PORTLAND, Maine — The students behind the #USMfuture movement, who have organized rallies and engaged legislators in protest of budget cuts at the University of Southern Maine, have launched a new campaign called #NoMoreNice, according to a statement posted on Bangor Daily News blogger Chris Shorr’s site last week.
The student group will hold a rally at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday on the USM campus to launch the new campaign, according to their Facebook page.
“We’re trying to preserve a comprehensive liberal arts university in the most populous region in the state of Maine,” said group member Meaghan LaSala.
LaSala said USM President Theodora Kalikow’s June 13 announcement that three programs are still on the table for elimination and that many of the savings proposed by the faculty will not be realized in fiscal year 2015 helped trigger the launch of the new campaign. The three programs are American and New England Studies, Geosciences and Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn Campus.
“It just really hurt when that happened,” LaSala said.
As part of their new campaign, the group hopes to raise $10,000 to “lawyer up” to investigate the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the university and investigate conflicts of interest and waste within the system.
“We’re looking to see if there are violations of contracts” as a result of programs and courses being eliminated, said Philip Shelley, another member of the group.
If the three USM programs are eliminated, they will be phased out gradually so the students currently enrolled can graduate.
“This is legal knit picking,” Shelley said of the group’s efforts to involve a lawyer. “This is a gray area…There’s some precedent for it, but there’s not tons.”’
The #USMfuture group also announced plans to finance an independent audit of USM and University of Maine System finances.
“We want to find an accountant based in Maine that no one will be able to accuse of being biased,” Sala said.
Kalikow has disputed the idea that the administration is trying to gut the liberal arts at USM.
“There’s a core of liberal arts and humanities that have to be maintained because otherwise we’re not doing our job to pass on the whole panoply of civilization to the next generation,” she said in April.
“The idea that we would stop doing the liberal arts is something that is contrary to my entire career in higher education,” she said.
In their statement, the #USMfuture group also took issue with the recent hiring of Dan Demeritt, the former director of communications for Gov. Paul LePage, as the system’s director of public affairs.
“The combination of arrogance and tone-deafness behind this hiring boggles the mind,” the statement said.
Demeritt said Thursday that he welcomes discussions with the student group.
“There are people who have different perspectives on what it takes to close the budget gap but those are hard choices,” he said.
He added, “A lot of people care about the future of the university.”