BANGOR — The University of Maine System trustees approved a five-year strategic plan on Monday that will mean major belt tightening, including streamlining classes at every campus and cutting about $60 million through workforce reductions.
The plan is intended to close a projected $69 million budget deficit by 2019.
“We don’t have the revenue to do what we’ve done in the past,” board of trustees Chairman Samuel Collins said. “The important part is we do have a plan going forward.”
Also Monday, the system’s top financial officer said the system has $6 million more than anticipated for the fiscal year that ended in June, including about $3 million more than expected from investment income.
Overall, the system is $11.1 million in the black, said Rebecca Wyke, the vice chancellor for finance and administration, but that is still less than the $11.4 million in emergency funds that has already been allocated for the new budget year to cover operating costs at six of the seven campuses.
Wyke proposed using $6 million to help replenish the emergency fund and the remainder for other projects. Final numbers for the budget year that ended in June won’t be available until late October after an external audit, she said.
The system has faced significant deficits for years, and each of the seven campuses has already made deep budget cuts. On Monday, several trustees and system officials said those efforts must be better organized going forward.
“Each of our campuses have been cutting and cutting and cutting in recent years, but they are doing it in silos,” Wyke said. “We need to make sure they do it in a much more collaborative fashion.”
In addition to financial restructuring, the trustees’ plan lays out expectations for an academic overhaul that streamlines course offerings so that each campus ends up offering certain specialties specific to that campus. That could result in ending some programs at one campus if the same programs are offered at other campuses, for example.
“Holding our own feet to the fire is a major part of what we’ll be doing,” said University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn Foster, who is overseeing the academic overhaul.
She said talks have already started with representatives from all the campuses “so we can make sure everyone is on the same page.”
The trustees voted unanimously to approve the plan.
“It’s been a long time coming,” trustee Gregory Johnson said of the proposed changes. “This will get at the heart of (Chancellor James Page’s) efforts to turn us into a functioning system instead of seven different kingdoms.”
Wyke said her efforts to overhaul financial planning and developing a systemwide workforce management plan will also help make the system more cohesive.
The latest system budget of $529 million, approved in May, cut 157 positions and required $11.4 million in emergency funds to close a $36 million deficit that officials said was caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes.
Those factors are unlikely to change, so more cuts will still be needed to head off future deficits, officials said. Without changes, the system faces a projected deficit of $69 million in 2019, according to Wyke.
Of the $69 million, $59 million will be closed by cutting the workforce, with $44 million in direct personnel reductions. Of that $44 million, $18 million would come from faculty positions and $26 million in non-faculty cuts.
• Trustees were briefed on a committee discussion about divesting the system of fossil fuel investments.
Trustee Karl Turner said committee members discussed the matter three times and met with students urging them to divest.
Turner said the committee would “monitor” the situation since the system portfolio is not invested in individual sectors and stocks but instead uses a portfolio manager that invests across multiple sectors.
“I cannot go to an investment manager and say, ‘Divest yourself of Exxon,’” Turner said, adding that he believes climate change is real and noting that Stanford University did divest from fossil fuels.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation regarding fossil fuels but I don’t think quick action is possible,” he said. “We would possibly come back to (the trustees) for any change.”
• Trustees were briefed on upcoming human resources changes, part of a cost-cutting strategic plan that will eventually eliminate all HR administrative work at the campus level, resulting in workforce reductions at the campuses.
“This will not be without controversy,” said trustee Marjorie Murray Medd. “There will be a greater emphasis on employee self-service.’ ”