A week after unveiling a 27-point plan as an alternative to deep cuts in faculty, staff and programs at the University of Southern Maine, the Faculty Senate is still soliciting ideas and has not attached dollar figures to specific proposals.
“The 27-point discussion was a starting point,” Faculty Senate President Jerry LaSala said after a closed committee meeting Friday afternoon where the plan was discussed. “This is going to be a far-ranging examination of absolutely everything.”
On April 11, the Faculty Senate unveiled the draft plan on the same day USM President Theodora Kalikow announced she would rescind the layoffs of a dozen faculty members until at least October.
The layoffs were one of several proposals unveiled in late March by Kalikow to help cut $14 million from the school’s $140 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. She also proposed cutting four academic programs and up to 35 staff positions. She has since restored one of the programs, but still plans to eliminate geosciences, American and New England Studies, and the arts and humanities program at Lewiston-Auburn College, which is part of USM.
If those programs are cut, seven professors will be laid off.
USM’s budget crunch is part of a $36 million funding gap in the University of Maine System caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes.
Kalikow’s proposed cuts only covered about half of the $14 million USM deficit. One-time emergency funds from the system office were expected to help close the gap.
A week ago, LaSala said the Faculty Senate hoped to have some specific figures on potential cost savings or new revenue by early this week. On Friday, he said no figures were available yet, in part because more information is needed from the administration.
“We’ve discovered we need lots more financial information” from both USM and system officials, LaSala said. There is a steering committee with a dozen members and about 40 volunteers working on the alternative budget cuts.
The co-chairman of the steering committee agreed there was an information logjam.
“We’ve had a very difficult time” getting certain figures from human resources and other departments, said Mark Lapping, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Policy and a former USM provost.
This is a busy time of the academic year, he noted, and “everyone is exhausted.”
The steering committee has until May 31 to submit its alternative budget cuts. Another committee has until May 5 to submit a proposal to Kalikow on how to spare the three academic programs slated for elimination.
“Candidly, I’m concerned about meeting the deadline,” Lapping said Friday.
The search for alternative budget-balancing alternatives comes after Kalikow’s original proposal prompted weeks of protests, including an aggressive social media campaign and two rallies that drew more than 200 people.
LaSala said the steering committee is trying to find $7 million or $8 million in savings, about the same amount as Kalikow’s proposal.
“This is not just (about) the 12 layoffs, we’re trying to come up with a comprehensive plan,” LaSala said.
Lapping noted that the committee must find cuts within academic affairs, not facilities or student life, if it is to save the threatened programs and faculty.
LaSala said he couldn’t rule out including layoffs in an alternative plan.
“There will be faculty attrition at the very least,” he said. “It’s possible there may be some layoffs in the next six months or a year. I don’t know.”
Lapping said the committee is also trying to get more information about what, exactly, Kalikow means when she says USM will become a “metropolitan university,” which she described as a USM that is closely connected with businesses, residents and governments in Greater Portland.
Lapping said the Faculty Senate has endorsed the idea, but needs Kalikow to clarify it.
“Not having a vision of what the president means by ‘metropolitan university’ makes it difficult to imagine some short-term cuts,” since it may conflict with that vision, he said.
LaSala said the alternative budget committee was meeting in closed session so members could brief Kalikow on any proposal before it is released to the public.
The alternative cuts originally proposed by the Faculty Senate include ending the use of outside consultants, eliminating middle-management administrators and consolidating the three campuses of the University of Southern Maine.
LaSala said the draft has undergone significant revisions, with some items removed and new ones added.
Budget cuts are happening systemwide. At the flagship campus in Orono, officials cut $10 million from a $249 million budget, mostly by leaving positions vacant and laying off about seven non-faculty employees. University of Maine at Augusta officials announced that they would cut 24 positions, end several degree programs and drop two sports teams.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: