University system panel approves cuts of 3 USM programs; final vote goes to board of trustees

David Flanagan, interim president at the University of Southern Maine
David Flanagan, interim president at the University of Southern Maine Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 29, 2014, at 10:46 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 29, 2014, at 7:24 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The process of cutting three programs at the University of Southern Maine, which has been fraught with controversy, will go forward after a University of Maine System committee voted to approve it Friday.

All members of the UMS board of trustees committee on academic and student affairs but one voted on Friday to approve the cuts. A final vote will be conducted by the full board of trustees on Sept. 22.

USM administrators proposed eliminating the programs — New England and American studies, geosciences, and the arts and humanities program at the Lewiston-Auburn campus — as a cost-saving measure as the university attempts to cut $15 million during this school year.

Previously, USM administrators had estimated they would be cutting $12.5 million, but when President David Flanagan presented the proposal to cut these programs on Friday, he said the number was now $15 million.

“If the board decides to spare these programs, we will have to find others to offset them,” Flanagan said.

The cuts were originally proposed by former USM President Theo Kalikow, but are being carried forward by Flanagan.

“This is a highly contentious issue on this campus because there’s really merit on all sides because of the quality of the programs,” said USM Provost Joseph McDonnell.

Trustee Bonnie Newsom cast the single vote against cutting the three programs because she did not want to cut the New England and American studies program, she said.

“Cultural institutions, museums, parks — those all require Mainers to care for them, interpret them and share information on them with our citizens and our visitors,” she said. As an archeologist “who has dedicated her life to cultural preservation efforts throughout the state of Maine,” she said she would be doing her profession and the people of Maine a disservice by voting to cut the program.

Documents that explain the university’s rationale for eliminating New England and American Studies cite low enrollment in the master of arts degree program and the fact that it does not support other programs offered at USM. Last year seven students graduated from the program and 57 are currently enrolled, according to those documents.

In the case of the arts and humanities program, which offers a Bachelor of Arts degree on the Lewiston-Auburn campus, the documents explained that there is only one faculty member currently teaching, that there are no plans to add more and that the program duplicates a different liberal arts program offered at the university.

That program has 38 students enrolled and graduated 11 last year.

The geosciences program has 46 students enrolled and graduated four last year, which the university has determined is too few, according to the documents. This program also does not support other programs offered at the university.

Members of the Faculty Senate have made it clear that they disapprove of the process being used to eliminate these programs.

Faculty Senate chairman and physics professor Jerry LaSala wrote to UMS Chancellor James Page and the board of trustees on Wednesday stating that faculty did not have enough time to review the documents that explain the rationale for eliminating the three programs.

“These new proposals were first forwarded to me as Senate Chair on 20 August 2014, five days after they had already been submitted and placed on the agenda for the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting this Friday, 29 August,” he wrote.

He urged the university system leadership to postpone Friday’s vote.

The program cuts are likely a harbinger of more to come.

“We’re going to be back to this committee in a short time to deal with other programs,” McDonnell said.

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