What is going on in the University of Maine System?

After a week in which we found out Chancellor Dannel Malloy botched big changes at two of the schools he oversees, we’re left wondering how the ball was dropped so badly, and why officials are being so secretive about their plans for Maine’s public universities.

On May 7, the Sun Journal reported that nine faculty members at the University of Maine at Farmington found out a few days before that their positions had been eliminated.

Sources said the cuts had removed all staff in the women’s and gender studies program, the philosophy and religion department, and in modern languages. Three other positions were eliminated in the geography, history and psychology departments.

Among the faculty members let go from the school were advisers to student groups. Most of them had been with the school for a decade or more.

The move has demoralized the UMF community. It has complicated plans for students whose graduations may be delayed.

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And they’ve gotten little in the way of an explanation from university officials, who only say that the cuts are in response to “budget and enrollment challenges at UMF” – and no specifics about how individual positions were chosen for elimination, despite pleas for answers.

UMaine officials have even refused to confirm the exact positions cut, citing a flimsy excuse.

That has understandably left students and faculty wondering where their university is heading. UMF, a school renowned for producing teachers, takes pride in its liberal arts education.

They should. A well-rounded liberal arts education gives students what they need to succeed in an interconnected, ever-changing and ever-challenging world.

As one faculty member told the Sun Journal, that education is “a cornerstone of democracy,” saying it “trains young people to think creatively and critically about the world around them; to develop their sense of curiosity about other people; to care about things; about the value of pushing their boundaries and thinking outside the box.”

Now the cuts, and the secrecy around them, have the UMF community concerned that leadership in the UMaine System does not value that education in the same way. There have been indications in conversations between students and UMF officials that the cuts are part of a system-wide effort to focus on job training.

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If that’s true, Malloy needs to better explain it to the UMaine community and the state as a whole. It’s up to him to say why it makes sense to risk UMF’s reputation, and why he thinks eliminating popular classes will make the school more attractive to students.

So far, his explanations have been incomplete and his interactions with students and faculty underwhelming, and at times dishonest.

Malloy is quickly losing trust. Students at UMF this week held a 24-hour sit-in to protest the eliminated positions and are asking for Malloy’s resignation, as well as that of new interim President Joseph McDonnell, who apparently was hired without input from faculty.

Malloy also made errors in the search for a new president at the University of Maine at Augusta, where he withheld from the search committee the fact that their eventual choice had been the subject of serious allegations at his previous job.

The errors at UMA and UMF are separate, but they are related. In both cases, the faculty and students were made to feel as if they didn’t matter – as if they were just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Malloy should know now that they are not. Instead, they are members of a community who deserve input on its future, and they should be treated that way.


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