Laid off USM staffer sends message to President Kalikow- “USM is like a careless homeowner”

Last week I posted a blog featuring a letter from University of Southern Maine student Philip Shelley to university president, Theo Kalikow. It was an interesting look at the controversy surrounding the state university system which has resulted in, among other things, drastic cuts to USM staff and faculty.

USM President Theo Kalikow. Photo credit- Troy R. Bennett, BDN

USM President Theo Kalikow. Photo credit- Troy R. Bennett, BDN

Yesterday I was contacted by William Dunlay, who was one of the staff members laid off on March 21. Mr. Dunlay was the school’s Director of Energy and Utilities. After reading Shelley’s letter he got the idea to write a letter of his own to President Kalikow, and then he decided to ask me to help him tell his story:

“I was laid off on Friday March 21st on the same day as the other faculty and staff. The reason given was that there just wasn’t enough resources to pay me. I said that I saved the University far more than the cost of my salary. They said they were sorry but they don’t have the resources to keep me on. They had no complaints about my performance. My annual reviews had been excellent.  It made my head spin and it didn’t make a bit of sense, which is why writing the letter is important…  I’d like to see it published and it would be my preference that it go through you if you are interested.”

I am happy to help Dunlay tell his story, not only does he give a first hand account of the extremely controversial layoffs, he also reveals some startling insight into the mismanagement of university funds and resources.

Here’s his letter:

Dear President Kalikow,

When you arrived at USM two years ago you asked us to speak out, to submit ideas, to actively participate in solving the university’s financial sustainability problems. Remember when you gave out Theo chocolate bars as a reward for submitting ideas?

Inspired by your call to action, I spoke up and got my Theo bar but, otherwise, my suggestions went unacknowledged. Instead I have been laid off, my job eliminated even though my job was saving USM money and making it more sustainable.

I’ll introduce myself again. I was the Director of Energy and Utilities, overseeing the $4 million that USM spends on energy every year. Frustrated with the glaring lack of enthusiasm for energy efficiency within Facilities Management, I tried to reach out to you.

In 2012 when I wrote you a letter offering a million dollars in annual savings, you refused to meet with me. Your lack of interest mirrored the attitude I had encountered in my own department. But how many jobs would $1 million save? If just one academic department could have been saved wouldn’t that have been worth doing?

Had we met, you might have asked how USM could reduce its energy expenditures by such a significant percentage. First, I would have talked about other organizations that have cut their energy use by one third. Then I would have told you about the successful projects I had already executed at USM and many more identified. I would have told you that, on weekends and holidays, USM uses the same amount of fuel and 85% as much electricity as it does on a weekday when school is open for business. And that USM consumes 70% as much power at two o’clock in the morning as it does mid afternoon. Stated simply, USM is like a careless homeowner who leaves the lights on and heat running when nobody is home. The waste was the bad news. The good news was the opportunity for change. Haven’t you claimed all along to be an instrument of change?

Projects I completed during my three years at USM are now providing over $200,000 in savings every year for the indefinite future. I secured $150,000 in grant funding from Efficiency Maine and was about to sign a contract for another $600,000 of funding for a series of projects that would have generated another $100,000 in annual savings. This is typical of what an energy manager does, providing value far beyond the cost of his own salary. Sadly, USM no longer has an energy manager.

Without insightful leadership the energy budget will continue to rise, in part because USM continuously installs more air conditioning. But students are away on vacation during the air conditioning season. In desperate times, when student enrollment and retention should be priority one, why buy and operate air conditioning that has little impact on the student experience?

Other expenditures are equally as baffling. Does anyone believe that $300,000 spent on new pavement last year will improve student retention? If the financial outlook is so grim and USM’s footprint needing to shrink, why did we spend $1 million constructing a new Facilities Management building in Gorham and remodeling the Portland facility? Why did both of those facilities get new central air conditioning? Why is Facilities sporting a fleet of new vehicles?

In that same letter, I brought to your attention the sorry state of your President’s Council on Climate Neutrality (PCCN). According to USM’s Climate Action Plan, this is the “committee appointed by USM’s President to define… strategies to become carbon neutral”. But the chair of your council is unwilling to discuss his beliefs with regard to climate change. He was, however, willing to tell me that he doesn’t believe in trying to stop climate change. It is not surprising that under his leadership the PCCN has stopped holding meetings and has not prevented the release of even a single pound of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Shouldn’t the chair of the committee tasked with stopping climate change actually believe that climate change is happening and believe that it should be stopped?

Isn’t it the obligation of a University to pursue energy efficiency with a vengeance given that a million dollars in annual savings would so effectively support both financial and environmental sustainability?

And finally, on a positive note, I know an energy consultant who knows your campuses intimately and knows how to make USM more efficient and sustainable. Give me a call sometime.

William Dunlay

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta.