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Students and Faculty Demonstrate against Austerity Cuts in Maine

An article published yesterday by Portside in Portland, Maine, opens:

“Faculty and students launched an occupation of a Maine university building Friday to demand a halt to mass faculty layoffs and department slashes that they say are part of the austerity cuts devastating public education nation-wide.

“Over 100 people launched a late-morning occupation of the hallway outside the Portland office of the University of Southern Maine provost Michael Stevenson, where many plan to stay at least through the night. People sat on the floor and leaned against walls as chants and even songs broke out amid discussions about “next steps” for holding the university accountable. “We’re using this as a space to organize,” said Meaghan LaSala, student in Women and Gender Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams.

“Meanwhile, students took the microphone to speak out against budget cuts during a nearby university event for gubernatorial candidate Michael Michaud.”

The author of the article, Sarah Lazare, then provides more specific details about the cuts and attempt to provide the broader context in which the cuts should be understood as the result both of reduced state revenues compounded by ideologically driven tax reductions and of the corporatization of higher education:

“According to the Bangor Daily News, 15 full-time faculty members from nine departments at the university were handed letters on Friday notifying them that they were being ‘retrenched’ or forced out of their jobs, and USM President Theo Kalikow and Provost Stevenson announced plans to lay off more faculty and staff and eliminate four programs: American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and humanities at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College facility, and recreation and leisure studies.

“Wendy Chapkis, professor in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies, told Common Dreams that the lay-offs hit faculty of color the hardest. ‘We’ve been agitating for years for the university to hire women of color,’ said Chapkis. ‘Now they are laying off dozens of faculty members, starting with the most recent hires. Out of the 8 people I know who were laid off, three of them are minority faculty.’

“John Eric Baugher, associate professor in sociology who received a lay-off notice Friday after 9 years at USM, told Common Dreams that ‘university management is pressuring senior faculty to retire to save the jobs of younger faculty’—in what he said amounts to ‘emotional blackmail.’

“’This is potentially precedent-setting,’ he warned. ‘There are colleges and universities across the country modeling themselves on the corporate world. If they can get rid of fully tenured, salaried faculty, what will this mean for other universities?’”

As I wrote in a comment to a recent post to this bog, the faculty at this institution need to relentlessly highlight administrative bloat, focusing especially on administrative position created and additional administrative staff hired since the 2008 recession. They need to demand that administrative bloat be reduced before instructional funding and full-time positions are cut.

Although the IPEDs data does not show any extraordinary disproportion in administrative and instructional spending, for 2012, there were 1,428 non-instructional staff and 383 instructional staff, a ratio of 3.72/1.00. Among full-time employees the distribution was 1,167/332 or only slightly better at 3.51/1.00. So there is clearly room to cut non-instructional staff ahead of faculty, especially since enrollment trends seem, according to the university’s own reporting, to be trending upward.

The following news release is from the university’s own Office of Public Affairs:

“Final enrollment numbers for the fall of 2012 show that USM has stabilized its numbers and has met financial targets.

“This fall’s total enrollment of all part-time and full-time students is 9,385, an increase of 84 (.90 percent) over the fall 2011 total of 9,301.

“’We are not out of the woods yet,’ said USM President Theo Kalikow, ‘but we definitely are heading in the right direction.’

“’There are some very positive trends within that overall number,’ said Susan Campbell, USM’s chief student success officer. ‘The number of new students is higher this fall than for the past two years, plus the number of full-time students, all of whom are enrolled in degree programs, is trending upward.  We are becoming much more of a degree-granting university.’

“Campbell attributes the fall 2012 numbers to more targeted efforts aimed at both recruiting new students and retaining existing students; a more aggressive marketing campaign utilizing digital media; more competitive room and board rates; and the infusion of $1 million in reallocated university funds into scholarships.  USM plans to make the same level of scholarship monies available for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“Some 1,879 new and first-year transfer students are attending classes this fall, compared to 1,557 in the fall of 2011, an increase of about 20 percent.

“The number of full-time students is trending upward, 5,735 in 2011 to 5,810 (1.3 percent) this fall, a positive trend in terms of USM graduating more students.  USM’s part-time enrollment totals 3,575 this fall, virtually dead even with the 2011 part-time enrollment of 3,566. USM’s part-time enrollment dropped 20 percent between 2007 and 2011 (4,457 to 3,566).

“Total credit hours, a measure of courses taken and tuition income generated, also is on the increase, from 94,139 in 2011 to 95,650 (1.6 percent) this fall.

“USM had set a target of 1,100 students in Gorham residence halls this semester and exceeded that target by 58 students.”

Although it is possible that the university would simply like to eliminate some programs that it views as under-performing and to reallocate those resources to other programs, it does not seem to have framed the faculty cuts in that way. Instead, it has framed the faculty cuts as a response to budgetary shortfalls.

About martinkich

I am a Professor of English at Wright State University, where I have been a faculty member for almost 25 years. I serve as the president of the WSU chapter of AAUP, which now includes two bargaining units, as the vice-president of the Ohio Conference of AAUP, and as a member of the executive committee of AAUP's Collective Bargaining Congress. As co-chair of the Ohio Conference's Communication Committee, I began to do much more overtly political writing during the campaign to repeal Ohio's Senate Bill 5, which would have eliminated the right of faculty to be unionized.

3 comments on “Students and Faculty Demonstrate against Austerity Cuts in Maine

  1. Pingback: Challenging the Necessity of Eliminating Faculty as an Austerity Measure: A Letter from a University of Southern Maine Alumna to University President Theo Kalikow | Academe Blog

  2. Pingback: Cops and Robbers at the University of Southern Maine | Academe Blog

  3. martinkich
    June 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Ohio Higher Ed.

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