That, unfortunately, has been the question at the University of Southern Maine for the past two years.
Fortunately, after a long series of faculty and student protests against the administration’s attempts to engage in significant “eliminating, retrenching and/or reshaping academic programs” at the university, the American Association of University Professors has delivered a forceful rebuke to the stated rationale and procedures of the program cuts and faculty layoffs that have been imposed.
Among the investigating committee’s findings:
1. There is “no plausible reason to conclude that USM is facing a financial disaster—or significant financial distress of any kind.” In fact, the committee suggests the university should be expanding, not cutting, its academic programs and staff.
2. In making the program cuts and laying off faculty members, the university administration “ignored not only AAUP-supported governance standards but also its own published statements.”
The AAUP as a whole now has to consider the report and decide on whether or not to officially censure the university. Meanwhile, the faculty union has taken the university into binding arbitration.
According to Susan Feiner, President of the USM chapter of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine union,
The USM Chapter of AFUM is distressed by the impact of administrative actions on students and public higher education in Maine. At USM, dozens of courses that were to be taught by full-time fully qualified professors were cancelled. As a result, students have been unable to enroll in courses needed for degree completion. We are concerned that the administrators have instituted piecemeal, arbitrary changes to program graduation requirements. Furthermore, we are worried about the educational consequences of doubling the permitted enrollments in some classes, effectively eliminating the ability of faculty to review writing and work individually with students.
In addition to the findings noted above the AAUP report notes that USM administrators repeatedly ignored faculty offers to work with the administration to help solve budgetary, revenue, and enrollment problems. . .
The USM Chapter of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM) welcomes this report. We agree with its findings. We note that many administration actions cited in the report also constitute violations of the faculty’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the University of Maine System.
Clearly, the battle over the fate of the University of Southern Maine is not over. But the AAUP’s investigation into the financial and governance issues surrounding the austerity measures imposed by the administration at Southern Maine will clearly resonate in many public colleges and universities across the country where similar attempts at “eliminating, retrenching and/or reshaping academic programs” are being enacted.
The findings of the AAUP point in a different direction: to opening up the books, creating and respecting forms of shared governance, and expanding academic opportunities for working-class students in public higher education.