Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

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Special mention

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The American Association of University Professors voted overwhelmingly Saturday to censure the administration of the University of Southern Maine for the Draconian budget cuts it imposed this past year.

Summarizing an earlier report on the ongoing academic shakeup at Southern Maine, Committee A’s censure recommendation accused the university of disregarding both AAUP and its own policies regarding circumstances under which programs can be closed down. The university slashed four academic programs — several of which AAUP and local businesses argued were key to the area’s culture and economy — and eliminated more than 50 tenured and nontenured faculty positions without declaring financial exigency.

“Also striking was the fact that these programs were canceled in midyear and that no provisions were made for students remaining in the programs to complete their courses of study,” in violation of standards set by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the university’s accrediting body, Committee A said in its censure recommendation.

No one defended Southern Maine’s actions — which the university has attributed to its desire to become a “metropolitan university” and to significant budget cuts — and the motion passed nearly unanimously.

 

Many of us, college and university professors, would like to see our students take a more active role in their education. That’s because students are not consumers; they produce their own education in a collaborative manner with their professors and their fellow students. That’s the only way higher education can work.

Well, students at the University of Southern Maine, where the university administration is laying off faculty, closing academic programs, and imposing Draconian budget cuts, are demonstrating what it means to take an active role in their education.

One example, shown in the clip above, is students’ occupation of the most recent meeting of the University of Maine Board of Trustees.

A second example is a remarkable column by Michael Havlin, a recent graduate of the University of Southern Maine, who is now attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a dual master’s degree.

When I first enrolled at USM four years ago I was, frankly, a punk, a hoodlum, a trouble maker. When I enrolled, I had little intention of ever even actually graduating, let alone going on to pursue a secondary degree. I came to have fun and maybe get an OK job out of it.

And so, like the hoodlum that I was, I enrolled as a business major. The very first classroom I stepped into — late, of course — was Introduction to Microeconomics with Rachel Bouvier. I did not know at the time, but I would slowly find my passion in that classroom. After taking a few more courses in economics, I knew I had found my passion, and so I declared a second major.

My thoughts of quickly getting out of USM and finding some silly business job quickly dissipated as we analyzed topics such as inequality, labor rights and the environment.

I liked my business professors and courses a great deal, and I learned a lot in them. But, unlike in business, where I was taught how to do, in my economics classes, I was taught how to think. I learned how to write, how to analyze and how to challenge the status quo. I was inspired to actually do something with my life. My time with the economics department at USM gave me, the former hoodlum who comes from a working-class family, the opportunity to get an actual education. USM gave me the opportunity to pursue whatever dreams I wanted.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees, USM President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell apparently don’t want USM to be that kind of school anymore. Through their proposals to lay off 50 faculty members and cut two more academic programs, they’re sending the message that they don’t think that you — or your tuition — are worth a real education.

You can debate the reality of a financial crisis here at USM. In fact, a lot of people do, some of whom have Ph.D.’s in quantitative fields.

But, one thing you cannot debate is that the so-called budget crisis is being used to camouflage an agenda to drastically change the University of Southern Maine. My fear is that change will transform USM from a university at which you can get a transformative education like I did to one in which you can only learn how to punch numbers into an Excel spreadsheet or administer vaccinations at Maine Medical Center. The writing is on the walls: a USM whittled down to a center for job training in business, nursing and technology.

By cutting from USM’s academic core, the Board of Trustees is showing that the vision they have for USM is not one where students can be challenged and given the tools necessary to, perhaps, someday get a Ph.D. If you want that kind of education, you could go to a private school like Bowdoin or Bates — somewhere I am sure we can all afford.

It appears as though the administrators’ new vision is one where USM is simply an appendage to the corporate world, year after year, turning out debt-ridden, standardized workers to the business needs of southern Maine.

Maine is better than this. Mainers who can’t afford places like Bates and Bowdoin deserve a good education, too. We all deserve an opportunity to reach our potential.

We have a true gem here at USM, and we need to protect it, not just for ourselves, but for the future middle-class Mainers who want the same opportunity that I had.

