About 100 University of Southern Maine students protested outside the office of the provost Friday as a dozen faculty members got layoff notices, chanting “Cut from the top” and holding signs that read “Cuts only lead to more cuts.”
USM said the cuts to the faculty will be followed in the coming weeks by layoffs of 10 to 20 staff members. That will come in addition to 14 previous staff layoffs, the university said.
USM faces a $14 million budget shortfall for the year starting July 1, part of a $36 million shortfall throughout the University of Maine System caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes.
Assistant theater professor Meghan Brodie, who got cheers and repeated chants of “Meghan, Meghan” from students who lined the hallways outside the provost’s office, said she was laid off Friday and sees it as part of an effort to close the theater department.
Brodie said she and another faculty member were laid off from the department, which expects to lose two other teachers to retirement in coming years.
“The theater faculty will drop from eight to three members in two years. This is the first step to potentially eliminating the theater program,” Brodie said. “I’m concerned that arts and humanities are being gutted. It’s the very classes and skills that make our students good citizens and successful in any field they choose.”
Ashley Rood, a junior in the theater department, said she plans to transfer to another school because of the faculty cuts. “They are treating us like a business. It’s completely unacceptable,” Rood said.
On Wednesday, USM President Theodora Kalikow said the school must evolve from a liberal arts college to a “metropolitan university” that is closely connected with businesses, residents and governments in Greater Portland. Last week, she proposed cutting four academic programs and as many as 50 faculty and staff positions to help close USM’s budget shortfall.
Targeted for elimination are the American and New England Studies graduate program; the geosciences and recreation-and-leisure studies majors at the Portland and Gorham campuses; and the arts and humanities major at Lewiston-Auburn College, part of USM.
The layoffs, effective May 31, affect faculty members in the art, economics, English, philosophy, sociology and theater departments, the honors program, the School of Music and the Muskie School of Public Service’s graduate program in public policy and management.
The original plan called for 15 faculty layoffs but the number was reduced to 12 Friday because of the retirements of three faculty members, Kalikow said in a letter to the faculty that was released to the media.
USM now has 310 full-time teachers. The layoffs and retirements will reduce the number to about 280, Kalikow said.
She said in her letter, “This is a very sad day because these are people who have dedicated their careers to the belief that higher education has a key role to play in improving the lives of their students and the quality of life in the communities in which we are located.
“Our cost structures are not supported by current revenues. We simply can’t let this continue. We must find ways to make sure USM is fiscally sustainable – that revenues and expenses are in balance year in and year out. To do otherwise would jeopardize our ability to serve students and Maine taxpayers,” Kalikow said.
Other adjustments will be made to the faculty. USM said it is filling seven full-time faculty positions: three tenure-track positions in nursing, one tenure track position in school counseling, a lecturer in mechanical engineering, a lecturer in accounting and a lecturer in printmaking/drawing.
PROTESTS TO CONTINUE MONDAY
Students protested throughout the day Friday, at times getting loud as they chanted “Let us in” and pounded on the door of Provost Michael Stevenson’s office on USM’s Portland campus.
USM police prevented students from entering the office and kept control of the crowd. Some students sat on the floor, crying and hugging.
“The crisis happening at USM is part of an attack on higher education,” said Meaghan LaSala, a junior in the women and gender studies program. “I chose USM because it’s my hometown and it’s where I live and work. I can’t stand to see it dismantled.”
John Eric Baugher, an associate professor of sociology, said he was laid off Friday. He said the university’s leaders should take pay cuts to share in the efforts to save money.
“I’m 45 years old. I may never be in a classroom again,” Baugher said. “I’m willing to go, but our leaders should act like authentic leaders and take cuts themselves.”
Jordan Heath, a freshman in the geoscience program, said it is ironic that USM is cutting departments like physics, and potentially geosciences, at a time when lawmakers and executives throughout the state say Maine needs more workers with backgrounds in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“This is a program where people get jobs. It should not be cut,” Heath said.
The protest ended around 3:30 p.m., after Stevenson had police escort him from his office. Students and faculty members lay down in the hallway, forcing Stevenson to step over them, protesters said.
Students plan more protests at the provost’s office on Monday.
‘THESE ARE DARK DAYS AT USM’
“These are dark days at USM,” said Jerry LaSala, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of physics, at the opening of a three-hour Faculty Senate meeting Friday. “What we’re currently being offered sucks and will likely lead to the demise of USM as we know it.”
The Faculty Senate unanimously passed motions to ask the administration to provide complete details and explanations of the restructuring plan, and the specific criteria used to eliminate programs and faculty positions. The group also passed a motion that said it embraces the concept of a metropolitan university but rejects the administration’s current implementation.
Some faculty members said the notion of rebranding USM as a metropolitan university is hiding the administration’s real goal: to cut jobs.
“This metropolitan university is a total smoke screen,” said Paul Nakroshis, associate professor of physics. “The faculty is not getting feedback we need. This is a sham.”
Mark Lapping, distinguished university professor at the Muskie School of Public Service, said he is upset that many of the laid-off teachers are women and minorities.
“This university desperately needs more diversity among the students, faculty and the administration,” he said.
Students addressed the Faculty Senate to express their dismay over the layoffs and budget cuts.
Angelica Pendleton, who is due to graduate from the theater department in May, said she protested in support of Brodie and the students remaining at the school.
“Blind, righteous rage is a description of how students are feeling,” Pendleton told the Faculty Senate.
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: