LEWISTON — Facing a plan by administrators to cut 50 University of Southern Maine faculty positions and two academic programs, the Faculty Senate on Friday offered an alternative: Consider shutting down one of USM’s three campuses instead.
“My proposal is probably as brutal to good people as is the (administration’s) proposal. The difference is, I propose to isolate the damage,” said Tom McDonald, an associate professor of business computing. “We have to tell the citizens of Maine we can no longer afford three campuses.”
USM has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston.
The idea of closing a campus has been discussed informally for years, with many noting the difficulties of a fractured campus set-up for students, staff, faculty and administrators. But it hasn’t ever been used as a formal proposal to address a budget shortfall.
An alternative proposal endorsed by the Faculty Senate at its meeting on Friday was to have the University of Maine System offer a better retirement incentive in order to get more of the 100 retirement-eligible faculty members to leave, possibly easing the number of layoffs.
“We should put them in a room with someone with authority to negotiate” a better package, said English professor Bud McGrath. “The terms for retirement could be a lot more imaginative, and if you make an attractive enough package, it may get more than 50 faculty to retire.”
One incentive could be a payout equivalent to the amount given to any laid-off faculty member under the contract – 18 months worth of pay plus benefits, McGrath said.
USM President David Flanagan, who announced the proposed cuts Monday, told the Senate he would entertain those ideas but that time is running out.
“As far as I’m concerned all options are on the table,” said Flanagan, adding that he would forward the idea of closing a campus to the system’s board of trustees. “If the trustees direct us to look in that direction, we’ll proceed in that direction.”
But after the meeting he insisted that any alternative plan be on his timeline, which means taking action within weeks, with the final proposal complete by the end of the year.
Flanagan said he will act on an Oct. 31 deadline for laying off any faculty members, since under the contract faculty layoffs can happen only in the fall or the spring.
Flanagan said his proposed faculty cuts are expected to shave $6 million off the university’s $16 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. The remaining $10 million will be gained through cuts to the administration and staff, to be announced by mid-November, and a plan to reorganize academic programming, to be announced by the end of the year.
McGrath’s proposal also flipped the order of proposed changes. Instead of the administration’s plan of firing faculty by Oct. 31, then reorganizing the academic programs by Dec. 31, the faculty plan would reorganize the programs by January 2015, launch them by June 2015, and have faculty layoffs after that.
“It still imposes expeditious deadlines,” McGrath said. “By doing it this way, both the retirements and the faculty reorganization will be faculty-driven, as they should be, and it would accomplish the goals the administration would like to accomplish.”
But Flanagan said after the meeting he would not change his timeline, so that alternate proposal would not work.
“We are burning money,” he said.
Faculty Senate Chairman Jerry LaSala said there is still time to consider alternatives.
“There is no reason why the retirement incentive proposal has to be on his timeline,” he said, referring to Flanagan. If the goal is to balance the budget that goes into effect next July, “it’s not clear anything is gained by laying off faculty by the end of October.”
The Faculty Senate argues that such a short timeline violates the university’s constitution, which spells out that the faculty has a multi-step role in any program and curriculum changes. On Friday the Senate voted to seek a meeting with USM officials to agree on a timeline for cuts.
The administration plan is to cut the master’s program in applied medical sciences and its five faculty members, and the undergraduate French program, with three faculty members. Any program eliminations must be approved by the trustees, who will vote Oct. 24 on the proposal at a special board meeting at USM.
The trustees have a regularly scheduled meeting at USM in mid-November, but Flanagan said the trustees need to vote before the Oct. 31 deadline for laying off faculty members in the two programs being cut.
As for closing a campus, Flanagan said he had asked for an analysis of the costs of the different campuses, but found that the accounting practices made it difficult to figure out costs by campus.
The Faculty Senate proposal pointedly didn’t identify which campus should be closed, and each has key characteristics. Lewiston is very small, but serves an important population center. Gorham houses dorms and athletic fields, classrooms, and the John Mitchell Center, which is home to engineering and technology programs. Portland has the Muskie School of Public Service, the Abromson Community Center, classroom facilities, the Glickman and Osher Map libraries, and the planetarium. It also is home to the University of Maine School of Law.
Flanagan, said changing the terms of the retirement incentive would have to go through the system’s Human Resources Department and union officials.
Flanagan was recently appointed for a one-year term as USM president.