As evidenced by recent articles, the University of Maine System has serious financial shortfalls. The system projects a $42.8 million annual shortfall by fiscal year 2013.
To help balance the flagship campus’ budget, the University of Maine plan is to cut our campus’ costs by about $40 million dollars in the next four years, by fiscal year 2014. A portion of this approximately $40 million dollars is to come from academic affairs in the form of cuts to faculty, staff and programs. According to University of Maine President Robert Kennedy’s charge to the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group, “On April 2, 2010, the Provost will present to me a plan to reduce Academic Affairs’ base budget by $24.5-$28 million over the next four years.” This means academic affairs will take between 61 percent to 70 percent of the campus-wide reductions.
A cut of $24.5 million to $28 million would be devastating to University of Maine academics. One indicator of the cut’s impact on academic programs is the likely reduction of faculty, who numbered 564 in 2008-09. Given the size of the reductions, 200 to 230 faculty positions will potentially be cut.
These cutbacks will lead to loss of programs and majors, larger class sizes for students and fewer opportunities for students to work with faculty. Students and families of Maine will inevitably have less access to programs that prepare them for professional careers and encourage the critical thinking and analytical skills necessary for the 21st century work force and for a democratic society.
The University of Maine’s ability to attract top scholars and scientists will decline, impacting the innovative research and teaching that has been a hallmark of the university, as well as its ability to offer cutting-edge programs that address the needs of a changing society. Central aspects of the flagship’s land- and sea-grant mission are at risk as resources funding services and outreach to Maine’s farms, fisheries and families are cut.
We believe it is not an overstatement to say that cuts of this magnitude would have damaging effects lasting for decades. These impacts are most hard hitting for the many families and communities of Maine that rely on the flagship university to provide an affordable and world-class education.
The University of Maine has faced budget reductions in the past, but these cuts are truly unprecedented. The Faculty Senate executive committee recognizes that the state is facing an economic crisis of extended duration. Yet we have questions about priorities and assumptions intrinsic to the proposed cuts in academics.
For instance, why is the academic mission being assigned disproportionately greater cuts (or at best, pro-rated equal cuts) compared to other areas? Given the university’s central mission to teach and train students, the level of academic affairs cuts does not represent this strategic imperative, and we think it fair to ask, what are this campus’ high priorities?
Another University of Maine System proposal of concern is the Strategic Investment Fund. This fund essentially diverts campus monies (3 percent, or $5.3 million) from the UMS campuses to the chancellor’s office to support one-time projects chosen through a process and criteria yet to be announced. For the University of Maine campus, this means that we would lose approximately $2.49 million dollars (about 47 percent of $5.3 million). We feel that removing this crucial base-level funding will result in a dilution of University of Maine’s educational mission and believe that this additional reduction in funds further debilitates the campus at the worst possible time.
In light of the just-announced state budget deficit of $400 million and the mid-term budget recision in the higher education budget appropriation, the Strategic Investment Fund seems to be a particularly bad idea. The mid-term budget recision will begin to affect us all in the coming semester. The larger long-term cuts will affect each of us as well as the quality and diversity of educational possibilities for our students beginning next fall.
We hope that by opening a conversation involving all our stakeholders — students, staff, faculty and administration, as well as communities, families, alumni and business leaders — we may all find ways to work together to sustain our flagship university.
Judy Kuhns-Hastings is an associate professor of nursing and president of Faculty Senate at the University of Maine. Stephanie Welcomer is an associate professor of management and secretary of the Faculty Senate. This column was written on behalf of the University of Maine Faculty Senate Executive Committee.