USM president restores layoffs

By NICK SCHROEDER  |  April 16, 2014

Critics of the budget cuts at University of Southern Maine celebrated a major victory on Friday, as President Theodora Kalikow announced, rather unexpectedly, during a faculty senate meeting that all 12 planned faculty retrenchments at the USM campus would be restored and “off the table” — at least until the school’s 2014-15 year.

The rescindment reverses announcements made last month, but would not presently include the USM programs recommended to be eliminated — American and New England Studies, Geosciences, Recreation and Leisure, and the Arts and Humanities program on the Lewiston-Auburn campus. According to USM spokesperson Bob Caswell, the Recreation and Leisure Studies department will still be folded into the Nursing program, a decision announced on March 27.

But while they’re celebrating the reversal of the individual cuts, the faculty senate believe there’s still hope to save the other three programs. Caswell says the process for determining their future is “still in effect,” while the Academic Program Review Committee, working with faculty from the departments proposed for elimination, is expected to submit proposals to save the departments to Kalikow by May 5. Then the faculty senate has until May 31 to present a list of financial alternatives to the 12 faculty layoffs that were restored on Friday, before the final decisions are announced by the Board of Trustees at a meeting scheduled for July 21 in Bangor.

Caswell said he wasn’t certain whether a draft of a list containing 27 cost-saving strategies, written by the faculty senate and circulated last week, would be different from their official proposal due in more than a month, and expects more ideas to emerge from a collaborative process between the faculty senate and Kalikow.

In the meantime, the #usmfuture coalition of students, faculty, and community members who opposed the austerity measures at USM are relishing the victory.

“This reversal was a direct result of students putting pressure on the administration, the Board of Trustees, and the legislature,” said USM English professor Eve Raimon, whose job was not among those slated for elimination. “They are owed all the credit.”

Caswell, in part, agrees. “Theo said (on Friday) that they weren’t a great influence; she was really swayed by faculty discussions,” he said. “But I’m sure the student protests had to play some part in her thinking. And I think she was generally pleased to see students out there making their views known.”

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