ORONO, Maine — More than 200 concerned University of Maine students and faculty members questioned the school’s academic administrators during a public forum Monday about an academic prioritization report released last week that calls for $12.3 million in budget cuts. The proposed cuts would eliminate majors in women’s studies, foreign languages, public administration, performing arts and other areas of study.
The report generated by the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group proposed changes that would result in 80 fewer faculty positions by 2014 along with a reduction in undergraduate academic majors from 86 to 70 and a reduction in master’s degrees from 64 to 58.
The total planned reductions amount to 15.4 percent of this year’s total budgets for all five of UMaine’s colleges that will be affected by the changes. UMaine Provost Susan Hunter, who chaired the working group, said last week that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences took the biggest cuts at around $4 million.
Monday’s public session in Wells Conference Center was held in a format of free-form round-table discussions during which the deans of the five UMaine colleges answered questions, addressed concerns and took comments.
Some who attended Monday’s sessions said the deans and others seemed straightforward in their answers, but didn’t assuage their concerns.
Emily Lanzikos, who is studying music education — a major not slated for elimination — questioned cutting the music performance major.
“I got [my questions] somewhat answered, but I didn’t like the answers, of course,” said Lanzikos, a first-year student from Pittsfield.
“How are they going to save money by cutting classes which make money? It made no sense to me,” she added. “In a sad way, I understand getting rid of the B.A. in music, but performance is such a big part of music. You don’t just go to music to read out of a book. You go to perform. And I don’t understand why they’re get-ting rid of a huge major, because they think some faculty might retire.”
Some of the cost savings will be realized, according to the working group report, if positions aren’t filled as faculty retire.
The concern of the report’s authors is that if those positions aren’t filled due to budget constraints, a department could weaken to the point a major could no longer be offered.
That was the justification Jeff Hecker, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, gave for his recommendation to merge anthropology and sociology.
Hecker was peppered with dozens of questions about the future of other areas of study such as French, German, Spanish, Latin, theater and music, all of which could disappear as majors even though lower-level classes and some upper-level classes would still be offered.
“By merging with anthropology, we’d have one person who’s being pulled away from teaching to take on administrative responsibilities as opposed to two people,” Hecker said. “I would prefer to be investing in sociology, but looking forward it’s hard for me to see where the money would come from to invest in sociology, so I’m trying my best to see what resources would be left and how best to use those resources.”
If approved, the working group’s recommendations would be phased in between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2014. Students now enrolled would be able to complete their programs.
The next phase in the academic prioritization plan will come April 8, when Hunter is expected to submit her recommendations to the president.
The president’s final report will be out at the end of April, Hunter added.
Several students and members of the public protested the proposed cuts in the conference center lobby with chants and signs.
Kennedy, Hunter and others answered questions as they wandered the conference center listening to the discussions.
The line to speak with Kennedy was 15-people deep at one point.
Students Scott LaFlamme, Evan Boutilier and Ben Breadmore questioned the president about a proposal to eliminate the department of public administration, which is the only academic department slated for complete elimination.
All three said they had wanted to stay in Maine to pursue master’s degrees in public administration.
“If there’s no program to come back to, we’re going out of state,” said Boutilier, a senior from Oakfield. “If we go out of state, we might not come back.”
Second-year political science major Nate Wildes of Cumberland said he’s concerned the working group report was too focused on cuts and not enough on growth.
“When a business enters a crisis, they fix the crisis by cutting employees and cutting costs,” Wildes said, “and reassuring stockholders with an action plan for the future that lays out how they’re going to recoup those losses. We’ve seen no action plan.”
At least one working group member wasn’t pleased with the outcomes of the report.
Michael Grillo, an art and art history professor who is vice president of the faculty senate, said cuts to majors in, for example, foreign languages, have universitywide effects.
“What we have to be looking at is some kind of system of [doing] greater interdisciplinarity without losing the disciplines,” said Grillo, who first saw about 1½ weeks ago the report’s specific recommendations. “The deans are beginning to explore this. I think the [UMaine System] has not, and it needs to. Any department that thinks it can operate as a silo and maintain the status quo is deluding itself.”
Several departments slated for cuts have approached Hunter and others about presenting their own restructuring programs.
“I think people basically understand that there is a fiscal reality that is driving all of this,” Hunter said about two hours into the session. “What we’re hoping is that people will take this opportunity to think creatively about economies that we can be achieving.”
For more information about the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group report, go to www.umaine.edu/achievingsustainability/