Earlier this year, it looked as if the University of Southern Maine might become one of the rare places where students and faculty would be able to hold the line against the yet more looting by the bureaucratic classes. The woes besetting the USM are a microcosm of how higher education expenses are escalating as a result of administration feather-bedding and vanity projects. When those prove to be too costly, it’s the faculty and students that bear the brunt of the expense-shedding. As Lambert wrote in March:
Like so many other institutions in this, our neoliberal land of opportunity, universities have become infested with rent extracting parasites. Were I to say “We call those parasites administrators,” that would be wrong; surely there are administrators who are caring, competent, necessary, and neither over-paid nor corrupt . That said, university administrators are not, by definition, central to any university’s mission: Teaching and research, performed by professors, are. Therefore, it seems odd, or not, that we don’t look to the university administrative layer for budget savings first. But that’s what we’re doing. We’re ing the tapeworm instead of freeing the host from infestation. The protests against budget cuts at the University of Southern Maine (USM, in Portland, ME) provide an excellent case study.
First, I’ll look at the protests themselves. Next, I’ll look at the flavor of “mallification” the USM administration proposes in answer to the (putative) budget crisis. Finally, I’ll examine whether the cuts, the budget crisis, and the restructuring are characterized by good faith. Spoiler alert: No….
The particular flavor of mallification proposed for UMS is described in the weekly alternative Portland Phoenix (which interestingly seems to have survived the demise of the Boston Phoenix). Here’s their description of the USM “funding crisis”:
The public discrepancy over how UMS allocates its funding has been ongoing. Ron Mosley, a business and law professor at the University of Maine Machias, told the Bangor Daily News in March of 2012 that “almost $54 million was being invested in new capital projects” that year, even as AFUM and the Board of Trustees were engaged in an 18-month standoff over a new labor contract agreement.
The University rescinded the proposed funding cuts in April, only to vote them through again. Per the Huffington Post yesterday:
Chairman Samuel Collins and USM President David Flanagan were shouted down before retreating to the sidelines for 45 minutes, allowing demonstrators to stage a sit-in at their table. Flanagan supported proposals to eliminate programs and 50 faculty positions to save $6 million. The school is trying to close a $16 million budget gap for the next fiscal year.
Alert readers will notice the size of the budget gap relative to the “new capital projects”. King’s College at Cambridge has instruction rooms dating from the creation of the college and warren-like dorm rooms that look like 1930s vintage: tiny, old carpeting, walls probably not painted in years. USM might take a page from their playbook.
The American Association of University Professors warned about the dangers of budget cuts that focus on teaching, that they can produce a downward spiral as a school becomes less attractive to faculty and students. From the provost of Arizona State:
Because administrators do not like to talk publicly about the negative effects of budget cuts, many people outside the university do not realize how much damage these cuts are causing. While it is important for legislators and governors—and the public at large—to understand these negative effects, advertising the effects hurts our ability to recruit faculty members and students and depresses morale. We know, however, that when we increase class size, rely more heavily on contingent faculty, and cut staff, we are indeed interfering with the quality of education we provide to students.
Not entirely tongue in cheek, one of the faculty members on the chopping block explained what the endgame is in Bangor Daily News. We are reprinting his op-ed with his permission.
By Paul Christiansen, Associate Professor of Musicology, School of Music, University of Southern Maine. Originally published at Bangor Daily News
All of the budget cutting at the University of Southern Maine has inspired me to devise a solution to present difficulties as simple and elegant as it is innovative and transformative: Complete the “Transforming USM” process by transforming the “University of Southern Maine” into the “Administration of Southern Maine.”
Of course, there will be expenses involved with engaging a firm to design a new logo; disposing of all old letterhead, signs and business cards; and printing new material. The old logo featured a column and a flame, evoking both the tradition of education reaching back to Plato and Aristotle as well as the burning desire for knowledge that faculty work to stoke in students.
What should the new logo be? Well, how about a smiling dollar sign in place of the “S”? The smiling because of all the money saved.
As the president of USM pursues the first step of a plan meant to transform the university — by cutting 50 faculty positions and two more academic programs — that “transformation” is effectively cutting out the core of what a university should be.
Let’s call the result the Administration of Southern Maine. A$M, as I’ll call it, has already begun the process of shedding the unsightly, bulky professoriate by excising the programs of American and New England studies, geosciences, humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn College, applied medical sciences and French.
Neque Magistri (Neither Professors)
But why stop there?
The elimination of 50 faculty is effectively a course correction for last spring, when USM’s former president rescinded the individual layoffs of 12 faculty members. Indeed, who needs those pesky professors with their incessant whining about “transparency,” “shared governance” and “responsibility to students”? Administration is a powerful, majestic stallion annoyed at every turn by these gadflies. Eliminating all faculty would solve a problem that has plagued every administration.
Neque Discipuli (Nor Students)
So without faculty, there will be no need for students. The “student-centered university” can become the “self-centered administration.” Of course, the lack of students will obviate the need for marketing and outreach to attract new ones. And student services meant to retain students will likewise become obsolete. The thrilling result in both cases: more money saved.
Neque Salariarii (Nor Staff)
No university can run properly without the essential and invaluable contributions of staff. But without students to serve or faculty to support, staff won’t be needed.
A$M will start a new trend that might even spark similar actions at universities and colleges across the nation. Shouldn’t we be the leader of this trend before some other administration filches the idea from us? I for one want to see an Administration of Southern Maine before I see a Princeton Administration or a Deep Springs Administration.
Just as they have done for the University of Maine System, Maine taxpayers will continue to support the Administration of Maine System. They will be thrilled at the lower cost of supporting only administrators and will praise the administration for eliminating the university. Better yet, administration can swell its ranks by hiring more administrators. But wait, it gets even better. Administration also can increase every administrator’s salary with these savings.
So you may be wondering that without faculty, staff or students, what will these administrators be administering? Why, themselves, of course! They will still need to create mission statements, strategic directives, task force initiatives and the like.
Finally, failed campus administrators can continue to be mothballed at the system level with sinecures, drawing the same salary they had drawn in their previous positions. While not financially sound, this custom does have the advantage of comporting with past practice.
So, what should Maine students do without a public university system to prepare them to be critically thinking members ready to participate in a vibrant democracy?
Let’s take a cue from page 12 of the Republican Party of Texas platform from 2012: “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that … have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
And what should they do without a public university system to provide them with a broad education that can lead to a promising career?
Well, in the immortal words of former USM President Theodora Kalikow: “McDonald’s is not always bad.”