PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Southern Maine has a plan to cut 50 faculty positions and two programs in an effort to eliminate $6 million from its budget, according to a statement sent out by administrators Monday.
These cuts are the first phase in a yearlong effort to eliminate $16 million from the university’s budget that recently appointed president David Flanagan has said is his first task in his new role.
The entire University of Maine System is facing a budget shortfall that will result in cuts and restructuring efforts. The system’s chancellor, James Page, and vice chancellor for administration and finance, Rebecca Wyke, have said that if they change nothing, the seven-university system will be $69 million in debt by 2019.
The two programs that have been proposed for elimination at USM are an undergraduate degree in French and a graduate degree in applied medical sciences. Those are in addition to the three USM programs that the system’s board of trustees approved for elimination in September. Students enrolled in the programs will be able to finish out their degrees.
Flanagan said he believes the university will be able to continue to offer almost the same number of credit hours to students, despite the reduction in faculty. Class sizes will be larger, and all faculty will be asked to teach four classes per semester. Some faculty teach two or three classes per semester, he said.
Nancy Erickson, an associate professor of French at USM, said French is an important part of this state’s past and future and thus serves an important role at the university.
“French is a significant language in Maine’s history and makeup for more than one series of immigration groups, whether it be the Canadians historically or the new immigrants from Africa,” she said. “French deserves to be supported.”
The university had about 340 faculty members on staff in the 2013-14 school year, according to the office of institutional research. The university’s operating budget for fiscal year 2015 is about $134 million.
In August, Flanagan convened a team made up of university administrators, who helped him identify which positions and programs would be eliminated. The Faculty Senate will have until Oct. 17 to review this proposal and offer a response.
The university system is offering a retirement incentive that Flanagan hopes will take care of some of the 50 faculty positions he is proposing for elimination. Faculty have until Oct. 20 to take advantage of the retirement incentive. If retirements do not take place in the positions Flanagan has proposed for elimination, the most recently hired faculty in those departments will be laid off. Those faculty will receive notices that they’ve been laid off no later than Oct. 31.
“It’s really difficult — and inhumane in a way — to pit the older and younger faculty members against each other,” said Jeannine Uzzi, associate professor of classics and member of the Faculty Senate. “There are faculty members who have 30 and 40 years of service to the state who are really feeling the pressure to retire now, and they don’t really have the means to do that.”
In a letter sent to faculty on Monday, Provost Joseph McDonnell said 100 faculty are eligible for retirement.
Along with the cuts, McDonnell outlined a plan to reorganize the “academic programs into larger units — the arts, the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences — to encourage interdisciplinary activity and reduce academic administration.”
Flanagan said that in the past, USM has attempted to make cuts by waiting for retirements, a process that was “helter skelter” and left the university with “gaps in coverage and inconsistencies that are hard to explain.”
This time, he said, will be different.
“I think it’s long overdue for this university to try to manage itself on a strategic basis,” he said. “That requires discipline and thinking through to the future.”
If too many faculty take the incentive package, the administration will hire new faculty into the positions that they want to keep filled, Flanagan said.
He added that if the university had resolved to fix the budget shortfall by raising tuition, that would mean changing the rate from $7,600 to $10,000 for in-state students.
There is still $10 million that needs to be identified for the university to pass a balanced budget next year. Flanagan said that will be accomplished through cuts in administration and capital expenditures, which will be announced later in the semester.
The 50 positions announced Monday include the faculty who work in the programs proposed for elimination and the three programs that were eliminated in September. The three programs that were cut were geosciences, American and New England studies and arts and humanities on the Lewiston-Auburn campus.
Manuel Avalos, dean of the college of arts, humanities and social sciences, said that the deans, provost and president’s council went through many scenarios before arriving at the decisions that were announced Monday.
“It’s not something that one enjoys,” he said of the process. “I think we’ve done what we could do given the circumstances we’re in.”
He added, “the reality is that all the decisions made were made with the intention of serving students.”
Several students interviewed by the BDN said they were saddened by the cuts but understand them to be necessary.
“If it has to be done, it has to be done,” said Todd Bannerman, junior business major from Toronto, Ontario. “This is only my second year here. I don’t know how long they’ve waited to make the cuts, but it’s better to make them now instead of waiting to go deeper under water.”
The faculty positions proposed for elimination are:
— American and New England studies: 2
— Applied medical sciences: 5
— Arts and humanities: 1
— Communication and media studies: 1
— Community planning and development: 3
— Computer science: 2
— Criminology: 2
— Economics: 2
— Education: 2.5
— English: 4.5
— Geoscience: 4
— History: 1
— Languages: 3
— Leadership and organizational studies: 1
— Music: 2
— Natural and applied science: 1
— Philosophy: 1
— Physics: 1
— Psychology: 2
— Political science: 1
— Public policy and management: 3
— Social and behavioral science: 1
— Sociology: 2
— Technology: 1
— Theater: 1
BDN writer Seth Koenig contributed to this report.