After hearing four hours of passionate testimony opposing program cuts at the University of Southern Maine, the system’s board of trustees voted 9-2 to cut the master’s program in applied medical sciences and the undergraduate French program.

“Change is hard, but this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Trustee Norman Fournier said, supporting the eliminations. “We’re going to see it at other institutions.”

USM President David Flanagan has said the academic program cuts are necessary, along with elimination of 50 faculty positions in various departments, to shave $6 million off a budget gap of $16 million for the next fiscal year. USM will cover the remaining $10 million shortfall through staff and administrative cuts, and an academic reorganization that will cut costs and add revenue, he said. Those plans will be announced before the end of the year.

Trustees Shawn Moody and Kurt Adams opposed the cuts.

Moody, recently appointed to the board by Gov. Paul LePage, said he needed more information about job trends and noted the testimony from local businesses opposed to the cuts.

“We’ve heard from some of Maine’s leading companies,” he said. “Therefore, without that data, I can’t support the program eliminations in front of us today.”

More than 150 people turned out for the trustees meeting Friday afternoon in the Sullivan Gym on USM’s Portland campus, with people standing at the back of the gym as seats ran out.

For more than four hours, more than 70 people took turns addressing the trustees for three minutes each, Speakers overwhelmingly opposed the cuts.

Many said the applied medical sciences program was critical to the growth of biotechnology companies in the area.

“How can you make a decision today when you don’t have the data to look five years out and 10 years out?” asked Bryan Bozsik, president of the Bioscience Association of Maine, which is opposed to cutting the program.

Ah-kau Ng, a professor of immunology and the former chairman of the applied medical sciences program, said he was disappointed with the vote.

“I thought they would listen to the community,” he said. “If the mission of a university is to serve the community . . . that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Several trustees said the vote was difficul.

“However, we cannot ignore the facts,” said Chairman Samuel Collins. “We have to plug the hole before the ship sinks.”

Several said they expected to see similar financial problems – and cuts – at other campuses.

“We are obviously experiencing acute difficulties at USM right now,” Flanagan said. “We believe USM is the canary in the coal mine, and we believe all the other campuses in the system are in the same coal mine, just a little further back.”

Without changes, the entire University of Maine System faces a projected $69 million deficit by 2019. In the most recent budget, approved in May, officials cut 157 positions and used $11.4 million in emergency funds to close a $36 million deficit in the system’s $529 million budget

“Time is now dictating events,” Chancellor James Page said. “These decisions are difficult, they are painful, and we must act.”

The 16-member board of trustees voted last month to eliminate three other USM programs: the American and New England studies graduate program, the geosciences major, and the arts and humanities major at USM’s Lewiston campus.

Last year, USM closed a $14 million gap in its $134 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The current cuts are aimed at closing the projected budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015.

On Friday, speakers said the cuts would hurt USM, and were being rushed. Flanagan announced the cuts several weeks ago.

Associate history professor Eileen Eagan told the trustees that replacing foreign language faculty with adjuncts and lecturers “sends the message that provincialism is OK, and that USM is a second-rate university,” prompting applause and cheers from the audience.

“I hope they realize this is a huge deal,” said junior Kelly Donaldson, a French major who held up a sign in French urging the trustees to keep the French major. “If we get rid of foreign language majors here, they lose all credibility.”

“I am asking for a stay of execution,” said the first speaker, associate professor Nancy Erickson, the sole faculty member teaching French. She gathered 1,600 signatures through a Facebook petition to save the French major, citing the results as “evidence on the impact on the community.”

After the meeting, Erickson said she didn’t think the fight was over. She said she talked to several trustees about establishing a systemwide French program.

USM student James Spizuoco chastised trustees for proposing to cut languages.

“Frankly, I’m shocked,” he said. “I’m personally insulted that my studies are not important enough to continue in Portland. A round of layoffs in other USM departments is expected on Oct. 31.

This week, USM officials said 36 faculty members are retiring, with 24 in departments targeted for cuts. The 24 retirements could offset layoffs in targeted departments, but the administration has to determine whether some positions need to be replaced.

This fall, the French program, with just the one faculty member, had seven majors, two minors and 62 students. The applied medical sciences program, with five faculty members, had 16 majors and 54 graduate and undergraduate students.


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