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March 27, 2014 2:39 PM University of Southern Maine Students vs. Their President

By Daniel Luzer

Well this is unusual. According to an article at The Free Press, the student paper of the University of Southern Maine, students at the college have apparently issued a vote of no confidence in the school’s president and administration.

What does this mean? Well, it’s not going to topple the administration, but it sure doesn’t mean good things. According to the piece:

The student senate voted no confidence tonight in President Theo Kalikow and her council following a series of cuts on Friday.
More than 20 students gathered tonight at the Woodbury Campus Center in Portland to help the 13 present student senators draft a proposal that will be taken to the upcoming… Board of Trustees’ meeting in Machias. The group’s no confidence vote was passed almost unanimously, with only one abstaining.
The proposal cites the senators’ disapproval of the recent actions of the president, provost and their council in regard to 12 faculty lay offs Friday and four proposals for program cuts last week. Many present at the meeting said that they were frustrated by the administration’s use of their tuition dollars and said that they also felt that the administration’s recent decisions did not reflect the vision of a metropolitan university envisioned by the work of the Direction Package Advisory Board previously this year.

Votes of no confidence in administrations are, if not common, at least frequent occurrences among university faculty. But this sort of thing is somewhat rare.

The problems stem from the president’s “strategic plan,” an ambiguous idea to make the school a “‘metropolitan university,’ with ‘flexible, adaptive and accessible’ courses of study for busy, nontraditional urban students,” according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

That’s all well and good, but flexible, of course, means flexible employment, or firing people. And then Theo Kalikow put her plan into action. Under the plan administrators cut four programs and between 20 and 30 faculty jobs. USM has a $14 million budget shortfall it’s trying to address

Protest

The university’s Faculty Senate also rejected the president’s proposed cuts.

The trustees, who appear to be allies of the president, find this behavior irritating. According to one observer, who posted some lines from the Board of Trustees meeting on Facebook, the dialogue went something like this:

BoT #1: “Frankly I don’t get this shared governance. … It’s so much easier to fire people in the private sector.”
BoT #2: “Your model should be NetFlix.”
BoT #3: “Where’d you get the idea for shared governance anyway? On Friday in most shops you’d commiserate with the folks who lost their jobs, and Monday be back at work pulling for the team.”

But that’s because this isn’t the private sector. It’s not a business; it’s an institution of higher learning. It’s supposed to be hard to institute change. That’s part of how universities get to explore new ideas, undertake controversial research, and perform service to the community; because they have certain expectations of job stability.

Professors at University of Southern Maine don’t work at a shoe factory.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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