedural question, but a really important one.”

Berube explained that even if the numbers pan out, the AAUP will still be looking at whether or not the process to filling the budget gap was done in a “proper and professional manner.”

A censure, according to Berube, could have any number of effects, and depends on how willing the administration is to get off the censure list once they’re put on it.

When asked whether USM would make an effort to be removed from the censure list if the university is indeed censured, Quint said, “USM is focused on implementing the Metropolitan University concept and ensuring that we remain an affordable, accessible and quality institution for our current and future students.”

Berube said that the state university of New York system has been on the censure list since the mid 70s, and will be on the list forever. They have a clause that allows them to fire faculty at will.

On the other hand, Louisiana State University was censured and immediately began working to be removed.

“It’s not like we censure you and we’re done and we never talk to you again,” said Berube. “The idea is not to censure people and show that they’re bad. The idea is to get institutions to stop doing the kinds of things that are getting them censured.”

The vote on whether or not USM will be censured will go before the AAUP during their annual conference in June.

1 COMMENT

    • Thanks for linking to an irrelevant article about an AAUP statement that has nothing to do with this investigation. As a matter of fact, some AAUP investigations do not result in censure, and I know, because some years ago, I chaired one. But you seem not to understand the nature of these investigations. The AAUP authorizes investigations only when the association is presented with situations that have implications for American higher education at large. The AAUP does this because it is obliged to uphold professional standards for the treatment of professional workers. You might as well complain that your local fire department is too biased against fire.

        • AAUP or no AAUP, the damage is done. USM is a shell of its former self. We don’t need a “report” to tell us the misplaced priorities of this sham admin and BoT. The charade is endemic to the institution.

  1. Well the fix wouldn’t necessarily have to be in. AAUP has a long, and usually honorable,(some weaknesses about McCarthyism) history of examining controversies on campus. However, one of the three committee members, Howard Bunsis, has, since 2009, been quoted frequently by AFUM and has been described by them as an “ally”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t try to be objective, but that seems unrealistic. If one of the other committee members has been a supporter of the administration view of the financial or governance situation, then one might say, great. Let truth prevail through contrasting views. Let the third person mediate. That doesn’t seem to be the case since there is no obviously balancing view. But we’ll see.

    • Wow. Puts the AAUP investigation in rather a new light, doesn’t it?

      Is there an explanation for how this person, who does appear to have made his mind up long ago that the University was in the wrong from what I can see, is one of the committee members?

        • The fact that Bunsis has already performed some of the financial analysis of USM and the UMS budget doesn’t mean he’s biased, only that he’s prepared, i.e., he’s already done some of the work, probably in preparation for AAUP’s decision to move forward with a full investigation. Similarly, that AFUM claims him as an ally doesn’t mean he feels similarly. It is possible that his conclusions concur with AFUM’s because they’re the right conclusions.

          • As I’ve suggested before, “Guest,” your comments are an obvious and ham fisted attempt to poison the well. You need either to make a real argument or get better at this kind of rhetorical sleight of hand.

          • Isn’t it really the AAUP investigation (with a prosecutor sitting on the jury) that is intended to poison the well?

          • It’s a common mistake to confuse an opinion or judgement about an issue with bias. The judge can agree with one side without being biased, even when the factual evidence is in dispute and especially when the judgement is informed by expertise, as Bunsis’s analysis is. You can take issue with his argument, though that would require you to make an actual argument of your own.

          • As for Bunsis, note that in that letter to Matt Stone at BDN, he’s careful to note that he is not what people in these comments insist he is: “I am president of the Collective Bargaining Congress of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), but our union has no affiliation with the faculty union at USM or any other union in Maine. Some faculty members are members of the AAUP, but we do not represent these faculty members in collective bargaining, and my role with the AAUP is as a volunteer related to our union chapters.” Most of that letter to Stone is an analysis of the UMS budget in relation to public claims made about it and faculty and staff retrenchments made on the basis of those claims. The closest he gets to showing his hand is when he says, “At USM, what has happened is that people have lost their jobs, and for no good reason.” That last part is obviously a judgement, but it’s based on the preceding analysis. One might disagree with his conclusion, but then, again, you’d be obligated to say why. At least, that’s what we do in universities.

          • My argument is that the UMS Board of Trustees has the right to reconfigure USM as a metropolitan university, with all of the changes that the reconfiguration entails. Further, Prof. Bunsis’s financial analysis is actually irrelevant because the Board’s right to make these changes does not hinge on whether the UMS reserves could fund the shortfall at USM. Clearly, the BoT could divert the reserves to USM, but they are not required to. Lastly, it is preposterous to suggest that the decision to make USM part of the nationwide metropolitan university movement is an assault on academic freedom.

            How’s that for an argument? I do realize, incidentally, that you will not–cannot perhaps–acknowledge the legitimacy of any perspective not in accord with your own, so I fully expect the same dismissive response as in your prior communications.

          • So your point is not that Bunsis is biased, nor that he is wrong, but that the UMS Board of Trustees has the authority to make decisions regarding how and where to spend money on higher education in Maine? That’s more a statement of fact than an argument. It’s not as though Bunsis or anyone else has questioned the Board’s authority, certainly not the AAUP. Whether or not redefining an institution’s Carnegie classification is an assault on academic freedom is an argument worth having. I don’t think the assertion is preposterous on its face, though the language of “assault” doesn’t help make anyone’s case.

          • There are several different arguments going on here. Here is my point. Perhaps there is some disciplinary difference . Historians and I think many scholars and lawyers think that a person who has announced his (or sometimes her) opinion over several years (and especially one who has been paid for it) may offer one useful perspective in a large and balanced group looking at an issue but is not the best person to put on a small committee making a judgment about the future of an institution (or of a person). It is I think an old and useful concept that an investigation should be fair and preferably not include someone who is representing a side in a dispute. I’m commenting on this in the context of past experience at USM. The Faculty Senate, for example, has done a series of “studies” in the past eight years and most of the committees have been composed of people who had made up their minds before looking at evidence. Personally I think this contradicts what some of us expect of students’ research and analysis (as well as our own), And, yes, I do thinks it’s embarrassing and, yes, I think it is shameful.

  2. Hey Free Press–How about some coverage of how neutral and impartial this AAUP investigation is going to be. The fact that Prof. Bunsis, a longtime friend and ally, of AFUM is one of the three AAUP investigative panel members is kind of like having a prosecutor sitting on the jury, isn’t it? I invite one of the trained seals or other commenters here to defend the choice of Bunsis on this panel.

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