UMaine may keep language programs

Posted April 14, 2010, at 9:59 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:02 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine bachelor’s degree programs in French, Spanish and music may not be eliminated after all, according to the final report of a working group which tried to trim nearly $12.3 million from the budgets of the school’s five colleges.

The Academic Program Prioritization Working Group’s final recommendations also call for the suspension, rather than elimination, of some programs, and includes for the first time suggestions to create revenue and reduce expenses.

Public reaction — including comments from students, faculty and community members at a March 29 public forum, along with protests, e-mails and petitions sent to the working group — made a difference, said Provost Susan Hunter, who chaired the working group.

“The interim report, which was followed up by all of that public comment and all of the extensive feedback, I really think, challenged all of us who were part of this group to look at some of these programs in a different way,” Hunter said.

Raymond Pelletier, chairman of the department of modern languages and classics, said he felt joy when he learned that the French and Spanish degree programs were not being eliminated. The public reaction to the earlier proposal, including the gathering of more than 1,000 signatures on a petition against the elimination of languages, may have been a factor, he added.

“Our students were just fantastic,” Pelletier said. “At the [public] forum, their questions were filled with passion but also filled with a great deal of logic. The rally [on April 7] was very successful and I’m sure that helped.”

Beth Wiemann, chairwoman of the music division in the School of Performing Arts, said faculty and students in her division were feeling relieved to hear that the undergraduate music and music performance majors and the music master’s degree program were not included in the report.

A third undergraduate music major, music education, was not being considered for elimination.

“We put forth what we thought was a constructive plan to reorganize some stuff so that we could still offer the best degrees that we can,” Wiemann said.

The working group, which was composed of administrators, faculty members and the five college deans, was charged with making a 20 percent budget cut from each of UM’s five undergraduate colleges by fiscal year 2014. The university’s budget gap is projected to reach $25.2 million that year.

The final report also recommends phasing in reductions through a process, which would allow departments to come up with solutions on their own.

“We ask that, in consultation with stakeholders, the senior administration prioritize the actions, indicating which ones might be considered for immediate implementation for the 2012 budget,” the report says. “Cuts prioritized for 2013 and beyond should be reviewed annually in light of the evolving budget situation.”

The proposed changes still amount to the loss of 80 faculty positions by 2014.

The working group’s final report will now go to UM President Robert Kennedy, who is due to make his own recommendations by the end of the month. After Kennedy releases his report, the UM faculty senate and other groups will have a chance to make comments before any programs are officially downsized, merged or suspended.

The use of the word “suspend,” as it appears in the final report, is a change from the working group’s interim report, which was released March 24. In the earlier report, the language majors, including German and Latin, along with the music majors and other majors in theater and women’s studies, were to be eliminated.

However, Jeff Hecker, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wanted to change the language of the report to recognize the fact that a program, if suspended, could be revived. Reintroduction of an eliminated program requires many more steps in the faculty senate, he said.

Suspension, he added, gives a program more time to reorganize.

“My intent is to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish with the cuts, which is that these are areas we need to make changes in,” Hecker said. “There may be alternative models for instruction in those areas.”

Faculty senate president Judy Kuhns-Hastings, a working group member and nursing professor, said she appreciated the difference.

“I am very pleased the language was softened,” she said. “We have been saying that when you eliminate programs it’s really hard to start them up again.”

German, Latin, women’s studies and theater are among the majors still up for suspension, although instruction would still be offered to students, Hunter said. The final report maintains the proposed elimination of the department of public administration.

The final report also lays out recommendations for reducing expenses and increasing revenues in academic affairs.

Some of the suggestions include the introduction of an academic fee that would be added to the cost of athletic events and concerts.

“It’s an idea that has come up before,” she said. “People have wondered why we couldn’t put a bit of a surcharge on tickets. It’s something that needs to be discussed and analyzed. The fact that is on this list means it will receive some attention.”

Another item that will receive attention is the restructuring of UM’s general education requirements. That system has grown over time to be unwieldy and expensive, Hunter said.

Among the changes that could come in the music division are downsizing of the music graduate program, and the consolidation or alternative funding of some of the music ensembles — there are 15 listed on the school’s Web site — associated with the School of Performing Arts. Still, Wiemann said, her music students were pleased by the working group’s report.

“They’re very happy,” she said. “What they want is to have choice. So we’re happy.”

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