UMaine faculty avoid layoffs, saddened by budget cuts

Posted March 31, 2014, at 6:38 p.m.
Last modified March 31, 2014, at 7:31 p.m.
Students walk near the football field at the University of Maine in Orono on Monday.
Students walk near the football field at the University of Maine in Orono on Monday. Buy Photo
A shot of the University of Maine logo in Orono on Monday.
A shot of the University of Maine logo in Orono on Monday. Buy Photo
Students walk the University of Maine campus in Orono on Monday.
Students walk the University of Maine campus in Orono on Monday. Buy Photo
Students walk across campus at the University of Maine in Orono on Monday.
Students walk across campus at the University of Maine in Orono on Monday. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — When Richard Blanke joined the history department at the University of Maine in 1969, he was one of eight European history professors, he said. After he retires at the end of this semester, he will be leaving the history program with less than half that number.

“This is very sad,” Blanke said. “I understand the economic necessities, but you see all the money wasted around here, the fact that they can’t find money to fund essential courses, that just makes you wonder about the quality of leadership here.”

Blanke said he has been told that his position is not being filled because of a financial shortfall at the University of Maine System. Chancellor James Page told legislators earlier this month that the system must fill a $36 million budget gap in fiscal year 2015.

Janet Waldron, UMaine vice president of administration and finance, announced where UMaine will find its $9.7 million portion of the budget shortfall on Friday. Thirty faculty and 31 staff positions will be eliminated next year, and the university will be forced to dip into its savings. All the faculty positions and all but seven to nine of the staff positions are vacant or will become vacant because of retirements and attrition. None of the faculty will be laid off, and no programs will be eliminated.

University officials also announced Friday that they will add 22 faculty members and 18 support staff. The total net loss of full-time equivalent faculty positions as a result of the budget shortfall is 14.79, according to Waldron.

UMaine has 483 full-time and 310 part-time faculty members, according to a survey distributed by the College Board, Peterson’s and the U.S. News and World Report and completed by the university’s office of institutional research.

Some UMaine faculty members said Monday that they were relieved by the announcement, but the cuts will hurt nonetheless.

“Is this like [the University of] Southern Maine? No. Is it as rosy and successful as I think the upper administration wanted us to believe? No,” said Richard Brucher, chairman of the English department.

At the University of Southern Maine, 12 faculty members were laid off in March, and USM President Theodora Kalikow has recommended the elimination of three programs in an effort to cut $14 million from its budget.

“We have I think a more considered and systematic approach to dealing with the shortfalls than I’ve seen in some other campuses,” said Harlan Onsrud, professor of spatial information science and information and faculty senate president. “The faculty and administration have come to shared governance processes which both know and hold the other parties to.”

“Because of our planning and because of the work that a number of people have done, we were very fortunate in not having to make very severe cuts at this point,” said Robert Rice, professor of wood science and faculty senate representative on the board of trustees.

While the decreasing number of students graduating from Maine high schools has been cited as part of the reason for the $36 million budget shortfall that the University of Maine System is facing, UMaine President Paul Ferguson pointed to an increase in student population — particularly among out-of-state students — at UMaine to explain why the state’s flagship campus is facing less severe cuts than its counterparts throughout the state.

“We’re not in a retrenchment mode,” he said. “We’re not filling positions strategically to keep our excellence.”

Michael Socolow, associate professor of communication and journalism, said the cuts at USM had faculty members in Orono worried.

“I think many of the indicators presented last Friday — increasing enrollment, retention and out-of-state students — show Orono to be in a different situation than the other campuses, and that’s a relief to many faculty,” he said in an email.

Some faculty members directed their frustration over the financial situation at UMaine at the system office.

“I think it’s hard to respond when the system keeps sending out negative messages,” said James McClymer, associate professor of physics and Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine campus president.

“What parent is going to send their child here if they hear that we’re collapsing in on ourselves?” he said. The negative message that the university system is generating is that enrollment is declining and that cutting programs is necessary, McClymer added.

Page will discuss the budget at a forum 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday in UMaine’s Minsky Recital Hall. He also has been invited to the UMaine faculty senate meeting at 3:15 Wednesday.

 

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