A recent article chronicles national media attention on the situation at the University of Southern Maine. Here is the Facebook page of Students for USM’s future. You can donate directly to their campaign, the USMFuture Preservation Fund.

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This past Wednesday, faculty and students protested budget cuts and layoffs at University of Southern Maine, calling the reductions an attack on the university and on Maine’s economy.

Layoffs occurred in multiple departments including computer science and economics, the Maine Education Association reported, spurring a press conference on the Portland campus Wednesday.

Paul Christiansen, associate professor of musicology, told a crowd outside Payson Smith Hall, “I’ve been at USM for nine years, I’ve been tenured for three years, I’ve been fired by voicemail, and I’m supposed to get a letter sometime today by I guess express mail. Pretty pathetic.”

Christiansen said his position’s elimination will affect students.

“How will music undergraduate and graduate students be able to graduate without the music history courses that I’ve been teaching here since I’ve been here?” he asked. “How will they be able to graduate without a PhD teaching these courses? And I was the only music historian not only at USM but in the entire University of Maine system.”

Prefacing his comments with the remark, “Well, here we go again,” Christiansen noted that cuts have buffeted the university over the entire year. He said the impacts will be felt outside the halls of higher education.

“This is even worse for the entire state of Maine. They’re destroying USM and this comprehensive public university that serves the economic and cultural center of the state,” Christiansen said.

“There’s an utter lack of vision or leadership among these administrators. It’s mere bean counting, not higher education,” he said.

Rachel Bouvier, associate professor of economics, said her layoff notice led to gifts of chocolates and flowers from students, but she urged them to go beyond commiserating. She urged students to share their stories about the value of the economics department and professors’ role in their education.

“You need to tell your stories to the legislators, and you need to tell your stories to the community. You need to tell them that your education is not just about a diploma, it’s not just about a degree,” Bouvier said.

Relationships with faculty and the experience at USM also play an important role in a student’s development, she said. “My beloved, beautiful, bright students, I hope that I will be able to be part of your future,” Bouvier said, holding out hope that the cuts might be reversed.

“We are not a diploma mill, we are educating our students,” she said.

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In the case of the University of Southern Maine, it is an exhibition of courage and steadfastness—and ultimately delight—on the part of both faculty and students who were able to force the administration to rescind the faculty layoffs and to reconsider the other proposed budget cuts that would have destroyed the “people’s university.”

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Good news! The campaign of protests against the unwarranted budget cuts at the University of Southern Maine has been successful:

University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow has reversed the 12 faculty layoffs that prompted weeks of protests, saying she’s open to alternative plans for finding up to $14 million in cuts.

However, at least at this point, it appears the victory is still only partial and incomplete:

When asked if the faculty members might still be laid off if alternate cuts are not found, Kalikow said they would not. However, she did not reverse the decision to eliminate about 30 staff positions. . .

Still scheduled to be closed are three academic programs: the American and New England studies graduate program, geosciences, and the arts and humanities major at Lewiston-Auburn College, which is part of USM. If those programs are eliminated, seven professors will be laid off.

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And, while we’re at it, more good news: UPS is going to rehire the 250 Queens drivers [ht: sm] who lost their jobs in late March for participating in a 90-minute walk-out to protest the firing of union activist and longtime employee Jairo Reyes.

“We have sent a clear message to corporate America that firing workers en masse for minor workplace disagreements is unacceptable,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, who had warned UPS that its large state contract and city perks could be jeopardized if it didn’t negotiate with the union. The drivers will, however, have to accept some lost wages: As part of the agreement, they will all serve a two-week suspension, which means giving up about $2,560 each.

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University of Southern Maine students walked out of class Monday at noon to protest recent faculty layoffs.

The students gathered at the University of Maine School of Law on USM’s Portland campus for a peaceful demonstration to oppose what they are calling unnecessary layoffs. The students are demanding more transparency from the administration.

USM has laid off 12 professors and 14 staff members, with another 10-20 layoffs expected as a result of a $14 million budget shortfall.

The protesters spent the day trying to find a way to reverse the layoffs.

“Because I grew up blue collar, I don’t deserve a classics degree? I don’t deserve an economics degree? I have to wait for them to fish that intellect out-of-state?” said student Brittany Sioux-Goldych.

