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Protesters Occupied USM Administrative Offices
03/21/2014   Reported By: Jennifer Rooks

Dozens of students and faculty at the University of Southern Maine held a protest outside the provost's office this morning. They are angry about news that 15 faculty members will be laid off this spring. Just last week, USM's president announced plans to eliminate several departments at the university. These lay-offs are in addition to those departmental cuts.

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It began this morning when about 80 protestors took over the seventh floor of the law school building, the hallway outside the provost's office, and demanded a meeting with him.

"Let us in! Let us in!" the students chanted in unison.

USM Student Protest

They were not allowed inside, so they spoke out in the hallway. Susan Feiner is an economics professor.

"They are doing this on purpose to wreck your university," Feiner said. "So let's not let them."

Eve Raimon is a Professor of English.

"Financially, it's not a wise move, not to mention morally and academically," said Raimon.

The protest materialized quickly after word got out that several faculty members had been summonsed for meetings with the provost. One was assistant professor Meghan Brodie, who teaches in the theatre and women's and gender studies departments.

"I got a phone call yesterday morning letting me know that I had been called in to a meeting with the provost and I asked if I could know what it was about and they said, you can ask but I don't have any information," Brodie said. "And I knew that they were starting to make announcements about retrenchment so I figured it out pretty fast. And once I was in touch with my colleagues who are mostly assistant professors who were also called in, we knew what we were in for this morning."

The cuts come in response to a $14-million budget shortfall for USM, part of a $36-million budget shortfall for the entire U-Maine system. Departments affected include Theatre, English, Sociology, Economics and Art.

USM spokesman Bob Caswell said it's a sad day for USM, but one that is necessary.

"We're at a place where we really need to make some changes," Caswell said. "We really need to get our revenues in line with our expenses. We've been dealing with several trends for a number of years now, we have lower revenues, we have ever increasing costs, we have much more competition from more sources for fewer students, the economic trends out there - statewide and nationwide - I don't need to go into, but all those forces have converged into the point that we're really unsustainable as currently arranged."

At a faculty senate meeting Friday afternoon, faculty members expressed frustration and anger not only with cuts, but also what they see as a lack of transparency. Classics professor Jeannine Uzzi is a Faculty senate chair and now feels, in her words, frozen out.

"I sent an email Wednesday, I think, saying before you do anything, we need criteria, you need to make this transparent and public," Uzzi said. "No one knows how you make decisions. I got no response from anyone."

David Jones is head of the Recreation and Leisure Department, one slated for elimination. And one, he said, is profitable.

"And in terms of the criteria, it's changed," he said. "Just changed."

The faculty senate plans to come up with an alternative plan to the University's cuts by May.

USM Student Protest Sign

Meantime, students and faculty are struggling to absorb the news that their beloved campus will not be the same next year.

"It hurts when they're letting go folks that have really changed your life," said student body president Kelsea Dunham.

"The outpouring of love and support from them has meant the world to me," said Assistant Professor Brodie.

The pain will be shared by others as well. Spokesman Bob Caswell said between ten and 20 non-faculty staff members will receive layoff notices soon.

Photos by Jennifer Rooks


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