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BALANCED? USM to be disproportionately hard in 2014-15 operational budget cuts

Rumors began circulating in June that USM President Theodora Kalikow would resign. But no one knew Provost Michael Stevenson would follow suit, truncating a three-year contract that was slated to end in June of 2015. Like Kalikow, Stevenson was re-assigned to a different sector of the university system, each retaining the salary of their previous position (Kalikow’s of $203,000; Stevenson’s of $175,000).

After Kalikow’s departure, the system Board of Trustees appointed David Flanagan, former CEO of Central Maine Power, to be USM’s interim president. Flanagan will attempt to oversee the closing of a $12 million structural deficit at USM for the coming fiscal year, and begin to move the campus toward the Metropolitan University model.

What does the Metropolitan University model signify, exactly? By many accounts, it involves increased “community involvement” for the school, its extensions, and curriculum, though it’s not entirely clear that means substantially more than a heightened awareness on post-graduate job placement.

In public remarks upon his appointment, Flanagan declared that “the USM business model is obsolete,” stating that the new one should be “leaner, smaller both in employment and footprint, more agile, less bureaucratic, competitively priced, and offering greater flexibility for students.”

With a $12 million deficit and a public statement embracing “leaner, smaller campuses” that are “less bureaucratic,” several within the USM community have criticized the system for creating nearly half a million dollars in new administrative positions (including the $125,000 Executive Director of Public Affairs position created for former LePage staffer Dan Demeritt in June), adding to mounting administrative costs within a university system that appears focused on implementing its most severe cost-cutting measures toward core programs at its Portland campus. 

Flanagan’s appointment coincides with the release of the Board of Trustees’ operating budget for the 2014-15 school year, which reflects systemwide cuts totaling 11.45 million—over 60 percent of which is expected to come from USM, according to public UMS system data.
With such a disproportionate number slated to be cut from USM, faculty and students are stepping up criticism, as well as demands for increased transparency for the administration’s criteria.

WHICH METRIC?

Whatever criteria the University of Maine system is using to decide where to cut, it doesn’t seem related to the production of degrees. According to system data, the University of Southern Maine awarded 2019 degrees in 2013 (or 35.7 percent of total degrees awarded in the system). University of Maine in Orono’s output was only slightly more at 2102 (37.1 percent). Yet Orono receives almost twice as much in state appropriations as USM ($82.1 million compared to $41.5 million).

Demeritt notes that the discrepancy in state appropriations funding dates back to when the formula was devised over 40 years ago. Today, he says, “the trustees want to put more funding into outcomes-based allocations,” a model which would tie funding to the number of points a campus would earn, for merits such as graduates conferred and degrees awarded within STEM programs. 

But among the voices opposing the cuts is Susan Feiner, a professor of Economics and Women and Gender Studies at USM. Feiner believes the increased budgetary restrictions on USM is related to a larger, national effort that prioritizes business and managerial interests over education itself.

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