PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine faculty members are circulating a petition to force a facultywide referendum vote of no confidence in school President Selma Botman.
Professor William Steele of the university’s theatre department said he and other faculty members have gathered more than the 34 signatures — about 10 percent of the full-time USM faculty — necessary to trigger a vote among the entire faculty.
“There will be a no-confidence referendum,” Steele said on Monday.
“Of course I’m disappointed,” Botman told the Bangor Daily News on Monday evening. “Who wouldn’t be disappointed? But I understand there are faculty members who are upset. They work very hard and they’ve gone without raises for a long time. I was a tenured faculty member once, so I do understand the frustration.”
Steele said many USM faculty members feel Botman’s high-profile reorganization plan for the university — which forced the consolidation of departments with fewer than 12 full-time faculty — was misguided. He said Botman’s administration has not done enough to stem decreasing enrollment figures and has cut $3.5 million in classroom spending since her arrival in 2008.
“We feel strongly that we need fresh leadership with a student- and faculty-centered point of view,” Steele said.
A spring 2012 poll of faculty members done by the USM branch of the union Associated Faculties of the University of Maine System, provided to the Bangor Daily News by a faculty member, found that more than 75 percent of the respondents either “somewhat” or “strongly” disagreed that top level administrators are “providing competent leadership at USM.” Nearly 78 percent said they are “somewhat” or “strongly” dissatisfied with the way the university is managed.
The petition follows the revelation that USM doled out $242,000 in discretionary raises last year while the university is facing more than $5 million in budget cuts and union faculty members systemwide have gone since 2009 without a cost-of-living pay increase.
After the story was published, new University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said he was suspending discretionary pay hikes systemwide pending a review of the increases, while Botman rescinded two of the largest pay raises awarded.
While the no-confidence petition could harm Botman’s reputation, Faculty Senate member and associate history professor Eileen Eagan said, it would not by itself trigger her removal from office.
“Even a vote of the Faculty Senate of no-confidence would, by itself, not do anything,” Eagan said. “It would be up to the chancellor or the board of trustees to then take some kind of action. If the chancellor felt this was either an inappropriate thing or a bad thing, he could decide to do nothing.
“Frankly, since I think Selma has a lot of support in the community and a lot of support among the newer members of the faculty, I’m not sure [the petition] would have the results desired by those circulating it,” she continued.
If 10 percent of the USM faculty sign the petition, it must be delivered to the Faculty Senate, which then would be obligated to administer a facultywide referendum vote on the matter.
The Faculty Senate is next scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Friday at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn campus.
Eagan said the petition effort is not coming from the Faculty Senate nor the union.
The associate professor said that while she understands there is discontent among many of her fellow faculty members, she doesn’t believe Botman has done anything to warrant a move as severe as a no-confidence vote by the faculty.
“There are a lot of people who didn’t like the salary [increases],” Eagan said. “But there are a lot of people who are mad about that who don’t think it’s a cause for a no-confidence vote. [Botman has] certainly improved relations between the university and the community, and has taken steps to diversify the curriculum and the campus.”
Botman said Monday her term as president has been plagued by budget constraints during the recession which have forced her administration to make difficult decisions. She said she hopes to mend fences with faculty leaders calling for her ouster.
Botman also reiterated her top priority is “student success.”
“All of the time while we suffered from financial challenges, I’ve protected tenured faculty,” Botman said. “How many times have I said, speaking before groups in the community and around the state, that faculty is at the heart of any great institution? My focus now is to make it known that I will work with this faculty to move this institution forward.”
Faculty Senate executive committee members Jerry LaSala and Jeannine Uzzi did not immediately return calls.