Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

New Administration Brings Back Four Retrenched Faculty

Posted on November 12, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Julie Pike, Free Press staff

USM has begun to work towards a better reputation with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) by rehiring several employees who were retrenched back in 2014.

USM is currently under sanction by the AAUP due to  an incident two years ago when 26 faculty members, including ones with tenure, were laid off. USM’s administration at that time, under President Flanagan, claimed the layoffs were due to budgetary reasons. A few of those employees have been recently rehired, including Provost Jeannine Uzzi.

These changes have gotten attention from representatives of the AAUP, including Michael Bèrubè, the head of the committee from AAUP who investigated USM.

The AAUP is a national advocacy group for faculty members. They monitor schools and universities to ensure that faculty with tenure have job security. A sanction from the AAUP is essentially a hit to a school’s reputation and credibility, with no monetary value.

“The AAUP sets the gold standard for what constitutes acceptable procedures in higher education,” Bèrubè stated.

When the AAUP investigated USM back in 2014, they declared a sanction on the university due to the way the administration handled the layoffs. They claimed that the university did not declare financial exigency, which would have permitted the termination of tenured faculty.

The representatives from the AAUP interviewed several faculty and went through a multitude of pages of mail, memos and budgets to reach their conclusion.

The AAUP came to the decision that the instance at USM was an unjustifiable firing of employees.

“The USM investigation was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Bèrubè said.

After the AAUP released their findings in the investigation and issued the sanction on USM, David Flanagan, the former USM president, wrote a response to the AAUP. Flanagan felt their investigation was not done correctly and that their findings did not justify issuing the sanction.

“AAUP cannot refute the harsh reality that the University of Maine System and the University of Southern Maine, in particular, face enormous challenges as a result of demographics, competition, new technology and costly old buildings,” Flanagan stated.

Back in January of this year the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald reported that an arbitrator determined that USM followed the contract during the layoffs in 2014.

It was the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine (AFUM) that initiated the investigation into the layoffs. A representative from AFUM, Mark Irvings, conducted the investigation.

Irvings found that only one employee,of the 26 who were laid off violated contract. His conclusions differed drastically from the findings of the AAUP.

Today USM is moving forward from the setback in 2014. The new president, Glenn Cummings, and Provost Jeannine Uzzi have already made a positive impact.

Uzzi and Cummings worked together over the summer to try and overturn some of the retrenchments, and several faculty were rehired. Not all of the employees were hired back into their old department, however, as five different programs were eliminated back in 2014 as well.

Of the 26 employees who were retrenched, not all of them will be returning to USM. Some decided to pursue jobs elsewhere, and others retired, but there were some that continued to want to return to USM.

Paul Johnson, a professor of social work and an AFUM representative, wrote a paper titled “To Hell and Back” that outlines the positive changes made by the new administration at USM.

“In the course of a year, I have witnessed a major transformation at USM. There is now a sense of optimism that the administration, faculty, staff, and students are working together,” Johnson stated. “I believe that USM is on the right path to once again being a great University.”

“We’re really glad, speaking as a representative from the AAUP, that the retrenched faculty are beginning to be brought back,” Bèrubè said.

The next step for the sanction to be lifted will be discussed at the AAUP’s next meeting in October.

“If the conditions that initially prompted the AAUP investigation improve, then we will look into taking USM off the list,” Bèrubè commented.

If all goes well, the AAUP would vote on the final decision of lifting the sanction in June.

USM’s new administration, working together with AFUM, have made efforts to rehire as many retrenched employees as possible. Johnson stated that the present administration has done well when working with AFUM.

While Johnson indicated that it is unlikely that any other retrenched faculty can be rehired, USM seems to be on a trajectory to move forward in repairing some of the damage done by the cuts and layoffs made two years ago and in restoring USM’s reputation.