On May 29, the University of Southern Maine faculty senate took a bold step in the #USMfuture saga, revealing an alternative budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year with countermeasures that push against the austerity program enacted as a result of UMaine’s systemwide budget crisis. The proposal fulfilled the faculty senate’s end of negotiations with USM President Theodora Kalikow, who agreed to hear alternate proposals for saving the $1.26 million in expenses that would have resulted from retrenching 14 faculty in Arts and Humanities departments, whose positions were restored in late March in response to protests.

In a lengthy statement, the committee observed discrepancies between the institutional conception of a “metropolitan university” (as defined by the “21st Century Declaration” of the national organization Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities — of which USM recently became a member) and the recent actions taken by the UMS Board of Trustees:

“...(W)hile the Board highlighted the visual and performing arts as one of USM’s distinctive features, the Provost cut faculty from Theater. While it stressed entrepreneurship, he reduced the Economics department by a third. It chanted ‘location, location, location’ as President Kalikow proposed eliminating Northern New England’s sole graduate program devoted to the interdisciplinary study of this location’s history, people, and culture (American and New England Studies). As it called for emphasis on science, she proposed eliminating Geosciences.

“This suggests what is actually envisioned for USM is more limited and parochial. In other words...its core function (is) specifically whatever directly champions economic growth, itself narrowly conceived in terms of profit and jobs.”
Following upon Kalikow’s stipulation that any cuts in the budget proposal must come from academic programs, the faculty senate then outlined their detailed plan to save a minimum of $5,095,943 over the next fiscal year, identifying more than $1.6 million in savings from voluntary faculty retirements by August 2015 (and an additional $.5 million by August 2016).

Having more than satisfied the $1.26 million figure it was asked to offset, the proposal went further, addressing the dwindling faculty resources and widening administrative bloat that has defined the crises across national institutions of public higher education. It recommended a 20 percent reduction in spending for non union-represented administrative personnel earning more than $80,000, and a 10 percent reduction for those earning between $60,000 and $80,000 (the proposal suggests that such savings need not necessarily come in individual pay cuts but in reductions across the board). And it called for a reduction in USM’s contribution toward system-wide cost sharing, noting that its $5.673 million payment back into the system is “very high relative to USM’s share of total expenditures net of shared services.” Among comparatively smaller reductions in administrative costs (in areas like memberships, cell phones, and energy), the committee estimated the additional savings at nearly $3 million.

In a formal response sent to faculty on May 30 (and obtained by the Phoenix), President Kalikow wrote that she would give the alternative proposal “serious consideration” before submitting a budget “that closes the $14 million gap in FY 2015” to the Chancellor’s Office by June 16. Kalikow acknowledged the recent decision by UMS Chancellor Rebecca Wyke and the system Board of Trustees to “plug $7 million of that $14 million gap using one-time money from the University System’s Budget Stabilization Fund.” Between that and the $4.5 million saved from measures taken earlier in the year, the remaining figure totals $2.5 million.

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