Students for #USMFuture release response to latest cuts

Students for #USMFuture, a group formed in opposition to the massive cuts taking place at the University of Southern Maine, has released a statement to “Fighting the Tides” in response to the latest round of staff layoffs.

Students for #USMFuture rally in Portland's Monument Square in April, 2014. Photo by Chris Shorr, BDN.

Students for #USMFuture rally in Portland’s Monument Square in April, 2014. Photo by Chris Shorr, BDN.

They’ve also responded to the announcement made earlier this week by the American Association of University Professors that an investigation has been launched to review significant issues of academic freedom, tenure, and due process that are of basic concern to the academic community.”

Here is the statement, in full:

Students for #USMFuture Response to Staff Layoffs and AAUP Investigation

On Monday, December 1st, fourteen more employees at the University of Southern Maine lost their jobs in a crisis that is neither inevitable or necessary.

We appreciate the fact that eight of these cuts were made from the bloated USM administration, however we’re devastated that six more critical staff members were eliminated from an institution that has already been cut to the bone.
Our hearts go out to these employees who are losing their jobs right before the holiday season, and to all the staff living with the anxiety of knowing that their job could be next.

Students for #USMfuture is far from the only group questioning the necessity of these cuts, and the methods the administration is using to make them. The American Association of University Professors announced this week that they are opening an investigation into the recent cuts at USM.

As a nationally renowned institution with the mission of advancing academic freedom and shared governance, the AAUP is the standard bearer in institutional protection of academic integrity.

After reviewing the recent cuts of five academic programs and fifty tenured and long-serving faculty members, the AAUP determined “that these actions at the University of Southern Maine have raised significant issues of academic freedom, tenure, and due process that are of basic concern to the academic community.”

We believe that the forthcoming investigation will reveal what we have been arguing all along: that these cuts are being made without adequate concern for students’ and employees’ rights, without transparency, and in violation of our policies of shared governance.

For those who still believe in the necessity of these cuts, we’d like to point out some statistics highlighted by policy blogger and University of Maine Law School professor Orlando Delogu. For forty years, the state of Maine has been engaging in a steady and devastating disinvestment from the University of Maine System.

According to Delogu, if the state were investing the same amount of resources in the system as it was in the 1970’s, our current appropriations would approximate $330 million, adjusted for inflation.

Compare that to our 2013 appropriation of $194 million. Increasing the pie to $330 million would give USM over $30 million extra state dollars every year. That number blows our current supposed $16 million shortfall out of the water.

As we have long been pointing out, the $16 million projected shortfall for 2016 is merely that— a projection.

These numbers assume continued declining enrollment and continued disinvestment from public education. The exact calculations behind this figure have never been released to the public. And this projection is being used to trick the public into supporting cuts that make no financial or academic sense. Staff cuts are happening in departments that have already been cut to the bone.

The majority of the faculty members who were retrenched this year bring in net revenue for the university that far exceeds their cost.

What we need now is not apologist leadership who use a manufactured crisis to justify a race to the bottom in a shift toward exploited adjunct labor, attacks on tenure, over-reliance on expensive online technology, and student debt.

What we need is bold and visionary leadership, committed to academic freedom and the human right to education. In the next legislative session, the Board of Trustees will ask for a 3.4% increase in state appropriations— the first such request in three years. This request is far too little, too late.

We, the Students for #USMfuture, call for the state to re-invest in our communities by re-investing in public higher education. This is merely a question of priorities.

We can fund public education without taking from other essential programs that meet people’s basic human rights like food, health care and housing.

We question the priorities of a state that cuts millions in taxes on the wealthy and spends public money on mass incarceration, or expensive legal battles to strip indigenous people of their sovereignty rights or deny basic rights to immigrants.

Maine, we can do better. We, the Students for #USMFuture, urge you to join us in a fight for public education, for the sake of our collective future.

Photo by Chris Shorr, BDN.

Photo by Chris Shorr, BDN.

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.