A message is written in chalk Tuesday in front of Merrill Hall at the University of Maine at Farmington. Students staged a 24-hour sit-in Tuesday through Wednesday at the building to protest the decision to eliminate nine UMF faculty positions in the humanities and social sciences. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — University of Maine at Farmington students occupied Merrill Hall during a 24-hour sit-in Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the University of Maine System’s decision to eliminate nine faculty positions in the humanities and social sciences.

From 9 a.m. Tuesday to 9 a.m. Wednesday, up to 15 students occupied the hallway of Merrill Hall, headquarters for the UMF administration. In that time, they wrote a list of demands holding University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel P. Malloy accountable for the cuts and calling for his removal.

The issue at UMF began with the elimination of the nine positions.

The faculty learned May 2 the nine members would be leaving the UMF campus.

University of Maine System officials declined to confirm which departments saw eliminations “because that would necessarily identify individual faculty,” according to Margaret Nagle, interim executive director of communications for the UMaine System.

The Sun Journal learned the eliminations have removed all staff in the women’s and gender studies program, philosophy/religion department and modern languages department.

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Three other faculty members were removed from the geography, history and psychology departments.

Five of the nine positions were tenured, according to Gretchen Legler, a professor of creative writing.

Nagle said the nine faculty members were “retrenched or laid off involuntarily” because of “budget and enrollment challenges at UMF.”

Retrenching is a method to curtail expenses and economize, which often means cutting staffing. It is generally about eliminating positions instead of laying off or firing particular employees while keeping the position in the company.

Malloy and others at the UMaine System have said a retrenchment process is underway for these faculty members to find them new positions within the system.

“We will work to the highest extent possible to see those individuals (on faculty) stay here in Maine and have a job, should one be available to them,” Malloy said.

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A protest was held Saturday after the UMF graduation to fight for reinstatement of the nine professors.

Legler said the process has been “incredibly demoralizing” for faculty members, who now fear “any of us are in danger of losing our jobs at any point.”

Issues spread across the system

In just a week, the problems with UMaine System’s decisions have expanded beyond the UMF campus.

The Kennebec Journal reported  that Malloy and the chairman of a search committee hired University of Maine at Augusta’s new president, Michael Laliberte, with the knowledge he had received two votes of no confidence in his former position as president of the State University of New York at Delhi.

The leader of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine union has since sent a letter to union members stating UMA’s “presidential search was ‘destroyed’ by the chair of the search committee,” according to the Kennebec Journal.

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“The system and leadership abused the search process,” Jim McClymer, president of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine union, wrote in the letter. “They abused members of the committee who contributed in good faith to what they thought was an honest process; they abused the trust of all members of the UMA community who trusted in an honest search process.”

University of Maine at Farmington students organizing the #SaveHumanitiesUMF movement stage a sit-in Tuesday morning at Merrill Hall to protest the University of Maine-System’s decision to eliminate nine UMF faculty positions in the humanities and social sciences. From left are Jocelyn Royalty, Tom Tubman, Mel LaCombe, Cali Turner and Rylee Smith outside UMF President Edward Serna’s office. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

The #SaveHumanitiesUMF movement transforms

UMF students organizing the #SaveHumanitiesUMF movement said they are directing their focus — and concerns with Malloy’s leadership — at the entire UMaine System.

Theo Cerami, a creative writing major at UMF, said students want to send the message that “the (UMaine System board of trustees) and the chancellor are out of touch with the values of the students.”

“(Malloy) has shown that he has mismanaged the UMaine System,” said Karly Jacklin, a rising senior studying creative writing who intended to minor in philosophy and religion before the faculty eliminations. “He doesn’t have any interest in the benefit of the students or the professors. He doesn’t have anyone’s interest (in mind) but himself and his friends.”

“Obviously they don’t realize how important these classes are to us,” Cerami said. “And the people who teach them.”

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“If they think this (decision) is going to draw students in, they have no clue,” said Miles Stevens, who graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and religion — one of the programs that has lost all three professors.

The students also view the eliminations as “symptomatic of the spread of right-leaning ideology in America, and the attempts to silence and marginalize people as well as disciplines that are considered not useful,” said Cylus Hill.

Students are particularly upset with how Malloy has responded to their concerns.

Jocelyn Royalty and Cali Turner, who are rising seniors, said they and other UMF students sent Malloy personal emails expressing their disappointment in the decision.

“In my email and a lot of our emails, we poured our hearts out,” Royalty said.

In return, Malloy sent the same response to all students, Turner and Royalty said.

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In the response, forwarded to the Sun Journal, Malloy referenced UMF’s financial struggles, how the decisions were made and efforts “to see if there are opportunities for the affected faculty to be rehired at different locations.”

But the “copy-and-pasted emails” email did not address the specific issues each student raised in his or her email, the student said.

“There wasn’t anything we didn’t already know,” Turner said. “The content of his email didn’t even really apply to the content of mine. I didn’t really ask him for (the reasons) for the cuts. We talked about personal experiences.”

“I doubt any of them were read,” Royalty said.

Those “copy-and-pasted responses” were “a slap in the face,” Royalty said.

Turner agreed, adding especially so when he “claimed to admire us and our activism.”

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Students have also been told by outgoing UMF President Edward Serna that the UMaine System is working to help students whose schedules and degrees were affected by the subsequent course eliminations to enroll in classes across the system’s eight institutions.

Students participating in the sit-in said that is not a realistic solution for a school with many lower-income students in rural Maine. UMF students lack the transportation, money and time to travel long distances for class, they said.

