PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine faculty members are preparing to take a more active role in addressing a $14 million budget shortfall that the university must resolve before the end of May after USM President Theodora Kalikow announced Friday that faculty layoffs would be reversed.
Kalikow is giving the faculty until May 31 to come up with alternative ways to save money that will allow the university to avoid laying off professors, she said.
The 12 faculty layoffs would have saved the university roughly $1.1 million, according to USM’s director of communications, Bob Caswell.
“Now we’re on the right track,” Jeannine Uzzi, an associate professor of classics and member of the Faculty Senate at USM, said on Monday. “Faculty can get together at a table before someone in an office makes a decision that’s going to really impact students directly.”
The layoffs sparked student protests and a walk-out, the formation of a student movement called #USMFuture and the proposal of an emergency bill in the Maine House of Representatives that would have imposed a moratorium on budget cuts across the University of Maine System.
The students and faculty who are part of the #USMFuture movement were pleased with Kalikow’s announcement.
“We can pretty much claim a victory for students, for faculty, for Portland, for the university and for Maine,” Marpheen Chan, one of the student activists and vice president of USM’s student government, said on Friday evening.
“I’m glad that common sense finally prevailed and that administrations at the University of Maine System and the University of Southern Maine realized that you can’t build a great university by cutting all its faculty,” said Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women and gender studies at USM.
The USM Faculty Senate has circulated a list of 27 proposals that attempt to address the budget woes in a way that would “impact students as minimally as possible.”
Kalikow said she reviewed the list just before Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting and will review it further before making decisions about how to proceed.
“We still have to make the $14 million,” she said Friday after the meeting. “[The faculty] now have the chance that they wanted to weigh in on that process.”
Included on the list is a moratorium on the use of outside consultants, consolidation of USM’s three campuses into one and the elimination of all administrative positions with the title “associate.”
“I feel like there’s a turn in the conversation and we’re talking about building revenue and not just cutting,” said Uzzi, who authored the list.
“Orono’s talking about recruiting students and we should be doing the same thing,” she said, referring to the University of Maine in Orono.
The state’s flagship campus has to eliminate $9.7 million from its budget, which it will be able to do without laying off any faculty, in part because of an aggressive effort to recruit out-of-state students.
UMaine associate professor emeriti Suzanne Estler, who has worked as a professor of higher education, said the cuts will be painful no matter where they fall.
“It takes lots of pieces to maintain the institutions,” she said. “The faculty core is most important to protect … you don’t generate higher out-of-state enrollments without some kind of investment in personnel.”
Uzzi said that faculty members would meet this Friday to attempt to assign dollar figures to the 27 recommendations.
The next steps are for Kalikow and Faculty Senate president Jerry LaSala to form a committee that will deal with all initiatives to close the budget shortfall going forward, according to Uzzi. She said the two leaders would chair the committee.
She said the Faculty Senate’s academic program review committee, of which she is chair, will work with department chairs to figure out how individual departments will address the shortfall.
In the meantime, faculty members whose jobs have been restored are relieved, but aware that the future is still uncertain.
Meghan Brodie, an assistant professor of theater at USM who had been told on March 21 that she would be laid off, said she hopes she has at least another year with her students.
“I am going to take full advantage,” she said. “And be grateful that I have that time with them.”