The University of Southern Maine Faculty Senate said Thursday that it has identified more than $5 million in possible academic cuts – largely involving faculty members who have agreed to retire – to counter a plan by the administration that would have laid off a dozen teachers this spring.

“We have found more than enough cuts,” Faculty Senate Chairman Jerry LaSala said at the group’s meeting Thursday, which drew several hundred people to Hannaford Hall on USM’s Portland campus.

The faculty group has been trying to find $1.26 million in savings for the coming year specifically to avert the layoffs. USM President Theodora Kalikow laid off the teachers, but rescinded the decision a few weeks later after protests and demonstrations.

Kalikow proposed the faculty layoffs, the elimination of three academic programs and layoffs of about 35 non-faculty staff members to close a $14 million shortfall in the university’s $140 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Kalikow’s cuts would amount to $7 million, and the University of Maine System used $7 million in emergency reserve funds to close the gap for 2014-15.

DECISION ON CUTS DUE IN MID-JUNE

“Many of our colleagues have been truly generous as they elected to retire early to save the jobs of the younger faculty who are the future of this institution,” said a memo outlining the Faculty Senate’s proposal.

Eleven faculty members have agreed to retire this year, although they were not identified by name. Those retirements, and eight more in 2015-16, amount to $2.1 million in savings, the Faculty Senate said.

The faculty members who have volunteered to retire teach in several departments, including history, engineering, economics and sociology.

The rest of the proposed savings – including more than $1.6 million in pay reductions for top earners in non-represented administration positions – amount to $3 million.

“We highly recommend that President Kalikow use the savings we have identified to permanently rescind the faculty retrenchments and program eliminations that were proposed this spring,” the Faculty Senate memo said.

Kalikow also suspended the decision to eliminate the academic programs until she reviews a Faculty Senate plan, given to Kalikow four weeks ago, to save them through reorganization.

Kalikow said she will review both proposals for alternative cuts and announce in mid-June where she will make the final $2.5 million in cuts.

USM has already booked about $4.5 million in savings from 26 staff layoffs since July 2013, by not filling vacant positions and by flat-funding deferred maintenance costs.

The dozen faculty members are safe from layoffs until at least October. But if the three academic programs are cut, seven faculty members in those programs will be laid off.

The three programs that stand to be cut are Geosciences, the American and New England Studies graduate program and the Arts and Humanities program at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn campus.

CRITICISM OF VISION FOR UNIVERSITY

The cuts at USM are part of systemwide budget cuts to close a deficit of $36 million that officials say was caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes. Each of the system’s seven campuses was asked to make deep cuts this year, and more cuts are expected next year.

For 2014-15, UMaine in Orono and USM were asked to spend about 10 percent less than they did this year. Orono closed a portion of its gap with increased tuition revenue, and wound up cutting about $10 million from its $249 million budget by leaving about 30 positions vacant and laying off about seven non-faculty employees.

The USM Faculty Senate also issued Thursday a condemnation of the administration’s characterization of the university’s future, saying the ideas in the Direction Package unveiled this spring don’t recognize the value of what USM already offers.

In particular, the faculty said the vision “directly champions economic growth … narrowly conceived in terms of profits and jobs” without properly valuing its current work or a liberal arts education.

“We categorically reject the assumption … that a university fully engaged in Portland and southern and central Maine … cannot or should not intrinsically link a strong grounding in a liberal arts curriculum with technical and professional disciplines,” the group’s statement said.

About half the crowd rose in a standing ovation for more than a minute after the statement was read aloud by Mark Lapping, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service and a former USM provost.

“When faculty are asked to participate, they come up with this kind of creative, universitywide understanding,” said Nancy Gish, an English professor.

USM FACULTY SHRINKING STEADILY

Several faculty members said they are concerned that more retirements will hurt the university because so many departments have not hired in recent years, and have not replaced many of the earlier retirees.

With the 11 retirements identified Thursday, the Faculty Senate said there would be 280 faculty members left at USM. The university has about 9,000 students, in undergraduate and graduate programs.

The proposed savings may increase, LaSala said.

“In the last 24 hours I’ve learned of another resignation and another retirement,” he said, increasing the savings beyond the group’s official proposal.

“So we are very well ahead of the game, I think,” he said. “The $1.26 million can be covered without draconian measures.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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