By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Good news, which I hope travels fast to other universities. Maine Sunday Telegram:
University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow on Friday rescinded the 12 faculty layoffs that had prompted weeks of protests, saying she’s open to alternative plans for finding up to $14 million in cuts.
(I know! I know! [raises hand] You can eliminate the Chancellor’s office, which sucks up $20 million dollars for no apparent reason. You could also hunt down the political appointees previous Democratic governor Baldacci installed throughout the system in highly paid administrative — that is, unproductive — positions.) Of course, Kalikow was at pains to deny that the opposition had anything to do with her decision:
“Those retrenchment (layoff) notices are off the table for now,” Kalikow said Friday afternoon at the USM Faculty Senate meeting. She said she made up her mind at 2 p.m., just as the meeting began, and didn’t even have time to tell the affected faculty.
The surprise announcement came as the Faculty Senate unveiled a draft 27-point proposal for alternative cuts and about two dozen students traveled to Augusta to lobby state lawmakers. The students met with members of the Portland delegation and the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
Also, the faculty union sent a grievance letter to the administration Thursday challenging the layoffs.
But Kalikow said none of those things played a role in her decision [never let ’em see you sweat], saying she had been out of state [apparently without phone or Internet] and didn’t know about the union letter and had not read the Faculty Senate proposal [diplomacy!]. And while she praised the students for their activism, she said that did not play a role in the reversal, either.
Kalikow said she didn’t see herself as “caving” in to pressure, but didn’t say exactly what changed her mind [ha ha].
Some mysterious force, a deus ex machina, I suppose. Although who knows? Perhaps the faculty proposal, union grievance and the student protests changed the mind of a “hidden hand” that’s manipulating Kalikow? Heck, maybe it was Krugman!
Here are the alternative cuts proposed by the Faculty Senate:
[They] include ending the use of outside consultants, eliminating middle-management administrators and consolidating the three campuses of the University of Southern Maine. There is no dollar figure associated with the list of 27 proposals, but Faculty Senate Chairman Jerry LaSala said he believes they can find the same cost savings that were in Kalikow’s proposal.
Here’s the full list of recommendations; this one is especially fun:
8. Require the President, Provost, and Deans each to teach one class per year to offset their salaries via tuition revenue
Ha. Worthy goals all. However, institutionally, the most important trend to combat is what I called “mall-ificaiton” (hyphen added for clarity) the last time we looked at USM:
Our university is to become a big mall with lovely facilities, a few very well-paid investors, executives, and administrators, and a retail experience for consumers. And retail wages and working conditions for the workers.
At USM, mall-ification is to be achieved through something called “The President’s Leadership Council” (and whenever you hear the word “leadership,” put your hand on your wallet or clutch your purse).
Theo Kalikow’s appointment began with the creation of a “Leadership Institute” into which hand-picked members of the staff, faculty, and administration were inducted.
Their first assignment was to read a book called Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions. Written by John Kotter, formerly of the Harvard Business School, and advertised as a “low-threat tool” for changing organizations bound by tradition, the little book features members of the Penguin Leadership Council compelled to adjust to changing circumstances or die.
Translated to academic culture, this means that tenure-track positions will be replaced by lectureships and online classes; nationwide standards for tenure and promotion will give way to demonstrations of having promoted the new branding; and raises will be used to reward those who show willingness to forget academic values and to promote a “new normal.”
Does the Senate Faculty proposal have an answer for this? Why, yes. Abolish the institution that’s doing it, which is excellent academic politics:
15. Abolish the President’s Leadership Institute, which does not serve students.
Quite right, too. Meanwhile, the students lobbied the state legislature:
A group known as Students for #USMfuture [flyer] has been protesting and recruiting more students to their cause since university administrators earlier this month announced program cuts and faculty layoffs.
The group was dealt a setback Thursday, when legislative leaders rejected a student-drafted bill, sponsored by independent [formerly Green] state Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, which would have placed a one-year moratorium on the proposed cuts to allow a stakeholders group to review the university system’s finances and suggest alternatives to the cuts.
Impressive, and even if the legislation failed, you can be sure an effort like that opened some eyes.
I’m thinking back to the the Printemps érable in Montreal, that NC covered back in 2012, where hundreds of thousands of students marched against a neo-liberal assault on public education in Quebec, that sought to raise tuition. However, #USMfuture is very different. First, Maine is not Montreal; if 250,000 were to march in Maine, as they did in Montreal, that would be about 20% of the population of the entire state, and four times the population of the city of Portland. Nevertheless, USM managed to reverse its cuts (so far), run a very successful national public relations campaign (Krugman; Chomsky; the Nation; Chronicle of Higher Education), and co-ordinate student protests, the Faculty Senate, the faculty union, and supporters statewide; getting legislation introduced is especially remarkable. Although much smaller, #USMfuture seems to reach deeper into all the institutions it encounters. So this is great stuff, and hopefully universities across the country, which all face similar assaults, can learn from them. Dirigo!
Oh, about the guns. Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies Lucinda Cole, Chronicle of Higher Education:
At the last three faculty meetings I attended at the University of Southern Maine, armed guards hovered outside the door or circulated through the rooms, hands moving to their hip holsters whenever faculty members raised their voices. Never before in my 25 years at USM had I witnessed such shows of state force against the faculty.
Guns, at a faculty meeting? Amazing. Readers, is such a thing happening in your state? I have to say that such nonsense is not unique to the university setting; an open meeting on the East-West Corridor featuring Cianbro chair Peter Vigue last year also had State police present, and people were checked at the door and forbidden to bring signs into the hall. This is how decaying regimes act as they spiral downwards toward a legitimacy crisis.
Organized opposition can work. I find this very hopeful. A Maine Spring? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!
NOTE USM is still proposing to reduce 30 staff positions; I’m not sure how many of those positions are useful, like maintenance or food prep, and how many are not, like administrators, political appointees, etc. It does seem that cutting administrative positions is becoming a mainstream idea except, perhaps, among the administrators. Bangor Daily News:
[Cuts] are necessary and have the potential to be a good thing for USM, Portland and Maine.
As USM economics professor Susan Feiner wrote last month in the Portland Press Herald, the university system’s central office in Bangor spends the equivalent of about 10 percent of the universities’ total state appropriation. This doesn’t even include the administrative components at each of the seven university campuses.
Moreover, as Feiner writes, the share going to administration has increased every year for the past five years, while the share going to teaching has not. Even if we give the administration the benefit of the doubt and allow that, perhaps, some part of this increase reflects a system more complicated to manage, especially as it undergoes reorganization, redundancies and excess need to be cut from administration, too.
Yep. Give all these “leadership” types the old heave-ho and return the universities to their central mission of teaching and research; it would be a shame to see an institutional form that’s a thousand years old die because markets.