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USM Faculty Proposes its Own Cost Cutting Plan

Tom Porter
USM President Theodora Kalikow (left), and Provost Michael R. Stevenson in March.

Faculty leaders at the University of Southern Maine today put forward their plan to cut costs and save a number of academic positions from being eliminated.
Faced with a dire budgetary situation, USM decided earlier this year to cut 12 faculty positions as part of an effort to cut $14 million from the school's $140 million annual budget by July.

However, last month, after a concerted campaign of protests by student and faculty leaders, USM President Theodora Kalikow decided to reverse that decision to eliminate the 12 positions, on the condition that the Faculty Senate could find a way to make those savings elsewhere.

The Faculty Senate's Alternative Budget Steering Committee was tasked with finding a way of clawing back $1.26 million - the amount needed to avoid having to lay off any faculty members. The committee went some ways beyond, says Senate Chair Jerry LaSala.

"We have identified more than enough cuts to offset that, and to make a sizeable, we think, approach to the budget exigencies of next year," LaSala said.

LaSala was addressing more than 100 faculty members at a meeting Thursday afternoon at USM's Portland campus. The proposals outline savings of nearly $2 million, thanks to a number of faculty members who have either agreed to retire early or leave their jobs voluntarily.

Eight more have agreed to go over the following two years, and LaSala says he expects several more will follow suit over that time.

On top of these, the committee has identified millions in additional savings through measures such as pay reductions, energy saving policies and administrative streamlining.

"We're up over $6 million that we're proposing here," LaSala said, "which, certainly, if even a substantial fraction of these are implemented, we will be in a much better place than we have been looking at."

While they may save the 12 threatened positions, these cutbacks still leave a big hole in USM's teaching staff, says English Professor Nancy Gish.

"We need to retain or to replace those faculty, and what the aim of the cuts in this group is, is to make possible re-investment," Gish says.

Gish hopes that with more highly-paid faculty members retiring early, their place can be taken by younger assistant professors who will cost less.

"The chancellor when he first came here and was looking for this job said that you could not have a university without hiring in new, young faculty," Gish says. "We want to see that happen."

"I would just remind everybody that we have a $14 million deficit to make up," says USM President Theo Kalikow. "And so this is all really good possibility material, but I don't know how much is real, and in any case we need to find more money."

Kalikow says she also needs more time to study the details of the Faculty Senate's proposals. But with final budget proposals due in the middle of next month, she's likely to pass judgment on the proposals sometime in the next couple of weeks.