As I meandered through the crowd taking pictures I was handed a flier which explained who the two groups are and what they stand for:
“WHO ARE WE? Students for #USMFuture and #UMaineFuture were formed in response to recent layoffs and program cuts at USM. We are a student-led organization, with dozens of USM students, staff, and faculty allies.
WHAT DO WE WANT? We are calling for a retroactive moratorium on faculty layoffs and program eliminations at USM until there is an independent audit of UMaine system financing. This goal was outlined in detail in an emergency bill introduced to the Maine State legislature by State Rep. Ben Chipman.
Coalition Building- While legislators try to tell us that the state is broke, we see that the income gap is the widest it’s been since the great depression (pewresearch.org). We seek to work in coalition to demand a state budget that meets our human rights, such as the rights to education, health care, housing, food and a healthy environment.
Educational Funding as an Election Issue- We want to ensure that funding and support for Public Education, and for the core mission (teaching and research) of the UMaine system is a pivotal issue in the coming election season.
WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?
Education is a Public Good- A Right, NOT a “Privilege”- We strongly believe that a comprehensive public education, with as strong foundation in the liberal arts, is a right for all Mainers. Currently, the average cost of private college is a prohibitive $45,000 per year, and higher still in New England (collegedata.com). All Maine citizens deserve access to education, not just job training. To deny poor, working and middle class Mainers access to affordable liberal arts and social science education is to bar access to knowledge on the basis of class. USM ad the UMS must continue to guarantee an affordable comprehensive public education to all Mainers.
The USM Financial “Crisis” is a Lie- A careful examination of the numbers tells us unequivocally that as it’s described, the current University of Maine System’s purported financial crisis is a fabrication. As reported in the Portland Press Herald, the UMS currently has $283 million in reserves, has increased net assets 115% in the last six years, and has a stellar bond rating of AA- (Feiner 2014). Rather than a financial crisis, UMS had a positive cash flow of $17 million in 2013 alone. The UMS is not ailing- it’s profitable, and faculty are generating surplus revenue (Uzzi 2014).
Attack on the Humanities and Diversity- USM will hire 7 professors in vocational training departments in the fall (nursing, accounting, counseling, and engineering) and launch of a new information technology program (Gluckman 2014). It is clear that liberal arts, humanities, and social science professors are being fired to make room for an expansion in vocational training programs. Further, 9 of the 12 recently fired faculty were women, including 66% of USM’s total women of color faculty. We assert that faculty diversity is essential to fulfill USM’s mission statement, necessary for a vibrant and accessible university, and must be cultivated and protected- not attacked or disregarded.”
There were several people who stood up in front of the crowd and gave impassioned speeches. One of the speakers was Meghan Brodie, Ph. D. Brodie was one of the faculty members to be retrenched on March 21. Her employment with the university is in peril, but her title of ‘Assistant Professor of Theatre and Women and Gender Studies program faculty member’ remains for the time being.
After hearing her speech, which drew a great response from the crowd, I introduced myself to Brodie. She was kind enough to email me a copy of the speech. Here’s what she said:
“If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I want to talk about Physics. Don’t be alarmed–yes, the Theatre professor wants to chat about Physics. As many of you probably know, USM’s Physics major was on the chopping block this past Fall. Fortunately for our students, the university, and the state of Maine, Physics is not slated for program elimination this year. I cannot imagine a university without Physics, and I think paying attention to Physics might have prepared the USM administration for what has happened in the last two weeks. Here’s why: Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. YOU are the equal and opposite reaction that no one saw coming.
For every retrenchment and program elimination, there are scores of students pushing back and demanding the education they were promised when they enrolled at USM, demanding the same faculty to student ratios as their counterparts at UMaine Orono, demanding that they not be treated like cookie cutter customers. You are not cookie cutter customers.
You are students with individual needs and goals and you deserve mentorship. Demand more. And remember that the arts and humanities, recently gutted at USM, reflect how we communicate, think, act, and grow—for better and worse.
An assault on the arts and humanities is a disavowal of our own humanity.
To every student, colleague, and community member who participated in the protests, flash mobs, meetings with legislators, and letter-writing campaigns, thank you. You are compassionate, intelligent, and articulate people who are standing up for yourselves and what is important to you. Regardless of the outcome, you have made a difference. You have. The ripple effects of your actions are unquantifiable. You have forever changed my life. You are my heroes.”