June 20, 2018
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Faculty begin voting in ‘no confidence’ referendum of USM President

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
In a Dec. 6, 2011, file photo, University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman announces to reporters in Payson Smith Hall a $1 million increase in institutional financial aid for students.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine faculty members have Tuesday and Wednesday this week to weigh in on a referendum vote of “no confidence” in USM President Selma Botman.

Polls are reportedly open at the USM campuses for two days of voting after a petition circulated among full-tenured faculty last month gathered enough signatures to force the facultywide referendum on the subject.

If the measure passes, it would send a strong message to new University of Maine System Chancellor James Page and the board of trustees, who have the ultimate say on whether to retain or fire Botman. The referendum is nonbinding.

The petition was signed by 53 full-tenured faculty members, easily surpassing the 34 — equal to 10 percent of the overall faculty — needed to obligate the USM Faculty Senate to hold the larger vote.

Petition circulators included Faculty Senate executive committee member and physics professor Jerry LaSala, as well as former USM provost and current Muskie School of Public Service Executive Director Mark Lapping. The disgruntled faculty members accused Botman and her administration of creating a negative atmosphere at the school and managing with “vindictiveness” toward faculty who question the president’s initiatives.

Lapping told the BDN that many faculty members feel Botman’s high-profile reorganization plan for the school, which called for departments with fewer than 12 full-time faculty to consolidate, has left instructors overworked and has not freed up money for additional classroom spending as promised. In an announcement of the petition delivery last month, LaSala referenced a survey of USM faculty union members, which found 77 percent of the respondents “disagreed with the way the university is managed.”

Dissatisfaction among many faculty members was brewing long before news broke that USM controversially agreed to $242,000 in discretionary raises last year while facing budget cuts, LaSala wrote.

Botman has maintained throughout the process that she remains committed to moving the university forward and hopes to reconcile with the angry faculty members.

The topic of the no-confidence vote has been divisive on USM’s three campuses, with professors and students advocating strongly on both sides of the issue. Some faculty members, such as French professor Nancy Erickson, came to Botman’s defense, saying her initiatives were necessary in the face of longstanding problems at the school and her opponents are entrenched and resistant to change.

Chris Camire, then-president of the USM student body, delivered an emotional speech to the Faculty Senate in early April, saying he was “ashamed” by the petition effort and told circulators they’re “tearing this university apart.”

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