USM takes back raises of two employees who received pay increases this year

Posted March 28, 2012, at 5:40 p.m.
Last modified March 29, 2012, at 9:10 a.m.
Selma Botman
Selma Botman

PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Southern Maine has rescinded pay increases for two employees in the wake of a controversial series of raises this budget year.

Shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday, USM President Selma Botman sent an email to university faculty and staff to inform them that raises for Bob Caswell, executive director of public affairs, and Timothy Stevens, Botman’s chief of staff and special assistant for planning and project development, had been taken back.

The email was forwarded to the Bangor Daily News by a USM faculty member.

“Over the last week, I have listened carefully to many people,” Botman wrote, “and I completely understand that reasonable people believe that any salary adjustment should be scrutinized thoroughly to ensure that the university invests its precious resources prudently.”

USM spokeswoman Judie Alessi O’Malley said Wednesday evening that Stevens and Caswell met with Botman and offered to give up their salary adjustments after individuals inside and outside the university system voiced concerns about the pay increases.

The University of Maine System suspended all discretionary pay raises last week in the wake of news that 44 USM employees received $242,000 in raises during a difficult fiscal year.

The employees saw their salaries boosted between 5 percent and 41 percent under the Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program, which allows employees to have their positions reviewed to determine if their work warrants higher pay.

Caswell and Stevens received the second and third largest raises by dollar amount in that round of salary adjustments.

Caswell received a $18,212 raise in August 2011 after his position was reviewed. He attributed the 21 percent salary increase to the fact that he took on a number of duties outside of his original job description at the request of Botman. His salary will drop from $106,000 back to its previous level of $87,788.

“He was completely aware of this. It didn’t take him by surprise,” O’Malley said, adding that Caswell and Stevens offered to have their salaries dialed back because it was “what was right for the university.”

Caswell could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon because he was out of town on business and didn’t have cellphone reception, according to O’Malley.

Stevens received a $16,500 raise last August, from $89,500 to $106,000 — an 18 percent increase. His salary will return to its previous level. He also could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

The Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program was established in 2005 to compensate system employees for increases in workload and not to bring salary levels to the same level as other universities in the nation or University of Maine System, according to Tracey Bigney, the system’s chief human resources officer.

Since 2007, USM has lost an equivalent of 118 full-time positions which have either remained unfilled or been eliminated. Many of the tasks associated with those positions have had to be passed on to others.

Caswell’s increased duties included leading high-level campus task forces, taking on responsibility for coordinating internal communications, coordinating community events on campus and providing strategic counsel to the president, he said last week.

The removal of the pay increases will be effective on Stevens’ and Caswell’s next checks, which salaried employees receive monthly, according to O’Malley.

These raise eliminations are the only two that have been announced by Botman so far.

“My understanding is that there will not be any others,” O’Malley said.

Botman said in the email that she believes the decision is in the best interests of USM and the system, adding that “stewardship of public resources at this institution is one of my most important responsibilities.”

“This has been a powerful reminder of how deeply people feel about the University of Southern Maine and its importance to the future of individual students, their families, and this state,” Botman wrote.

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