June 18, 2018
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UMaine president approves cuts, revenue plan to close $25 million gap

By Jessica Bloch, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine President Robert Kennedy affirmed Tuesday morning a recommendation to suspend, eliminate, merge and downsize several academic departments and majors while announcing a plan to generate revenue for the school, which is facing a projected $25.2 million budget gap by 2014.

Kennedy spoke during a campuswide meeting in front of about 250 people at the Collins Center for the Arts. Although he had made comments in the past weeks about the academic cuts proposed in late March and early April by an academic prioritization working group, Tuesday’s speech laid out Kennedy’s response to the cuts and his plans for future academic programming.

The Academic Program Prioritization Working Group, a collection of faculty and administrators who have been meeting since last fall with the goal of finding areas in which academic budget cuts could be made, presented its final report on April 14. Kennedy affirmed most of what was in that report.

As expected, Kennedy said Latin and German majors, along with majors in theater and women’s studies, will be suspended for the foreseeable future, although instruction still will be available in those areas.

The department of public administration will be eliminated, as will bachelor’s degree programs in aquaculture, wood science, forest operations and forest ecosystems science, although some of those classes will be repackaged in other programs to be more cost-effective.

The cuts would reduce the number of UMaine colleges from five to four, not including the Honors College. Part of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health would be under the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture or a new program Kennedy proposed Tuesday, one with ties to the health sciences. The Maine Business School would be a stand-alone unit administered by a dean.

“We have an untenable budget situation, and it is not going to improve without deliberate and strategic action,” Kennedy said. “Belt-tightening won’t suffice anymore. A new paradigm is required.”

UMaine’s five colleges were asked to cut nearly $12.3 million from their budgets in an attempt to bridge the $25.2 million gap. Other areas of the university are in the process of finding areas from which to cut.

Kennedy’s plan will be reviewed this fall by the UMaine Faculty Senate and then forwarded to the UMaine System board of trustees, which could approve the plan at the trustees January 2011 meeting.

The changes would be phased in between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2014. Students now enrolled would be able to complete their programs.

The revenue-generating initiative, which Kennedy has named “UMaine 150” to recognize the university’s 150th anniversary in 2015, includes as its centerpiece the creation of a Division of Health and Biological Sciences.

For some in the audience, however, the cuts and revenue-generating moves will take the state’s flagship public university too far from traditional liberal arts and lean too heavily on science initiatives.

“I have real concerns that we are going to lose that broad liberal arts support,” said Faculty Senate President Judy Kuhns-Hastings, who is a nursing professor. “Those parts of education are so important. It broadens and gives depth to that graduate. [Kennedy’s plan] looks very, very science-oriented. I hope the liberal arts piece doesn’t get lost.”

Kennedy’s vision for the new division would bring together UMaine programs with connections to health sciences, including nursing, food science and human nutrition, social work, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and biomedically related units such as the Department of Molecular and Biochemical Science.

It also will include connections to the School of Biology and Ecology, biological engineering, chemistry and other areas.

Kennedy equated the proposed division to the School of Marine Sciences, which he said is one of UMaine’s top programs in terms of student interest and research funding.

“A deliberate merger of basic biomedical and health sciences in this fashion will provide entree for students to employment in the fastest-growing fields, along with other opportunities,” Kennedy said. “If it develops as a signature program, as I suspect it will, it could be a powerful draw for out-of-state students, while also help-ing our state retain more good students who currently leave for similar opportunities.”

The president assigned Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Susan Hunter and College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture Dean Edward Ashworth to develop a plan for this division, with their report due by the end of the calendar year.

Other initiatives include increased collaboration between some departments; the integration of UMaine’s innovation engineering program into other programs and colleges; and a cost-savings review of UMaine’s general education requirements.

“I’m asking our faculty to quickly create the framework for such a plan so that we can market it to prospective students and to begin to realize the savings — both to the institution and to our students,” Kennedy said of the latter move. “We’ve talked about this for years, and our students are begging us to make these changes.”

Kuhns-Hastings agreed that UMaine’s general education requirements need an overhaul, but said she’s worried about becoming “too efficient” with large class sizes.

“I hope we don’t end up with students going in and taking huge courses,” she said. “How much do they get out of it? I know our gen-eds are expensive and they need to be looked at, but I’m concerned that we protect that student-learning environment.”

Kennedy also charged UMaine Vice President for Administration and Finance Janet Waldron with looking into other revenue ideas, such as a flat tuition rate.

In his announcement, Kennedy confirmed UMaine would not suspend French and Spanish majors, as had been proposed in the working group’s interim report released March 24. Those majors, along with other areas, will be funded courtesy of a $3 million appropriation from the state at the end of the legislative session.

Those funds will also be used to create a unified School of Economics and to reduce the College of Engineering budget cut.

Some of the funds will be put toward financial aid, especially for students in the proposed Division of Health and Biological Sciences, and an investment in online education classes and programs.

Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the online revenue potential is “significant” and attracts a lot of graduate students.

Other funds from the $3 million will go to hiring full-time lecturers in liberal-arts disciplines of high student interest — those areas include journalism, new media and innovation engineering — who also will teach in the Honors College.

The lecturers will focus on teaching and be relatively free from research constraints, Kennedy said, which means the positions would not be on tenure tracks.

“We’re calling them teacher-scholars, individuals who are very committed to teaching, committed to interdisciplinary work, undergraduate work,” said Charlie Slavin, dean of the Honors College, which has more than 700 students. “We really hope to attract people who want to engage in educational pursuits with undergraduates in an intense manner.”

To read the text of Kennedy’s speech, go to www.umaine.edu/umaine150/

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