Student body president scolds faculty for effort to oust USM president

Posted April 06, 2012, at 3:38 p.m.
Selma Botman
Selma Botman

LEWISTON, Maine — Chris Camire, president of the University of Southern Maine student body, chastised faculty members for their circulation of a petition seeking a “no-confidence” vote regarding USM President Selma Botman.

“The students don’t have a lot of respect for the faculty and it’s because you’re going down a road of ‘no confidence,’” Camire told members of the Faculty Senate during the panel’s meeting at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn campus on Friday. “I’m very ashamed to be a member of this university, to be a student of a university that would rather behead its own university rather than move forward positively.”

The Faculty Senate is obligated to schedule a faculty-wide referendum after receiving a petition, signed by 53 full-tenured faculty, calling for the no-confidence vote. The signatures represented more than half of the top-level USM faculty and more than the 10 percent of the roughly 340 overall faculty necessary to force the wider vote.

Camire, whose voice cracked with emotion during his address of the Faculty Senate, said his interactions with Botman have shown him that she’s focused on the students and their success. He scolded the petition circulators for organizing a “coup d’etat” to overthrow the president.

“I think you all should consider how much you’re tearing this university apart,” he said. “For those of you that signed the petition … please, for the sake of our university, do something positive, not destructive.”

Petition circulators are seeking Botman’s removal from office, arguing that during her four years at the university’s helm morale at USM has plummeted due to her administrative style and spending decisions. Physics professor Jerry LaSala, who also is a Faculty Senate executive committee member and petitioner, told members of the media in an email Wednesday that he hoped the Senate would set the parameters of the referendum at Friday afternoon’s meeting at the USM Lewiston-Auburn campus.

But Jeannine Uzzi, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate, said members of the group’s executive committee have not yet had enough time to consider all the possible ways to conduct the vote. She added that she plans to schedule open meetings at USM’s three campuses next week for faculty to gather and discuss the issue.

“The executive committee is working very hard to determine the best procedure for that,” Uzzi told her colleagues Friday. “We thought about electronic voting, we thought about setting up voting booths. We don’t have a recommendation ready for today.”

Uzzi said the open meetings would be held Tuesday afternoon in Lewiston-Auburn, Wednesday afternoon in Portland and midday Friday in Gorham. She also said the Faculty Senate will hold an additional meeting on April 20 in Portland.

“I know that this is a divisive issue for everyone,” Uzzi said. “Faculty and students on both sides of this issue are doing what they think is in the best interests of the university.”

During Friday’s meeting, Botman told members of the Faculty Senate she’s taking the petition effort and associated criticisms “to heart.” She reiterated her interest in “working with all of you” to address the concerns behind the petition. Botman reportedly held meetings with faculty during the week in an effort to find ways to reconcile.

“It is a learning experience for me and for many others as well,” Botman said during the meeting. “It’s made possible a series of discussions with faculty and staff around the campuses. I personally am determined to work with faculty and staff. We share common goals.”

While a vote of “no confidence” by a majority of all USM faculty members is nonbinding and would not by itself cause the dismissal of the school president, signees hope new system Chancellor James Page and the University of Maine System board of trustees would take the next step and fire Botman.

“It’s very rare that you get 50-plus of your most senior faculty in the university basically saying we do not have confidence in the leadership and direction of this university any longer,” Mark Lapping, a former USM provost and current executive director of USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “That’s a hell of a statement.”

During the past week, faculty members supporting the petition have gone public decrying Botman’s high-profile reorganization plan for the university, saying the consolidation of departments has not freed up more money for classroom spending as promised. They also have said the administration has not done enough to curb a steady decline in enrollment.

Ratcheting tension further is the fact that union faculty members systemwide remain in heated contract talks with administrators nearly nine months after their previous pact expired, and three years since they last saw cost-of-living raises. At USM, frustration over the unsettled contract was exacerbated by news that Botman’s administration agreed to $242,000 in discretionary pay raises for 44 USM university employees last year.

In the wake of the ensuing controversy, UMaine Chancellor James Page suspended all discretionary salary increases for University of Maine System employees, including the 44 University of Southern Maine employees who received $242,000 in raises during a difficult fiscal year.

The system now plans to do a full review of salary increases at each of its campuses.

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