Economics professor Susan Feiner claims there is no structural gap in USM’s budget and the layoffs are for political reasons.

“Why do you think they want to cut USM? Cheap labor. Cheap labor,” Feiner said at the rally.

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Yesterday, more than 100 students and faculty members staged a sit-in to protest proposed budget cuts and layoffs at the University of Southern Maine.

Susan Feiner, a faculty member in the economics and women and gender studies departments, sat in the middle of the hallway and encouraged students to join her in blocking the way in the manner of the student sit-ins of the 1960s. When USM police asked her to move, she suggested students sit on her to prevent her from being moved.

“What the chancellor’s told you, what the chancellor’s told the public, about a potential $36 million deficit opening up in the next fiscal year, is a bold-faced lie,” Feiner said. . .

“[The administration] has given us no numbers, no rationale, just a series of assertions that say we need to [make cuts],” said Lorrayne Carroll, a graduate of USM and a professor of English, American and New England studies and women and gender studies.

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Mainstream economists and politicians continue to promote higher education as the solution to all the major economic and social problems in the United States. Meanwhile, as Demos has shown, our nation’s higher education system is being dismantled by state-mandated budget cuts (including staff and faculty layoffs and the elimination of key academic programs) and transformed into a debt-for-diploma system.

The University of Southern Maine is the latest school to announce Draconian budget cuts, the dismantling of some academic programs, and union-busting layoffs even in programs that are not being eliminated—all while engaging in corporate “rebranding” and the creation of new programs such as cybersecurity and entrepreneurship. As one current student wrote:

I am beyond livid with the way these budget cuts are being handled and the way the faculty is being treated. It’s not the faculty’s fault that we dumped thousands of dollars into misspelt and incorrect signs last summer. Or that the basketball coach’s salary and cutting 26 faculty positions just last Spring apparently hasn’t helped. The reality is that the only thing right with this school is the faculty. They seem to be the only people left who care about the students earning an education. Maybe the administration just hasn’t been alerted that we are paying to be educated, not to have pretty classrooms and a better basketball team. We are paying for an education and, if they would be so kind as to give it to us, everyone just might end up content.

Meanwhile, other college campuses are seeing a rise in food pantries [ht: sm] to take care of increasingly impoverished students.

Days after biology major Gillian Carll arrived at Stony Brook University last fall, she encountered a young woman on a bench outside her dormitory who said she had nothing to eat.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ I didn’t know kids could afford to go here but couldn’t have mac and cheese or something like that,” said the Livonia, N.Y., freshman. “It was kind of unbelievable.”

Carll got the student some food from her dorm room and later volunteered at Stony Brook’s new food pantry — one of dozens cropping up at colleges across the country in recent years as educators acknowledge the struggles many students face as the cost of getting a higher education continues to soar.

“The perception is of college students that if you are able to go to college and you have an opportunity to go to college, you’re part of the haves of this country, not part of the have-nots,” said Beth McGuire-Fredericks, assistant director for college housing at the Stony Brook campus on eastern Long Island and a co-founder of the pantry.

“How can someone who’s in college be someone who has a need like food?”

 

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Apparently, Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage is continuing his push to loosen the state’s child labor laws, arguing that 12-year-old children should not be restricted from working and learning life skills.

“I went to work at 11 years old,” he said at a town hall meeting in 2011. “I became governor. It’s not a big deal. Work doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“I’m all for not allowing a 12-year-old to work 40 hours,” LePage told Down East magazine in an interview published this month. “But a 12-year-old working eight to 10 hours a week or a 14-year-old working 12 to 15 hours a week is not bad.”

LePage earlier backed legislation that would have allowed businesses to pay students $5.25 an hour, rather than the $7.50 minimum wage. That bill was unsuccessful.

 

Note: I just learned that U.S. federal law does not prohibit but only regulates child labor: by limiting the maximum hours of employment for youth between the ages of 14 and 16 years old to 3 hours a day and 18 hours a week on school days and, when school is out, 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week; and by establishing a youth minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for employees under 20 years of age during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer.