PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine President Theo Kalikow is proposing to cut four programs and between 20 and 30 faculty jobs as the school attempts to overcome a $14 million budget shortfall.
Kalikow announced the spending gap, which represents nearly 10 percent of the school’s fiscal year 2015 budget, nearly two months ago and tasked a special advisory committee with developing a slate of recommendations for the future of the university — in part to deal with the financial troubles.
That 32-member advisory panel — which included faculty members, university staff and representatives of the outside community — delivered its report to the president last week.
USM’s $14 million budget shortfall is the largest part of a $36 million gap systemwide. Though USM will have to make up for the largest portion of that gap, all seven of the system’s campuses are looking for ways to reduce spending next year.
University officials attribute the shortfall to declining student enrollment plus stagnant revenue, as both tuition and appropriations from the state have been held flat in recent years, while the costs of running the institutions have increased.
Kalikow said during a special meeting of the USM Faculty Senate on Friday that she is proposing to eliminate four programs: American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and humanities at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College facility, and recreation and leisure studies.
Through those program cuts and other layoffs to be announced in the coming weeks, Kalikow said she is recommending between 20 and 30 faculty reductions. She said she also is proposing between 10 and 20 additional staff position cuts. The president said the exact number of cuts won’t be determined until administrators receive final numbers on how many faculty and staff announce retirements in the upcoming weeks.
There are approximately 120 students designated as majors in the programs slated for elimination, including 50 in the recreation and leisure studies program.
The financial crisis comes less than a year after university leaders were left scrambling to cut between $4 million and $5 million in spending to close a previous budget gap, and the proposed job cuts come in addition to 14 staff reductions made earlier this year.
“I’m personally tired of having to give our valued colleagues bad news,” Kalikow said. “We can no longer afford to carry all the programs we have. … This is painful and disruptive and horrible to those directly affected. To all of you, I give my heartfelt condolences.”
Kalikow’s recommendations, unsurprisingly, didn’t sit well with some in attendance at Friday’s meeting, or those watching a live video feed from an overflow room in Portland and at Lewiston-Auburn College.
“I engage [students] and I continue to engage, and I’m not leaving this place without a fight,” Stephen Pollock, chairman of the geosciences department, told Kalikow. “I believe this is very shortsighted of you.”
Mark Lapping, a professor at the university’s Muskie School of Public Service and a former provost, said the American and New England studies program has generated some of the school’s most high-profile scholarly research.
“How can one be a real college without strength in arts and humanities?” he added. “I have concerns that this is a consideration of bean counting alone, without a consideration of quality.”
Added associate professor of classics Jeannine Uzzi: “It all feels, financially, like kind of a drop in the bucket compared to the losses we’re going to see in terms of the research of our colleagues and offerings for our students.”
Kalikow said the proposed cuts would set the stage for a rebuilding effort for the university, which she hopes will include further integration of the Lewiston-Auburn facility into the more tightly connected Portland and Gorham campuses. That integration will increase efficiencies and make courses currently isolated at the different sites more accessible across all locations, she argued.
“These are proposals today, the details of which need to be fleshed out,” Kalikow said. “There may be better ideas out there.”
She also hinted at an aggressive rebranding of the school as a “metropolitan university,” with “flexible, adaptive and accessible” courses of study for busy, nontraditional urban students. Kalikow additionally made mention of a looming nationwide search for her successor — she took the president position in 2012 under what was intended to be a temporary assignment, and her contract expires in 2015.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” she said. “It’s bittersweet because simultaneously we are charting a course for a brighter future, and we’re talking about cuts, we’re talking about program eliminations and some difficult decisions.”
Kalikow said she plans to unveil proposed investments to be made to help rebuild the university during an all-campus meeting in Portland on Wednesday morning. The Faculty Senate will meet again the afternoon of March 21 to discuss the proposed changes.
Kalikow urged the senate to endorse the recommendations — or come up with alternatives — by May 5. In attendance at Friday’s meeting was University of Maine System Chancellor James Page.
“This is a very difficult season to be doing this kind of activity and this kind of announcement, because we are right in the middle of trying to admit a new class,” Kalikow said. “There are many factors that are being considered by families and prospective students.”
The cuts announced at USM on Friday likely won’t be enough for the university to pass a balanced budget.
“I expect that some campuses may not be able to balance for [fiscal year 2015] this time,” University of Maine System Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Rebecca Wyke said Wednesday. “I think we are going to have a campus like USM still not be able to do that.”
If that happens, “we will use system funds that we’ve set aside for the rainy day,” Wyke said. Those rainy day funds amount to $15 million and may be enough to get the system through next year, but not beyond.
Kalikow said in the case of USM, the school’s enrollment has dropped from the equivalent of 7,348 full-time students in 2005-2006 to 6,460 full-time equivalents today.
BDN writer Nell Gluckman contributed to this report.