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University System Raises Stopped by New Chancellor, USM Faculty Vote No Confidence for Pres
04/02/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

The University of Maine system handed out seven million dollars in discretionary pay raises over the past seven years, according to data released today. James Page, the University's new chancellor, is reviewing the increases. Page put a temporary halt to discretionary raises systemwide, after a story appeared in the Portland Press Herald on bumps in pay at the University of Southern Maine. The release of new salary data comes as a group of faculty members USM are circulating a petition for a vote of no confidence in USM President Selma Botman.

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U-Maine System Raises / USM No-Confidence Listen
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The raises fall into four categories. There are the so-called reclassified people. They got more money because additional tasks were added to their jobs. Another group of people got promoted to higher-paying positions within their departments. Still others got a bump in pay, after going through a search process and being hired into a new position. And finally, there are the equity raise folks. Their salaries were boosted to bring them in-line with others in their departments who have similar responsibilities.

"I believe that the great majority of the decisions that are documented in there, once they're reviewed and understood, will be found to be unexceptional," said University Chancellor James Page.

He said legitimate questions have come up about the adequacy of the university's compensation policies and how some of them are being carried out. So he's keeping a moratorium on discretionary raises in place, while his office conducts a sweeping review.

"And I'll report the outcome of this review to the University of Maine Board of Trustees, along with any recommended changes the policies need," Page said.

The salary data cover raises from 2006 to 2012. Professors moving into administrative positions got pay increases topping 40% in some cases. Numerous employees received three or four salary increases of 5% during the period. And the University of Maine at Orono and the University of Southern Maine led the way, each handing out more than two million dollars in raises.

"I think it certainly is a cause for concern for me, as a legislator, and for the taxpayers of the state of Maine," said State Representitive Ken Fredette (R-Newport). He sits on the legislature's appropriations committee.

"We have salaries in the University of Maine system going up by seven million dollars when enrollment in the University of Maine system is decreasing at a pretty significant rate," Fredette said. "And so if you look at that on a per-student cost, that would not be good."

Fredette said the raises send the wrong message, at a time when Maine is struggling to recover from the recession and its income growth is among the worst in the nation. With the legislative session winding down, he says it may be too late to call UMaine administrators to Augusta to answer questions. But the union that represents roughly 1,4000 of the system's salaried employees says workers shouldn't have to justify their pay increases.

"The majority of them are not really huge raises," said Neil Greenberg. He runs the Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association, which negotiated the Salaried Employee Compensation and Classification Program in 2005.

"One of the things that's happened is that, in these times, what the university has done is it's basically downsized its staff," said Greebberg. "When people leave or retire, their positions are not filled. And that job then becomes part of somebody else's job. So, in a sense, what was a full-time position is now doing the equivalent of one and a half people. That's not reflected in calling it a discretionary raise."

Questions about the raises first came up last month, when the Portland Press Herald reported that Selma Botman, the President of USM, gave large increases last summer to her chief of staff and the university's public affairs director. Botman has since rescinded the raises. Just before news of the USM raises came out, unionized faculty took part in a survey. An overwhelming majority expressed disappointment in the job performance of university administrators. Jerry LaSala, a USM physics professor, is leading a petition drive for a vote of no-confidence in Botman.

"There are about 50 signatures at this point, so its well over 10 percent," sad LaSala.

And 10% of the full-time faculty is all it takes to trigger a no-confidence vote. The referendum would be non-binding. But La Sala and others hope it will send a message to the Board of Trustees. In a phone interview late Monday afternoon, Selman Botman said she hadn't seen the actual petition, but was disappointed to learn its was circulating and gaining support. In the interest of full disclosure, U-Maine Chancellor James Page is a member of the MPBN Board of Trustees.

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