ORONO, Maine — In the largest public protest since last month’s proposal suggesting more than $12 million in cuts across several academic departments was released, more than 200 students, faculty and staff used the steps of Fogler Library at the University of Maine to articulate their message.
Ray Pelletier, chairman of the university’s department of modern languages and classics, said the proposed academic cuts that would affect his department were simply not well thought out.
“I don’t think they understand the harm this will cause,” he said Wednesday, a Quebec flag draped over his shoulders.
Suzanne Moulton, an administrator in the department of history, said the overriding problem with the university budget issues that have necessitated cuts is not at the academic level but at the system level.
“They have 150 people doing what we can do ourselves,” she said.
Irem Secil Reel, a theater major, said cuts to areas such as arts, music and languages mean that the university is not only cutting diversity but also tolerance of diversity.
Wednesday’s protest came on the eve of the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group’s deadline to turn in final recommendation to university President Robert Kennedy, who will make his recommendations later this month.
Although the proposed cuts — which would eliminate 80 faculty positions by 2014 and reduce both the number of undergraduate academic majors and the number of master’s degrees — seem imminent, Tom Mikotowicz said there is still time to turn the plan around.
“If we want to be a full-service university, we have to get the word out,” said Mikotowicz, chairman of the UM theater and dance department.
University spokesman Joe Carr said many provisions for public comment were built into the process.
“There have been several opportunities for people to voice their thoughts and many have taken advantage of that opportunity,” he said.
Francois Amar, a chemistry professor who served on the working group, said although a lot of time was spent on the report, the group has not had much time to critically engage the result.
“We need to look large and broader to solve the problems we’re facing,” he said. “The process was very much top down.”
Among the areas targeted were women’s studies, foreign languages, public administration and performing arts.
The report, released in late March, culminated the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group’s seven-month review of academic departments to determine the school’s priorities.
Any approved changes would be phased in between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2014. Students who are enrolled now would be able to complete their programs.
“We are making these decisions that are painful, but we feel we must make some priority decisions,” University of Maine Provost Susan Hunter, who chaired the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group, said. “This is driven by finances. It can get us to a point where we’re more sustainable, I believe both fiscally and academically. I think the two of them are integrally linked.”