Letter to the Editor: Dear President Cummings and Provost Uzzi

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Photo Courtesy of Women & Gender Studies

By Nikki Farmer, USM Student

I’m writing to express my frustration at USM’s inaction on real Maine issues. For example, Maine’s high rates of domestic violence and intimate partner homicide continue to rise, yet every time we turn around USM is cutting and/or shrinking the women and gender studies program. What? Don’t you realize that WGS educates future legislatures, teachers, advocates, social workers, public safety officers, and government officials who will have to address these issues in their professional lives? How can they be effective problem solvers when their post-secondary education does not include access to a robust program of women’s and gender studies? Why, under these circumstances are you causing WGS to shrink when it is obvious that it needs to grow?

Fact: 64 percent of USM students are female. On that basis alone USM should be protecting WGS. Instead, your policies limit full time teaching in the program by either tenure line or fixed length professors. As a result, USM loses effective professors whose classroom effectiveness ensures the program’s growth. This coupled with your outrageous treatment of Professor Feiner around the issue of sexual assault sends an unfortunate message: USM basically doesn’t give a two hoots about women’s safety—even when those women are USM’s own students.

People who care about the issue know that campus sexual assault rates are high and the processes for dealing with them are laughable. At the same time education about sexual violence is sorely lacking. Incoming students, campus safety officers, staff and professors have next to no support for dealing with this horrific problem. That’s why reducing the teaching power of WGS sends such a bad message. Facts tell us that WGS is more relevant than ever. The 2018 report of Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence found that:

“• MCEDV advocates worked with 14,351 assault survivors. • 34,053 calls came into DV helplines. • 859 people, including 333 children, (4% of total persons served) found safety in a Domestic Violence Resource Center shelter. • 638 volunteers from across the state donated 44,339 hours to help meet the needs of DV survivors. • One DV assault is reported every 2 hours and 5 minutes. • DV assaults comprised 40% of total reported assaults.”

The Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel confirms Maine’s stubbornly high levels of DV and Intimate Partner Homicide. Moreover, we’ve not succeeded in reducing either of these in over a decade. How terrifying is it that of the thirty-seven (37) homicides reported in 2016-2017, 16 of the murdered people (43%) were killed by a family member or intimate partner? I have to ask: why doesn’t Maine’s second largest public university support the only campus program in Southern Maine that educates future leaders about DV and intimate partner homicide? I simply do not understand why USM’s most powerful policy makers consistently undermine the WGS program. Your actions relative to WGS belie your attempts to brand USM “the University of Everyone.” Apparently your “everyone” excludes women, DV survivors, and those who seek an education which supports social justice. Students notice when you throw professors under the bus. We notice when you refuse to retain great professors who bring complex issues like sexual violence into the classroom.
Dozens of past, current and future students attended Professor Siegfriedt’s teaching demonstration. Afterwards they were unanimous in support of making Professor Siegfriedt a full-time, tenure-eligible professor. (As part of this communication you’ll find numerous recommendations and signatures from USM students supporting her hire). But instead of listening to students you’ve fired Professor Siegfriedt, shifting her to part-time teaching insults her, WGS and USM students. Students are not impressed. We are angry. You two are more interested in prestige credentials (Harvard) and placating GOP extremists than you are in supporting the educational mission of Women’s and Gender Studies. Rather than acting like misogynistic, narrow minded bean counters, try doing something that takes courage: make Professor Julianne Siegfriedt a full-time, tenure-eligible professor. She’d be a perfect joint appointment in Sociology and WGS.

Respectfully,

Nikki Farmer ‘19
We the undersigned believe you are mistaken.

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