University of Maine at Farmington students, from left, Rylee Smith, Alex Kane and Cylus Hill hang a sign made from pizza boxes Tuesday evening that reads “Eat Malloy” on the wall of Merrill Hall. The sign is a reference to the slogan “eat the rich,” a modern political “rallying cry … of class struggle.” University of Maine at Farmington students are taking a stand against the University of Maine-System’s decision to eliminate nine faculty positions in the humanities and social sciences. Kay Neufeld/Frankin Journal

At the sit-in

Throughout the day Tuesday, students sat together, discussed their concerns and formulated action plans. About 6 p.m., they moved to the front lawn of Merrill Hall, where they were making more signs to post around the property. Some stood on the sidewalk, holding up signs and chanting.

Messages in chalk were written on sidewalks and stairways around Merrill Hall. “Save our humanities,” one message read. “We cannot trust our trustees.”

Students also made posters and signs demanding Malloy resign.

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Alex Kane, a geography student, used the cardboard from boxes of pizza sent by faculty to create a sign that read “Eat Malloy.” The sign was taped to the walls of Merrill Hall.

The phrase is a reference the slogan “Eat the rich,” a modern political “rallying cry of class struggle,” originally coined by 18th century social theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Toward the beginning of the sit-in, at about 11 a.m., students sat in the hallway just outside Serna’s office while he was inside speaking with his executive assistant.

Legler visited the students and dropped off poster boards for them in the morning, expressing support for the movement. Farmington community member Janice David briefly visited to show support for the “shafted nine.”

Students had requested to speak with Serna, who is scheduled to leave his job July 1, and UMF Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Eric Brown told them he would speak with Serna about the matter.

About 1 p.m., rising seniors Celia Canavan and Jacklin had the opportunity to speak privately with Serna and Brown. That conversation shaped the remaining 20 hours of the sit-in.

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What they have learned

Jacklin and Canavan declined to share the entirety of that conversation on the record. What they did share was a growing understanding that similar issues are taking hold across the UMaine System.

“We’ve found out that the UMaine Augusta situation is far more directly connected than we initially thought,” Jacklin said.

Canavan, a senior studying political science with a minor in international global studies, said students learned Serna and Brown neither had power over the final decisions nor were they kept informed during the decision-making process.

“(Serna and Brown) were briefed. They didn’t have any real say in the matter, they were not a part of the conversation, they weren’t told who would be selected until the retrenchment emails were being sent out by HR,” Canavan said. “The selection of programs and the faculty ultimately that would be affected came from what Provost Brown called a very deep calculus-like formula of retrenchment rates, enrollment and where the UMaine System saw job benefits for these programs.”

But in Malloy’s email response to the students, he said it was “UMF leaders (who) have created the best plan they could under the circumstances.”

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“Other University of Maine System leaders and I personally reviewed UMF’s plans to understand the impact on UMF students,” Malloy wrote. “UMF leaders also had to make sure their changes would create the best opportunities for UMF’s academic programs to succeed in the future.”

Canavan and Jacklin have also been in touch with faculty members and student representatives to UMF’s Faculty Senate. In these conversations, they’ve learned that faculty had no “input” in the selection of UMF’s new interim president, Joseph McDonnell.

Canavan said similar to what’s happened at UMA, “faculty were not involved in this process” to hire a new president.

“We were not informed that interim McDonnell would be coming to UMF until his announcement; there was no search committee made up of faculty or staff,” Canavan said. “This student who was at these events said that faculty had even picked out an interim president that they were going to offer up in place of a search committee and their suggestion was not taken farther than UMF’s president.”

On the #SaveHumanitiesUMF Instagram account, Canavan and Jacklin said they also received a direct message from Emily Cain, a UMS trustee and executive director of Emily’s List, a political action committee that works to elect Democratic, female, pro-choice candidates.

Cain wrote, “While the Board of Trustees has been very involved in understanding the serious financial and programmatic/enrollment challenges facing the University of Maine Farmington, we do not make decisions about program suspension, like the case of the proposed suspension of the Women and Gender Studies minor at UMF.

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“But we do care and it’s important for us to know the impact. In fact, during all discussions of UMF challenges, myself and other board members have been very vocal about pushing to make sure opportunities are sought to provide other teaching opportunities to impacted faculty members and that all students in programs will have the ability to complete the academic program they are enrolled in — either directly on their campus or through unified accreditation via other UMS campuses. I know both of those things are happening.

“UMF has a new interim president starting soon, and I encourage you to engage with him and the administration in the coming months as they review options for next steps, not just for WGS, but for UMF overall.”

Students hung posters on the main University of Maine at Farmington sign at Merrill Hall demanding UMaine-System board of trustees remove Chancellor Dannel Malloy from his position. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Students demand systemic change

In the wake of what they have learned, organizers spent the night of the sit-in writing up a list of demands.

Save Humanities UMF – List of Demands by sunjournal on Scribd

Among the list, students are demanding:

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• The removal of Chancellor Dannel P. Malloy from his office.

• The removal of interim President Joseph McDonnell.

• The jobs of the nine retrenched faculty are returned.

• The UMS board of trustees awards respect and delivers to President Edward Serna and students information about any and all correspondence regarding the UMF Humanities crisis.

• That Maine’s elected public officials … take a stand with UMF and with the need for public education — starting with Gov. Janet Mills.

• UMS work with affected students immediately to help safeguard their futures in these programs in a plan that keeps them at our university.

Canavan said organizers are figuring out next steps, which include meeting Thursday with Serna.

“We’re continuing to organize,” Canavan said. “We’re hoping to start figuring out a solid plan to get our way up to the UMaine System. We want to meet with Chancellor Malloy … get him speaking with students who are directly involved in the issue.

“And (we’re) continuing to network, growing and getting ready for the fall, because we do have larger plans for when students are back on campus and when we have more room with what we can do.”

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