About 100 protesters disrupted the University of Maine System board of trustees meeting Monday in Portland, shouting down the chairman with chants of “Invest in USM!” and “Stop the cuts!”

In the past two months, the trustees have voted to eliminate five academic programs at the University of Southern Maine, and the administration cut 50 faculty positions. USM officials say the cuts will shave $6 million from a $16 million budget gap for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The remaining $10 million will come from staff and administration cuts and an academic reorganization to be announced before the end of the year.

After the trustees called a five-minute break, the students surged forward and sat at the trustees’ table.

“Reverse the cuts now!” they chanted. “Whose university? Our university!”

“I’d be concerned if you were not here,” Chairman Samuel Collins began at one point, saying it showed their passion for the university. Students shouted him down.

USM President David Flanagan spoke briefly before giving up as the shouting increased, saying state investment in higher education has declined and that “the next legislature needs to take up this cause.”


“Our demands are utterly reasonable,” student protester Neal Young said after the protesters stopped chanting. He said they wanted the trustees to reverse the cuts and look for alternative solutions to the budget crisis.

It was the biggest show of force – and the first major disruptive action – by the student protesters since the group formed in the spring when the first faculty cuts were announced.

In the spring, a smaller group of protesters occupied a hallway outside the provost’s office as faculty members went in to be told they were being laid off.

For about 45 minutes on Monday, the students at the trustees table told stories about how the cuts affected their programs, some saying they were told to get courses at other schools, or felt they had to transfer to another school or out of state because of the cuts.

“We as a society can afford public higher education and that’s what this is about,” said protester Meghan Lasala, saying she rejected the argument that the state is “broke.”

Collins cited “economic and demographic realities” in a statement issued after the protest ended.


“I understand the frustrations that led to the demonstration that disrupted today’s meeting of the Board of Trustees,” he said in an email. “Our economic and demographic realities are forcing us to make some very difficult choices as we align the University of Southern Maine with the times and position the university as an affordable institution of higher education into the future.”

The protest ended when one of the students asked everyone to leave the table.

“We are being civil, we have every right to be here,” said Ben Davis, a sophomore English major. “Now, let them have their seats back so they can do the right thing.”

The students then got up, chanting “Do the right thing!” They slowly made their way to the back of the gym, taking seats in the audience.

The trustees did not address the students or the impromptu protest when they resumed the meeting.

On Sunday, about 50 protesters, mostly faculty members, greeted the trustees as they arrived at USM’s Portland campus for the beginning of the two-day meeting.

A spokesman noted that on Sunday, a group of more than a dozen students, including some student activists, met with Collins, Flanagan and Chancellor James Page.

“University leadership is committed to engaging students, faculty and stakeholders in respectful discussions about the University of Southern Maine’s future,” spokesman Dan Demeritt said in an email.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.