Exclusive to Fighting the Tides: Students for #USMFuture release letter to university administration- “We’re not going anywhere.”

The letter below was sent to me from Students for #USMFuture, one of the groups that has formed in response to the controversy swirling around the state university system of late.

I’d like to make it clear that I am in no way affiliated with either the #USMFuture or #UMaineFuture groups, but I am honored to have earned their trust as a journalist that I will portray their side of the story in a fair and open light.

Here’s what they have to say to the university administration:

Dear USM President Kalikow, Provost Stevenson, UMaine System Chancellor Page, and UMaine Trustees:

 We were overjoyed when we heard President Kalikow [unexpectedly reversed] her never-properly-explained and probably illegal decision to “retrench” 12-15 tenured faculty in a single day. To us, the un-retrenchments mark an unequivocal victory. The reinstatement of retrenched faculty had been our #1 stated goal from the day we first gathered outside the Provost’s office, and our organizing efforts have undeniably contributed toward achieving that goal.

 But we also recognize this is only a small, temporary victory in an ongoing struggle for the future of USM, the UMaine system, and public education in Maine.

 We could not help notice the qualified way the reinstatements were announced— couched in plenty of “for now” and “who knows” language. It seems that maintaining an environment of fear and insecurity is a priority for this administration. If the retrenched faculty could be so whimsically reinstated, then their original firings could not possibly have represented a carefully considered cost-saving measure of last resort. What kind of administration toys so capriciously with the lives and livelihoods of its employees? And how can a university system in such dire financial straits afford to give top finance administrator Rebecca Wyke a [$40,000 raise]?  

 We also noticed that President Kalikow took special care to deny the student-led #USMFuture movement any credit for influencing her decision. This is a very telling admission: the president has openly declared that the wishes of an [organized coalition] of students, faculty, community members, local human rights groups, [union advocates], and [legislators] are not considered in her decision-making processes. We can think of no better example of the uncommunicative, and bad-faith way the administration has bullied USM through the process of “transformation” over the past two years—paying only lip service to the principle of shared governance.

 Because we were continually excluded, condescended to, lied to, and otherwise ignored, we organized to have our voices heard. And today, we continue to organize to carry forth a vision for USM that upholds the values of our university’s mission, to provide all people of Southern Maine “high-quality, accessible, affordable education.” The following is our list of current priorities as a student-led coalition. 

 1.    Support USM and UMaine Staff: While faculty retrenchments spur headlines, [staff firings] are happening both more quietly and more frequently. For some staff members, being fired means being given no notice, and being escorted to the door by campus security. Because the term “staff” refers to several employment categories—from professional support staff to members of the grounds crew, with several different types of union representation, as well as non-union workers—we are currently working with staff representatives and union leaders to strategize appropriate action to minimize the direct human impact of unnecessary budget cuts. We recognize the essential work that staff do at USM, and we recognize their right to work with dignity, security and respect. 

2.   Support of Alternate Budget Plans: We support the principles behind the faculty’s alternate [27-point financial plan]. While we understand that reasonable people might disagree over specific points, what strikes us most significantly about the plan is how the faculty senate was able to find alternate ways to eliminate waste and maximize savings in a few short days, under tremendous pressure, while the administration was unable to offer any counter-solutions after working for a period of months. 

3.   Get an Audience with the Board of Trustees: We ask to appear at the next Board meeting to present our case directly to the Board. We also intend to encourage our supporters in the coalition and across Maine to contact each Trustee directly, and let them know that the direction in which they are steering the UMaine System does not reflect the wishes of the people of Maine, and may in fact violate terms of stewardship as codified by law and university governing documents regarding the university system’s core missions. 

4.   Finance an Independent Audit of UMaine System Finances: As a public institution, the UMaine System’s finances are a matter of public record. We are investigating ways to crowd-source an independent audit of system finances, looking to connect the dots regarding misrepresentations, waste, [conflicts of interest, and instances of cronyism] or retaliation.

5.    Fight for Funding For Public Education: We will continue to work towards elevating educational issues as a pivotal political issue during the next election cycle. Increased funding for comprehensive public education—with robust support staff and a dedicated, tenured faculty, based in a face-to-face community—is necessary to ensure this fundamental human right for all the people of Maine. Education is a common good, not an individual privilege. To this end, we are building a coalition of students, faculty, staff and allies from around the state to demand a state budget that ensures our human right to education. This coalition, Solidarity for #UMaineFuture, includes off campus allies such as the Maine AFLCIO, the Southern and Central Maine Labor Councils.

6.  Contextualize Our Fight Within Wider Struggles Against Austerity and the Privatization-Oriented Education Reform Movement: We defend tenure and the availability of a comprehensive public liberal-arts based education because these institutions are a critical component of the social contractirreplaceable repositories of information and values not institutionalized anywhere else in our society. We recognize that the [income gap] is the widest its been since before the great depression. We reject logic that would pit working class people against each other for supposedly scarce resources. Providing equal access to education is a keystone value in our society, and must be honored.

 The administration may believe this student movement will die after graduation day, but we’re not going anywhere. We understand that a quality Public Education is no longer something every person can simply expect—it is now something we have to fight for. We fully expect to be fighting that fight for the rest of our lives, and we are more than prepared to so.

 We look forward to hearing from you.

 Respectfully,

 Students For #USMFuture

 

 Links

 [unexpectedly reversed] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/14/u-southern-maines-president-says-shell-work-faculty-avoid-layoffs#sthash.Xu1uCp9H.WtP95wfq.dpbs

 [$40,000 raise] http://bangordailynews.com/2014/04/16/news/bangor/amid-budget-shortfall-university-of-maine-system-administrator-received-40000-raise-this-year/

 [organized coalition] https://www.facebook.com/umainefuture?ref=hl

 [union advocates] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1109869-letter-to-president-kalikow-april-10-2014.html

 [legislators] https://bangordailynews.com/2014/03/26/politics/university-of-southern-maine-students-call-for-legislature-to-enact-one-year-moratorium-on-budget-cuts/

 [staff firings] http://tides.bangordailynews.com/2014/04/01/home/laid-off-usm-staffer-sends-message-to-president-kalikow-usm-is-like-a-careless-homeowner/

[27-point financial plan] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1109868-usm-faculty-proposal.html

[conflicts of interest, and instances of cronyism] http://pinetreewatchdog.org/university-system-a-haven-for-former-top-state-staffers/

[income gap] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/05/u-s-income-inequality-on-rise-for-decades-is-now-highest-since-1928/

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.