All of the budget cutting at the University of Southern Maine has inspired me to devise a solution to present difficulties as simple and elegant as it is innovative and transformative: Complete the “Transforming USM” process by transforming the “University of Southern Maine” into the “Administration of Southern Maine.”
Of course, there will be expenses involved with engaging a firm to design a new logo; disposing of all old letterhead, signs and business cards; and printing new material. The old logo featured a column and a flame, evoking both the tradition of education reaching back to Plato and Aristotle as well as the burning desire for knowledge that faculty work to stoke in students.
What should the new logo be? Well, how about a smiling dollar sign in place of the “S”? The smiling because of all the money saved.
As the president of USM pursues the first step of a plan meant to transform the university — by cutting 50 faculty positions and two more academic programs — that “transformation” is effectively cutting out the core of what a university should be.
Let’s call the result the Administration of Southern Maine. A$M, as I’ll call it, has already begun the process of shedding the unsightly, bulky professoriate by excising the programs of American and New England studies, geosciences, humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn College, applied medical sciences and French.
Neque Magistri (Neither Professors)
But why stop there?
The elimination of 50 faculty is effectively a course correction for last spring, when USM’s former president rescinded the individual layoffs of 12 faculty members. Indeed, who needs those pesky professors with their incessant whining about “transparency,” “shared governance” and “responsibility to students”? Administration is a powerful, majestic stallion annoyed at every turn by these gadflies. Eliminating all faculty would solve a problem that has plagued every administration.
Neque Discipuli (Nor Students)
So without faculty, there will be no need for students. The “student-centered university” can become the “self-centered administration.” Of course, the lack of students will obviate the need for marketing and outreach to attract new ones. And student services meant to retain students will likewise become obsolete. The thrilling result in both cases: more money saved.
Neque Salariarii (Nor Staff)
No university can run properly without the essential and invaluable contributions of staff. But without students to serve or faculty to support, staff won’t be needed.
A$M will start a new trend that might even spark similar actions at universities and colleges across the nation. Shouldn’t we be the leader of this trend before some other administration filches the idea from us? I for one want to see an Administration of Southern Maine before I see a Princeton Administration or a Deep Springs Administration.
Just as they have done for the University of Maine System, Maine taxpayers will continue to support the Administration of Maine System. They will be thrilled at the lower cost of supporting only administrators and will praise the administration for eliminating the university. Better yet, administration can swell its ranks by hiring more administrators. But wait, it gets even better. Administration also can increase every administrator’s salary with these savings.
So you may be wondering that without faculty, staff or students, what will these administrators be administering? Why, themselves, of course! They will still need to create mission statements, strategic directives, task force initiatives and the like.
Finally, failed campus administrators can continue to be mothballed at the system level with sinecures, drawing the same salary they had drawn in their previous positions. While not financially sound, this custom does have the advantage of comporting with past practice.
So, what should Maine students do without a public university system to prepare them to be critically thinking members ready to participate in a vibrant democracy?
Let’s take a cue from page 12 of the Republican Party of Texas platform from 2012: “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that … have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
And what should they do without a public university system to provide them with a broad education that can lead to a promising career?
Well, in the immortal words of former USM President Theodora Kalikow: “McDonald’s is not always bad.”
Paul Christiansen of Gorham is an associate professor of music at the University of Southern Maine. He recently received a layoff notice from USM.