In the past six years, the University of Maine System has reduced its payroll by $26 million and eliminated hundreds of positions, from high-paid administrators to low-wage clerical staff, according to a Maine Sunday Telegram review of payroll data from 2008-2013.
The cuts have been spread out among faculty, administration and service groups, contrary to the claims of some protesters that years of deep cuts throughout the financially beleaguered system have fallen disproportionately on the faculty and teaching staff, while administrators at the campus and system levels escaped the brunt.
“There is a lot of myth out there,” Chancellor James Page said. The cuts are spread out in part because the system has fewer students, he said.
“You need so many administrators per students, so many faculty per students, you need so many people to maintain facilities,” he said. Officials have avoided making “easy” cuts to hourly workers, some of whom aren’t in a union, he said. “We have been deliberate about not doing that.”
How the university system makes budget cuts – and where it may continue to cut the workforce – will go under the microscope as the UMS board of trustees votes Monday on a systemwide $529 million budget that eliminates another 157 positions.
Adjusted for inflation, the overall system payroll, which does not include benefits or temporary employees, was reduced from $285.6 million in 2008 to $259.6 million in 2013. During that time, the number of workers dropped from 5,721 to 5,258, a reduction of 463 people.
PERSONNEL CUTS INEVITABLE
Despite the cuts the University of Maine System has made so far, officials say more are yet to come.
The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 uses $11.4 million in emergency reserve funds to help close a systemwide structural deficit of $36 million that officials say was caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes. But according to five-year projections, the system faces a budget deficit of $46 million next year, and university community members are openly wondering where future staffing cuts can be made.
The system’s recent history of reducing its workforce, and seeing declines in enrollment, runs counter to national trends. Nationally, total higher education employment rose more than 25 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to a review of federal education data by the Delta Cost Project, part of the nonprofit American Institutes for Research. That is partly because other universities continued to hire during the recession because of increasing enrollment from the millennial generation, researchers found. In Maine, however, state demographics led to declining numbers of students enrolling.
Public four-year universities nationwide have an average of 184 employees per 1,000 students, the review found. The University of Maine System has an average of 158 employees per 1,000 students.
Because most UMS campuses have already gone through years of downsizing, finding more positions that could be cut will be difficult, officials say.
“Unfortunately what we expect to see, at the moment, is no tuition increase, (and) state appropriations are flat,” Page said of the upcoming budget cycle. “We’re hoping for some small enrollment increases, but it’s not going to be enormous. We have to start planning quickly and we need to focus on revenue enhancements.”
That said, Page said the trustees are “still incredibly reluctant” to raise tuition.
Tuition and mandatory fees, which have been frozen for three years, are $10,700 a year for in-state students at the University of Maine in Orono and $27,970 for out-of-state students. At the University of Southern Maine, tuition and fees are $8,920 for in-state students and $21,280 for out-of-state students.
“Our economy is still not where it needs to be,” Page said.
In the current proposed budget, workforce cuts include 50 positions at USM, 37 at Orono, 22 at the system office, 19 at Augusta and 19 at Farmington.
The cuts at USM prompted large protests this year, with students and faculty holding rallies and marches calling for university leaders to rethink their personnel cuts.
One of the leading critics of the cuts and how the administration is characterizing the budget situation is USM economics professor Susan Feiner. She has argued that the system is not in a financial crisis, and that officials could use money in unrestricted reserve funds. System administrators say those funds are earmarked for specific projects ranging from building upkeep to systems upgrades.
Even if the data show that the system has made reductions in administration positions as well as faculty, Feiner maintains that more cuts could be made at the top.
“There is way too much administration in the UMaine System,” she said.
CUTS ACROSS THE BOARD
Data on the system’s total payroll show that cuts have been applied relatively evenly among pay grades and categories of workers. Administration jobs have not jumped in either number or pay, and faculty have not been cut disproportionately.
In fact, the faculty, administration and service groups have remained steady as a proportion of the workforce, and as a proportion of the overall system payroll, according to a comparison of the 2008 and 2013 data:
• Faculty make up about 27 percent of the workforce and account for about 42 percent of the payroll in both years.
• Administration showed decline of one percentage point in both workforce and payroll, making up 12 percent of the workforce in 2013 and 17 percent of the payroll.
• Service groups, which include hourly workers, police and maintenance workers, make up 59 percent of the workforce both years and 41 percent of the payroll in 2013 – up from 40 percent in 2008.
Administrative payroll dropped the most since 2008, with a 12 percent drop from $51.7 million in 2008 to $45.6 million in 2013. Faculty payroll dropped 9.6 percent from $120.2 million to $108.7 million, and service groups’ payroll dropped 7.5 percent from $113.8 million to $105.4 million.
But those numbers do not sway the critics. Feiner said that even if the cuts have been proportional between faculty and administrators, the system should make deeper cuts in its administrative ranks.
“The administrators are the least important people on the campus when it comes to delivering the educational product,” she said.
