USM to lay off 14 more people; no teaching positions cut

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PORTLAND — Interim University of Southern Maine President David Flanagan announced 14 staff layoffs Monday as the latest part of a plan to close a $16 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year.

The staff positions — eight of which are within the school’s administration — represent another significant wave of job cuts in a process that has already included the elimination of 51 faculty positions and five programs.

None of the layoffs announced Monday were teaching positions.

In a statement released Monday, Flanagan said more jobs may be reduced in the coming months as the university looks to reorganize its research administration.

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“Our budget-balancing focus has been on creating financial sustainability for USM. This university needs — and our students and wider community deserve — an affordable, accessible, quality public higher education institution in southern Maine,” Flanagan said. “Facing our budget challenges by proposing a framework, as we have today, contributes to the prospects for restructuring and transforming USM to better serve our current and future students, region and state.

“The transitional work, and associated management efforts, will continue,” he went on. “But today we have described the budget work of the fall and are confident that with the actions taken to date, and the budget framework proposed, we can meet the [fiscal year 2016] structural gap.”

Flanagan, the former Central Maine Power Co. CEO, was hired in July to bridge a year between the retiring Theo Kalikow and a permanent USM president, who has yet to be hired. He was also tasked with tackling the school’s ongoing financial crisis, which has forced several consecutive years of painful budget cuts — as well as the regular resultant blowback from students and faculty, upset about what they’ve characterized as a cratering of academic opportunities that will scar the university for years to come.

University of Maine System administrators have called the cuts an unfortunate result of steadily dropping enrollments combined with flat tuition rates and state funding levels.

“President

is leading the transition the University of Southern Maine must undergo to ensure its ability to provide affordable access to public higher education into the future,” said James Erwin, a member of the system’s board of trustees and chairman of the USM presidential search committee, in a Monday statement.

“This transition requires USM to make tough choices, and we deeply regret the impact of these choices on members of the university community,” he continued. “President Flanagan has developed the framework for a balanced budget that will be crucial to the success of the next president of USM and the implementation of the ‘Metropolitan University’ initiative.”

Flanagan and his predecessors have pursued a rebranding of USM as Maine’s “Metropolitan University,” highlighting its urban locations in Portland and Lewiston, flexible class offerings for non-traditional and working students, and investments in new 21st century programs such as cyber security.

“USM has the necessary assets and tools to move beyond this fiscal crisis and coalesce around our vision of a metropolitan university providing accessible, affordable and quality liberal arts, humanities, STEM, health and selected graduate programs,” Flanagan said. “As we move forward with the metropolitan university development, more restructuring may, and re-investment will, occur. USM must continue to evolve to provide an education that will set students on paths towards successful and flexible careers that fuel Maine’s economy and culture and provide fiscal sustainability for our university.”

The rebranding effort has come against a backdrop of deep cuts to other programs. The university this fall has eliminated five programs: graduate programs in medical applied sciences and American and New England studies, as well as undergraduate programs in French, geosciences and humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn campus.

On Monday, Flanagan announced the elimination of 14 more staff positions, a move that follows 45 previous staff retirements and resignations.

In late October, the school announced what would become 51 faculty job cuts, made up of 26 retrenchments or non-reappointments and 25 early retirements.

Approximately another 25 faculty members also took the early retirement package, but those individuals taught outside the program areas targeted for position reductions. Many of those faculty members will be replaced, university spokesman Chris Quint said.

The 14 staff position reductions announced Monday are expected to save USM approximately $5 million, while the previous faculty cuts totaled nearly $7 million, Quint said.

Over the next month, Flanagan’s team will look to find another $4 million in savings through delays or reductions in infrastructure and renovation projects; new efficiencies in research expenses; operational cost cuts, such as giving up leases in downtown buildings; and using money from the school’s reserves.

Quint said the school will submit its final balanced budget proposal to the University of Maine System trustees in January, and the panel will review and revise that budget leading into the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Before this fall’s cuts, USM had 58 programs and about 380 full-time faculty members, Quint said.

Opponents of the reductions have decried the cuts for their cumulative negative impacts on the overall university, arguing that programs that weren’t cut have been irreparably damaged by the loss of faculty members in those disciplines.

“Faculty were reduced in programs, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to be reducing course offerings in those programs,” Quint said Monday. “We’re still in a position where we believe that we will be able to offer a robust 53 programs and meet the needs of the students in those programs.”

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