A group of professors concerned the administration isn’t taking student and professors’ concerns seriously formed a group at the end of last semester to act as a forum to discuss new ideas to restructure the university.
??? Faculty in Support of Student’s Education was created as an ad-hoc committee of professors from the Faculty Senate and Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, and born from the premise that decisions concerning university restructuring should be transparent and inclusive to students and faculty. In FISOSE meetings, members have complained that USM administrators take advice from faculty and students, but make final decisions behind closed doors.
FISOSE’s first public act was to send a letter to President Selma Botman demanding she request money from the University of Maine System to stave off cuts to academic programs and to not eliminate departments until the university community could weigh in.
At the time, FISOSE was working under the assumption that both UMS and USM were in good financial health-assertions they said were confirmed by two external analysis of university finances commissioned by AFUM, the faculty union, and the Student Senate.
?? ?The first report, written by New Jersey accountant Leroy Dubeck and commissioned by AFUM, found the university to be in good financial health. Student Senate Chair Molly Dolby said they wanted their own analysis after details of the Dubeck report appeared in The Free Press, so they commissioned Howard Bunsis of East Michigan University to perform a similar study, since AFUM had not released the document publicly at that time. Bunsis confirmed Dubeck’s findings. “Any suggestion that the University of Maine System is broke or out of money is preposterous,” he wrote.
Michael Hillard, economics professor and co-chair of the steering committee, said they decided to withdraw the request and to not be as public with the analysis because they wanted to avoid the public perception that the university is flush with cash.
??? “I think the numbers are solid,” said Hillard of the Bunsis report. “What has to come next is a discussion of what the numbers mean.”
University administrators maintain that cuts to academic programs may be the only way to balance an estimated $3 million budget gap in the next year, and have publicly derided the analysis, which they said are biased and rooted in false premises.
The group has since withdrawn their plea to the president, and refocused on ensuring faculty and student representation in the University’s restructuring process.
“The initial impetus of it was that the president was having a series of meetings with faculty,” said Ron Schmidt, co-chair of the steering committee. “I think a lot of people found them unsatisfying.”
Schmidt said there was a need for an independent forum so faculty, staff and students could gather and share data and brainstorm ways to help the university save money without cutting academic programs.
?? ?”It was an independent forum for members of the USM community to get together and talk in what would hopefully be a more constructive fashion,” he said.
?? ?”FISOSE is a little curious in that they’re self-appointed,” said Jim Shaffer, dean of the business school and newly-appointed chief operating officer. “They don’t have any authority, but they have passion,” he added.???
??? At the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, Botman said the school would try to cut costs through attrition where possible-closing programs where vacancies already exist or employees are ready to retire. But retrenchments-cutting positions and laying off employees-will most likely be necessary, she said.
??? In the meantime, Provost Kate Forhan and her staff are currently evaluating programs that routinely graduate fewer than five students a year and an economic task force, headed by Shaffer, is looking at the economic viability of programs across the university.
“There needs to be a space that’s open for discussion that’s not sponsored by administration,” said Hillard.