How the university system divvies up its payroll has been under close scrutiny in recent years not just because of the recession, but because of a payroll scandal that broke in 2012 when a Portland Press Herald review found that system officials had handed out a total of $7 million in individual salary increases over the previous seven years, even as the system was in the midst of budget cuts and most employees went without regular raises.
At USM, then-President Selma Botman gave out nearly $1 million in discretionary raises to staff members over a four-year period. She later resigned after facing a no-confidence vote by the faculty.
Page, who had just started his job in 2012 when the news of the raises surfaced, stopped such discretionary pay increases and instituted new compensation policies. His new rules require approval from the chancellor for salary increases for employees reporting directly to the system’s seven university presidents, and for retention or equity raises that increase any employee’s base salary by more than 15 percent.
But the issue of raises surfaced again this year, when Page gave a $40,000 increase to Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for finance and administration and treasurer to the board of trustees, raising her pay to $205,000. Page said Wyke got the raise because she was being recruited for another job and they wanted her to stay, even though he knew the move would be criticized in light of the budget crisis.
In a competitive market, stagnant or lower pay can mean that administrators leave for greener pastures. UMaine’s top financial officer, Janet Waldron, recently left her $170,000-a-year job to take a $270,000-plus job as vice chancellor of finance for the University of North Texas.
According to national surveys, Maine administrators earn less than most of their counterparts. The median salary for a chief executive officer at a doctorate-granting system is $465,618; for a chief financial officer it is $231,274, according to a 2013-14 survey of administrators in higher education by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
Analyses of faculty salaries done by both the university system and the faculty union during contract negotiations in recent years have come to differing conclusions. An administration analysis found faculty salaries were in line with the market, while a faculty union counter-analysis found most campus faculty wages were below market wages.
Some faculty members are among the top earners in the system.
When additional compensation, such as stipends and summer pay, is added to base pay, the top earners include three professors who earn more than $200,000.
The highest earner of those, at $258,716, is civil engineering professor Habib Dagher, who runs Orono’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center and has been at the forefront of the system and state’s efforts to attract wind energy projects to Maine.
Most of the faculty reductions in recent years were a result of retirements and vacancies not being filled, which has hollowed out some departments of tenured faculty. At the same time, cuts to support staff have shifted some of their workload to higher-paid faculty members.
According to the data, the number of faculty – from tenured to part-time and non-represented faculty – was reduced by 123 positions, for a total savings of $11.5 million.
“We have big holes” in our departments, said James McClymer, the vice president of the systemwide faculty union. “We’ve learned to make do. . . . The work still needs to be done.”
There has been concern that making cuts in one area would simply shift the cost to another area, or prompt an increase in overtime. For instructors, taking on additional teaching duties is known as “overload.” But data for faculty overload and summer pay show that total dropped $400,000 between 2008 and 2013.
Other sectors have seen cuts, too. The number of administration and university supervisors was reduced by 85 positions, from 760 to 675, to save $6.1 million. The number of service sector workers – from police to service and maintenance workers – dropped 225, from 3,391 workers to 3,136, for a savings of $8.5 million.
For the system as a whole, the amount spent on overtime, stipends and overload/summer pay between 2008 and 2013 was reduced by about $1.3 million.
Those funds, which are in addition to base pay, also dropped for administrators and faculty. Overtime and stipends increased slightly, by less than $100,000 in six years, for service workers.
McClymer said he’s “not one to beat the drum” about too many overpaid administrators, but he does want senior management and trustees to be better advocates for the system.
“We need to fight back on the (idea) that we don’t have resources,” McClymer said. The trustees “let the state off the hook” in agreeing to freeze tuition in return for lawmakers not cutting the state appropriation.
“The reality is that you can’t have a quality university system without paying for it,” McClymer said. “We need more resources. Our mission is education, scholarship and service. The true message is that higher education is important.”
And workforce cuts, no matter where they are taken, ultimately come back to the university’s academic mission, he said.
“If there are fewer janitors, then the buildings look dirty and that has an impact on visiting parents and students who are considering whether to go to school there,” he said.
University systems across the nation face many of the same economic pressures, with some closing entire academic departments, or entire campuses at a time to cut costs, according to a 2013 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Among the cuts cited in the report: New Hampshire’s university system has eliminated nearly 200 staff positions and frozen hiring and staff salaries; the University of California system has consolidated or eliminated more than 180 programs; Arizona has cut 2,100 positions and consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs and departments; and the University System of Louisiana has cut 217 academic programs.
The University of Maine System is just this year beginning to cut entire academic programs as a direct result of budget pressure.
UMaine Augusta is phasing out nursing and veterinary technology programs, and USM President Theodora Kalikow has proposed cutting Geosciences, the American and New England Studies graduate program and the Arts and Humanities program at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn campus. After the protests, however, she said she would work with the Faculty Senate on a possible alternative.
This story was updated at 10:15 a.m., Sunday, May 18, to clairify a statement made by Chancellor James Page.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: