BANGOR — University of Southern Maine students upset about pending staff and program cuts took their case to reverse them directly to the University of Maine System trustees Sunday.
“We are here to tell you the cuts are unwise and poorly managed,” said Caroline O’Connor, who graduated this month and has been accepted into a master’s program – American and New England Studies – that is targeted for elimination. “I’m saddened by the tension that I’ve seen on campus in the last few months. … The changes are truly unpopular.”
Since the cuts were proposed, students and faculty have been holding rallies and marches. USM President Theodora Kalikow reversed the layoffs of a dozen faculty members and is currently considering an alternative to cutting four academic programs.
O’Connor’s presentation came on the eve of the trustees’ vote Monday on a systemwide, $529 million budget that eliminates 157 positions. The budget includes $14 million in cuts at USM, or about 10 percent of its budget for the next school year. Kalikow is still deciding how to make some of those cuts, and must have a final plan by mid-June.
Several trustees thanked O’Connor, who spoke on behalf of the half-dozen student organizers present, for sharing the group’s concerns with the trustees, but there was no discussion of specific issues.
After the meeting, O’Connor said the group was glad to tell the trustees directly that they wanted a more transparent and inclusive process for considering cuts.
“I got the sense that some of the board members weren’t aware of the effects of the cuts,” she said.
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.
“All of this is very, very painful,” Trustee Gregory Johnson said. “It’s a very difficult time.”
Also Sunday, trustee Chairman Samuel Collins announced that a search would start this year for a new president at USM. Kalikow has been serving as interim president since July 2012.
A search committee will be formed this summer and the search should begin early this fall and run until a successful candidate is identified. System officials hope to fill the position by July 2015, and possibly sooner if the person selected is available.
Kalikow has a two-year contract, with an extension for up to one year.
Kalikow previously served for 18 years as president of the University of Maine at Farmington. She had retired in June 2012 but agreed to serve as president of USM at the request of the system’s then-new chancellor, James Page.
Kalikow replaced Selma Botman, who was USM’s president for four years before requesting reassignment in the wake of a no-confidence vote by the faculty and controversy over big raises she gave to top administrators despite funding and program cuts.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: