About 50 teachers and students protested faculty cuts at the University of Southern Maine on Wednesday, including some professors who said they were notified about their layoffs by voicemail on Tuesday.

“That’s pretty pathetic,” Paul Christiansen, a professor of music, who said he was notified by voicemail that he would be laid off.

The cuts, he said, are “bad for me, but worse for my students. They (administrators) are destroying USM.”

USM is cutting 50 faculty positions to close part of a $16 million budget gap in the next fiscal year.

Half the faculty cuts will be achieved through professors taking enhanced retirement packages and the other half through layoffs, USM spokesman Chris Quint said this week.

Quint said department deans called faculty members Tuesday, offering to hold meetings to discuss the layoffs, but one dean “went further than we put in the script.”

Quint declined to identify the dean or to characterize the messages he or she left.

“We were never intending to tell anybody (of a layoff) by voicemail and we were never that explicit,” he said. “These are not easy decisions, but they are necessary decisions.”

The layoffs include faculty in five academic programs cut by the University of Maine System board of trustees: the master’s program in applied medical sciences, the undergraduate French program, the American and New England studies graduate program, the geosciences major, and the arts and humanities major at USM’s Lewiston campus.

Substantial cuts are also being made to the university’s prestigious Muskie School of Public Service.

Those at Wednesday’s protest in Portland said the layoffs have been poorly thought out. For instance, laying off two economics professors will leave just 21/2teaching positions in a department with 66 majors, said Susan Feiner, a USM economics professor who organized the protest. Her position has not been cut.

“Two-and-a-half people can’t deliver a major,” Feiner said. She also said that business majors – one of the most popular majors at USM – are required to take economics courses, adding to the department’s workload.

Feiner said the university is moving ahead with the cuts without coming up with a plan for accommodating students in programs where the heaviest faculty cuts are taking place.

The administration, Feiner said, “doesn’t understand the linkages and connections across the system.” The cuts, she said, are making USM “a pathetic shadow of what a university should be.”

Quint said there are other professors on campus with a background in economics who might be able to teach courses for the economics majors. He also said the university is looking at ways for economics, business and finance faculty members to collaborate to meet the needs of students majoring in those departments, although he acknowledged the details haven’t been worked out.

“We’re going to meet all those needs,” Quint said. The students “won’t see any lag in the faculty that will be able to teach them.”

But one student wasn’t so sure.

Wil Aitchison took some courses at Southern Maine Community College and at the University of Colorado before transferring to USM this fall to major in economics.

“But with half the faculty being cut, I don’t know if that’s possible anymore,” said Aitchison, adding that he hopes he doesn’t need to transfer again.


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