This letter was contributed by Dustin Ward.

Dear Free Press,

I want to first write and say what a wonderful job you and your organization are doing in covering the news and latest events of the situation at USM. After seeing the many comments, and the constant disgrace that so many students at USM are voicing I feel that there are some alumni that need to have their voice heard as well.  

USM is my home. It is what I proudly represent, and it is what I continually will always credit with giving me an exquisite education.  It was there I had my first opportunity to work in the political field with one of Maine’s top senators. It is where I connected with a plethora of friends who I still talk to and see to this day. USM will always be where my heart is.

Thus it saddens me to see the state of affairs that the university is going through at this time. Some of the professors that are being laid off, are ones who spoke critical words of wisdom into my life and who coached me to be a better student and a better thinker.

Yet, I want to challenge the students of USM and question where they were, when I, along with my colleagues, were working diligently at trying to save the school from this predicament early on. I am a graduate of 2010, and I worked both as a Board of Trustees Representative and also as a Student Senator.  My fellow Senators and I, who I will keep nameless unless they too wish to attach themselves to my statements, were at the fore front of making it known to all students the state of affairs back then.  We talked about how our budget was slowly shrinking; we discussed how the funding formula was not adequate enough. However, many students were not in support of getting involved.  Many sat on the sidelines wondering what any of this had to do with them.

It was during my time at USM that the legislature was looking to cut 6 million dollars from our State Appropriations.  Luckily, the Board of Trustees, along with other reps at Orono and across Maine, did not want this to happen, so we stood in front of the Appropriations Committee and implored them to not cut such important funds. We were successful but only for a short time.

Since then, year after year, State Appropriations for the UMS system have gone from a near $194 million to dropping close to $175 million or less. What makes up about 35 percent of the USM budget is being lost due to higher costs of other goods and services within the State of Maine

Since I have gradated, the enrollment numbers have dropped almost three percent annually; where once we expected 10,000 students total in enrollment, we are well below 8,000.  Our dorm room capacity has fallen off the pace from 84 percent to close to 60 percent.  That means our residential revenue has also taken a hit, part of what makes the USM budget operate. 

Now, as reality has come to fruition, many students are upset at the Administration of the University and their handling of the situation.  However, I have to support what they are doing, because they have no other choice.  In tough economic times there needs to be steps taken to save what is left of USM.  The last thing I would ever want to see is this University completely dismantled and taken out of Portland and Gorham because the Administration failed to act. 

I have been through four different presidents during my time at USM and thereafter working as an Admission Counselor.  I have watched as each one saw the reality that is the deficit we face right now. Each of those presidents did everything short of cutting faculty, from implementing new strategies, to new direction plans, to building new dorms.  All resources were exhausted and we still couldn’t get the students necessary to fix the issue.

So I challenged those students there now, is it really all the administration’s fault. Shouldn’t the students be asking two tough questions?  How come I wasn’t more active early on to help my faculty and Administration out?  Also, “Was I active in getting more of my friends and family to attend USM?” What has crippled the University for years is the amount of State funding, and the lack of student enrollment.  Both are at the core of why USM is taking the actions necessary.

I applaud what is being done because we are left with no other choice. Instead of whining and protesting, students need to be supporting and finding ways to work with what they have. USM is in a serious change, and it is needed. I know that many of these same students, when they realize they are in debt, tend to cut out the things in life they can do without such as, cable or internet or one less Starbucks, and make due.  Why is USM any different? 

Let me be the first to say we love our faculty, we adore what they have done for us and I can’t thank them enough for the service they have provided. I could name everyone that has been in my life and thank them a thousand times and it wouldn’t even come close to how I feel they have helped.  However, if we want to be a school that is united for this “metropolitan vision” then we can’t have division. We need to support the tough choices being made.

My fellow senators, it is your job to not cast votes that make USM look weak, but to gather students to find ways to support the actions taken, and to work out what your next steps will be when programs are gone.

Faculty, it is your job to support students in how they plan to make USM not just a school for Portland and Gorham, but for Maine as a whole. How can we get the word out, how can we begin to make USM a place to go, and not a place to stay away from?

Administration, your continued work at trying to find ways to save the school are not going unnoticed. I sat with you in meetings; I worked alongside many of you on a day to day basis. It has been but four years, and I cringe at what has to be done.  However, I implore you to be transparent with the students and faculty. They are becoming educated for a reason, to not look stupid when they get in the real world. These are real world issues; budget cuts, lost jobs, and growing financial pressure. It is your job to help them understand why the choices were made, without the political jargon surrounding it. I preached transparency till I was blue in the face. I expected it out of every student and staffer I was with and with every president of the university I was under, and I continue to expect it from you as well.

Do not make USM a place where I do not want to send my kids, and where my kids don’t want to send theirs.  USM is in the hands of each of you, and you all have a part to play. 

I appreciate letting my words be heard, and those of you who know me know that I speak with a passion for higher education and for USM.  Good luck to every one of you during this difficult time.




Dustin Ward

Former Board of Trustees Student Representative

Former Student Senator

Former USM Admissions Representative


Dustin Ward

[email protected]



      • I think its far more immature to be a pawn/toy to carry the ideology of power from the board of trustees to the students. This moron needs to learn to think for himself and stop cow-towing to the criminals that are trying to destroy the integrity of our university.

        • You’re absolutely right. But making previous comments like that shows your maturity level, and thus, you didn’t learn anything from USM. Are you hoping for another “occupy”? A purpose in life? Critical thinking matters. I am sad that those faculty members lost their jobs, and that they are cutting programs. So with that being said, I think comments “ass hat” need a little bit more explaining if you what to get your point across.

