Students for USMFuture Responds to Faculty Senate Budget Proposal

Statement released to Fighting the Tides by Students for USMFuture member Meaghan LaSala:

On May 29th the Faculty Senate of the University of Southern Maine released an alternative budget proposal for the university, including 1.26 million dollars worth of “savings” presented as an alternative to the faculty retrenchments originally proposed by the administration.

We, the Students for USMFuture, commend the Faculty Senate. While we still have some questions, we believe that these proposals represent the best, most transparent, and most evidence-based strategy for for creating efficiency and eliminating waste in USM’s budget.

USMFuture agrees with USM Business Professor Bob Heiser who said he “was struck by the logical, methodological approach used” by the Faculty Senate, the “type of hard-nosed budget analysis often conducted in the business world.”

The Faculty Senate proposed over 5 million dollars in potential cost efficiencies.The funds freed up by these savings could be reallocated toward the university’s core mission of educating students. The faculty plan uses conservative estimates to arrive at their figures, and we believe that the actual savings could be even higher.

Some items in the Faculty Senate proposal are particularly strong and practical, such as the call to renegotiate the amount of money that USM pays into the UMaine System cost-sharing account.

Currently USM pays 14% more than the University of Maine in Orono, despite the fact that UMO receives a disproportionately large amount of funding from the state appropriations, charges higher tuition, has more facilities, and a has a larger on-campus population. The proposed renegotiation would save the University of Southern Maine nearly one million dollars.

We were also struck by both the merit and the practical reasoning behind the proposal that spending on cell phones for administrators be cut. The total cell-phone expenditure is nearly 400,000 dollars. Spending money so frivolously in the midst of retrenchments is both insulting to the USM community, and unhealthy for the fiscal sustainability of the USM. We are thankful to the Faculty Senate for pointing out this hypocrisy.

We endorse the Faculty Senate’s proposed efficiencies in the upper administrative budgets. The Faculty Senate suggested reducing compensation by 20% for administrative positions with a salary of over 80,000 dollars, and we endorse this sentiment, as it keeps cuts the furthest from students and targets areas where salaries could be reduced, duties expanded, and positions merged for upper administrators.

The USM administration charged the Faculty Senate with finding $1.26 million of cost reductions exclusively within academic programs. This was easily done by identifying the number of recent and pending retirements from 2013 to 2016. Although these retirements are termed ‘voluntary,’ many came in reaction to a coercive series of cuts and pressures created by the administration.

While we are pleased that the $1.26 million was found without having to fire any additional faculty, we are hesitant to endorse any cost-cutting plan that relies on faculty elimination.

According to Engineering Professor Carlos Luck, USM has already shed 30 faculty positions since the beginning of the year, putting USM at 280 faculty— the target the administration said would “right-size” USM. As students, we believe that this “right-sized” faculty-student ratio is in fact starving many of our programs and eroding the educational quality and reputation of the institution. We strongly urge the administration to act on the faculty’s suggestion that part of the 5 million in savings be used to reinvest in our programs, by lifting hiring freezes and bringing in new tenure-track faculty.

How the administration responds to the Faculty Senate’s recommendations will reveal a great deal about the administration’s true intentions and commitments to the University of Southern Maine, and to maintaining a first-class, comprehensive, public liberal arts university in the city of Portland— the economic and cultural heart of Maine.

We believe that if the cuts proposed by the Faculty Senate are brushed off and lip-serviced by the administration, or if one or two minor suggestions are  adopted as an empty gesture of shared governance, then it will become increasingly clear that the administration is targeting the liberal arts programs and tenured faculty positions for reasons that go beyond the budget. The efficiencies identified in the faculty plan are legitimate, wise, and feasible, and the faculty more than fulfilled what was requested of them; and so we urge the administration to begin implementation.

If the administration does not use this proposal as a path back to shared governance and transparency, and if they continue to target faculty, staff, and programs, it will certainly raise the question of what the administration’s true intentions are.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.