BANGOR, Maine — A national university faculty advocacy group argues the University of Southern Maine overreacted and overreached in its recent cuts to programs and faculty and denies serious financial problems exist at the University of Maine System.
The American Association of University Professors on Wednesday released a report claiming the University of Maine System is in “strong financial standing” and that USM unnecessarily fired tenured professors and shuttered programs vital to its pursuit of a Metropolitan University designation.
University officials blasted the report, arguing it had a predetermined outcome, cites inaccurate information and ignores the untenable financial situation of the university and the system that led to the cuts.
“The AAUP report on USM is unworthy of serious consideration,” USM spokesman Chris Quint said Wednesday after the report’s release. “The AAUP is sadly out of touch with the current needs and realities of public universities, and its ill-founded financial analysis is a misleading attempt to paper over the urgency of the economic situation of our state higher education system.”
In the fall of 2014, faced with a $16 million budget gap, USM cut 51 faculty positions and five academic programs. Interim President David Flanagan plans to use more than $1.5 million in reserve funds to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year, in spite of the previous year’s cuts. USM had to transfer $7 million from the system reserves to balance its 2015 budget.
“The program closures at USM are not merely matters of bookkeeping; they impinge on matters of curriculum and instruction, for which the faculty should always have primary responsibility,” AAUP wrote.
The report was crafted by faculty members from other universities who spoke with USM administration and faculty about the cuts and financial issues surrounding them. The report largely agrees with concerns raised by the faculty union, the Associated Faculty of the Universities of Maine, which sought an investigation and input from AAUP.
In a vote on June 12, AAUP will decide whether to “censure” the USM administration based on the findings of the report. AAUP has placed 47 higher ed institutions on its “censure list” since 1930.
After seeing a draft of the report in April, USM responded with a letter critical of the conclusions and the analysis of data used to get there.
“This draft seeks to perpetuate the misconception that there is no financial issue either at USM or UMS, when UMS has significant fiscal problems that include deferring hundreds of millions in capital maintenance, and running operational deficits at multiple campuses,” Flanagan wrote, adding that the report was “extraordinarily one-sided” and rife with factual inaccuracies.
“The USM Chapter of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine welcomes this report,” chapter President Susan Feiner said Wednesday. “We agree with its findings. We note that many of the administration actions cited in the report also constitute violations of the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement with the University of Maine System.”
Feiner and some other USM faculty members have denied that any “structural gap” exists, pointing to the system’s high bond rating and reserve funds. However, that bond rating outlook was downgraded from stable to negative in early 2015.
“The suggestion by a Washington, D.C.-based faculty advocacy organization that we have ample and available reserves to sustain deficit spending at USM is a misrepresentation of our audited, publicly-available financial statements and is not in the long term interest of the students and taxpayers we serve,” system spokesman Dan Demeritt said Wednesday.
He said the system would continue to work closely with faculty groups as it pursues “efficiencies” at all seven of its campuses under the One University initiative.
The full AAUP report and Flanagan’s response to it are available at aaup.org/report/USM.
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