          • You are right Heath, focus on what I wrote rather than the content of this article. And how immature my comment was. That is a good idea. You have no idea who I am or that I graduated with honors and won many scholarships and awards in my department. I suppose I have learned my lesson not to feed the trolls. Back and forth arguments on forums like these are a waste of time and energy. It sounds to me like you have a lot of animosity towards the occupy movement that you need to work out on your own. I wish you the best of luck with that.

          • I have no animosity towards the occupied movement. You and I both had a class together “gender representation and resistance”, you were the teachers aid. That’s why I was surprised to see you write a comment like that. That’s all. And I wish you the best of luck

          • I had a really long day and I am tired and stressed out. I am sorry I don’t remember we took a class together. But I wish you the best.

  1. The faculty and departments are NOT Starbucks! They are people who everyday come to work and share wisdom and change lives! Could the students and faculty have done more? Yes, but should they have to? No. It is our job to learn and the faculty’s job to teach.
    But in fact many students and faculty have done more for the school. They have gone beyond the classroom and worked to ensure that USM has a future by making USM’s student body and faculty some of the most successful people they can be. Faculty and Students publish books, discover new scientific theorem, perform at world class venues like the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. We work hard not only for ourselves to for our school. And when you begin cutting programs that have invigorated the communities and made USM a school that competes with the likes of Emerson, Boston Conservatory and Ithaca college, you take away what makes USM great. So go ahead and call us “Whining” students. Dismiss our voice all you like. Its what people like you and the Administration have been doing for years and now we’re going to shout it out loud for the world to hear.

  2. “How come I wasn’t more active early on to help my faculty and
    Administration out? Also, ‘Was I active in getting more of my friends
    and family to attend USM?'” I personally have been on campus for three
    semesters. Last semester, when cuts were first announced, several
    students, faculty, and myself gathered together, separate from the SGA
    and later with them. We worked to get word out, but we were given murky
    information. AND yes, I have suggested to several friends they come to
    USM and join my program. This is me personally, but the arrogant tone of
    this piece is pretty rough.

  3. Mr. Ward, thank you for your careful consideration of the conditions of what is going on at USM right now. But I was wondering if you could shed any light on the following murky areas regarding the administration’s current activities:

    1. USM has consistently, and is projected to continue to do so, made $17 million in positive cash flows. Thus, is a $14 million budget crisis the result of an actual financial crisis, or the result of a concentrated effort to change the very foundations of USM’s system of education?

    2. USM has delivered letters of retrenchment to 12 USM faculty members. At the same time, the Direction Package is creating 7 new tenured positions. If we are laying off faculty members due to a budgetary crisis, on what grounds do we have the money to hire new faculty?

    3. (Correct me if I’m wrong) 11 of the 12 faculty members laid off on Friday belong to the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Is our ENTIRE university really facing this budgetary crisis on an equal and fair basis, or is there an unfair targeting of the USM’s CAHS? Is this just a step in balancing a budget, or is this a more concentrated effort to gut the CAHS and divert subsequent funds to “more profitable” degree programs?

    4. When the USM faculty senate, representing the entire USM faculty as a whole, votes unanimously to reject the actions of the administration, does this look to you like a plan made for the benefit of the university itself, or a plan that seems logical, necessary, and appropriate? When I walk into my classroom every morning, I look to my professor with trust and confidence in her dedication to me and to her academic field. I am now willing to place my trust in this faculty in their perspective of this situation.

    I humbly request that you, or anyone else with available knowledge of this situation, voice answers to these critical questions.

  4. Dustin,

    Your approach is not novel, in fact it is trite. We both know that for 5 years now many students, faculty, and staff have been complicit with the cuts and strategies put forth by the President’s you mention. You have explicitly and implicitly argued for this sort of unite-behind-the-post-cuts-vision strategy for years now. For the most part, that’s what the vast majority of the USM community did. It failed repeatedly as evidenced by where USM is today. Why should anyone try the same failed strategy again and again? The protests may or may not work, but we know from numerous experiences your way does not.

  5. Finally a USM alumnus who has a reasonable and realistic perspective. Now is the time of reckoning that for so long has been postponed. So let’s come together behind those who are doing what has to be done.

  6. The administration was supposed to provide their plan to the Faculty Senate over a week ago and the Senate has been given until May 5 to respond as part of a system of shared governance. Instead, 4 program eliminations were announced and then a week kater, 12 faculty were fired (who generate revenue by the way).

    There has been no plan submitted by the administration, no rationale or criteria for these cuts instead of others and as such, it is hard to support the adminstration. What we can do is support USM aand that does not mean blindly accepting dribs and drabs of announcements and actions and hoping for the best.

  7. Dustin worked for a year on “the cause” as a student.
    Then got a job at the University.
    Why didn’t he start earlier? He was busy doing PR for USM.

  8. The point that current USM students are trying to make with their protest, which this article missed, is that these cuts do NOT have to be made. There are alternative ways to approaching the financial situation USM faces. It is narrow-minded, shortsighted views like this that undermine the hard work students and faculty have done to create the community that is USM–a community that the administration knows nothing about.

  9. This is larger than USM. This is about the fate of public higher education in the United States. Clearly your ego has been hurt. Socially relevant major areas of study have been eliminated in favor of a “vocationally focused approach.” They would have us all go to Kaplan. Substandard education for the substandard class.

  10. If we remain silent, the real issues (state funding and enrollment numbers) will only get worse. The administration’s members have the wrong jobs at the wrong time. Oops. They are in the crossfire as we bring attention to the plight of public higher education in the United States. Nothing is more important to the future of this country.


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