A national association that advocates for university and college faculty said Tuesday it is launching an investigation into the faculty and program cuts at the University of Southern Maine.

The leadership of the American Association of University Professors has “reached the conclusion 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,” according to a letter sent to USM President David Flanagan.

The association lobbies on behalf of professors and other academics who pay membership dues. The organization also conducts research and lends collective bargaining support to member chapters and affiliated institutions.

USM spokesman Chris Quint said in a statement that the administration has followed all university policies and procedures in making the cuts – faculty members have disputed this.

The association plans to send a committee of faculty members from other universities to USM to talk to administrators and faculty and staff about the situation. The group has no legal standing to force the university to change its plans, but Anita Levy, the association’s associate secretary, said she hopes the administration will sit down with the investigative panel.

“You never know. We’ve had administrations vow they will not talk to us, that we have no standing and we don’t represent the faculty. But those same administrations, when the faculty (panel) visits, do want to sit down and tell their story because they recognize that we represent the gold standard for academic standards in the United States.”

Levy said the organization gets about 1,000 complaints a year from faculty, and only investigates four or five a year. In recent years, they have seen an increase in complaints tied to financial-related staffing and program cuts.

“However, in this case, the kinds of changes that USM administrators are contemplating seem to be much more far-reaching than those we’ve seen before,” Levy said. “It seems to me there is something else going on here – a wholesale reorganization of the university.”

Local faculty members say that USM’s administration needs to work with the faculty on any changes to the academic mission and programs.

USM Faculty Senate President Jerry LaSala said he welcomes the association’s investigation.

“I and many of the faculty are of the opinion that the administration has not been following the governance procedures,” LaSala said. “The faculty and staff have been largely frozen out of the decisions, which are being made at a very high level and reported down to us. We regard this as a pretty serious violation of the governance agreement.”

USM officials have eliminated 50 faculty positions, two academic positions and 14 non-faculty staff and administration positions to help close a $16 million budget gap for the 2016 fiscal year that begins July 1. This year’s budget is $134 million.

The administration is also proposing a significant reorganization of the academic programs, from combining some programs to lowering the number of units needed for some majors. Earlier this year, the system board of trustees approved eliminating three other academic programs at USM.

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