During the past 20 years budget cuts have been imposed on the colleges of the University of Maine nearly every year. On top of that, there have been multiple midyear rescissions in state funding causing reductions in the support of teaching programs and student services. During the past four to five years, well over 200 staffers have left the University of Maine and have not been replaced. These are not complaints, these are facts.
The recent announcement that nearly 20 percent of the full-time faculty at UM will be cut during the next three fiscal years, along with the slashing of several departments that are important to the state’s flagship university, is devastating. The cuts will further strain the ability of UM faculty to deliver the same level of quality education and personal attention that have made us a nationally respected land grant university.
As both faculty and staff struggle to support our teaching, research and service missions, and the other campuses of the University of Maine System struggle to perform their missions, the system office continues to grow and now numbers more than 150 persons who often do work that duplicates functions at the campus level.
We believe that the system should refocus its efforts on the educational missions of its campuses by truly restructuring the system in a meaningful way, making the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine hubs that provide services to all campuses and returning to a student-centered educational system. Rather, the University of Maine System apparently has chosen a different path with what appears to be a nonstudent centered focus. Some specific examples include:
• More than $20 million spent on an enterprise software program. Originally budgeted at $10 million, the cost has at least doubled and continues to grow as “support” staff are added to the UMS office and software is added to shore up the clunky system. Money has been siphoned from the campuses and from state funding to support the effort, which contributes little if anything to our educational mission.
• A newly proposed $2 million to $4 million software program called a “portal.” This ill-timed venture by UMS brings the promise of additional system staff, updated computers and probable increased student fees. It contributes nothing to the educational mission of the campuses. The system has hired a consultant at a cost that tops $50,000 for a short-term “study” to generate interest among students for the flashy software.
• The “Strategic Investment Fund.” Another ill-timed initiative by the UMS that will remove $5 million per year from campus education funds by 2014 and will be redistributed for short-term special projects. Despite pleadings from university administrators, faculty and students that the Fund be delayed or made smaller, and assurances from board of trustees Chairman Lyndel Wishcamper that the SIF was “off the table,” UMS has moved ahead with the program keeping the first $1 million or so at the system office rather than redistributing it to the campuses. The reductions of state-supplied educational funds to the campuses for short-term initiatives will have a detrimental effect on our educational missions.
The increasing centralization of services at UMS continues to drain resources that are given to support the education of students. We urge the system to provide leadership rather than management so that the campuses can perform their missions for the benefit of the state and its people.
Judy Kuhns-Hasting is an associate professor of nursing and president of the faculty senate at the University of Maine. She wrote this commentary on behalf of the faculty senate executive committee.