LEWISTON — Changes may be coming to University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College. 

USM President Theodora Kalikow has proposed dropping arts and humanities — one of L-A College’s four undergraduate programs — restructuring staff and cutting an unspecified number of faculty from the college as part of a USM-wide effort to fill a $14 million budget gap.

Kalikow also wants to review L-A College’s structure. USM spokesman Robert Caswell said the review would have two goals: find ways to get Androscoggin County students easier, local access to a wider array of USM majors and make USM’s Portland, Gorham and Lewiston locations “a more coherent whole.”

“This could be a huge win-win by providing people in the two major metropolitan regions that we serve a much wider and probably, ultimately, a much better range of courses,” Caswell said. “Now, the devil is in the details.”

But some college leaders worry that Kalikow’s proposed cuts and that not-yet-detailed review will only hurt an already-lean L-A College.

“The point (of L-A College) is to allow the people on our campus and the people of our community to have a full experience. Not a full experience online or a full experience with adjuncts,” said Tara Coste, associate professor in leadership studies at L-A College and vice chairperson for the faculty senate.

Created 25 years ago, L-A College serves about 950 students, offers four undergraduate programs, two graduate programs and teacher certification and provides local courses for some USM programs. It has 46 staff members, including 22 full-time faculty, as well as dozens of adjunct and part-time faculty members.

Coste said the college is almost completely self-sustaining, with most its funding coming from tuition.

But as a whole, USM has a budget problem. It needs to find or cut $14 million, nearly 10 percent of its upcoming budget.

Caswell said declining enrollment and sluggish revenue have led to the budget problem.

USM isn’t alone. The entire University of Maine System has a $36 million budget gap, including USM’s $14 million.

Kalikow convened a special advisory group to come up with recommendations for USM’s future, including its financial future. Earlier this month, that group, which included faculty members, staff, student leaders and community representatives, gave her its report.

On Friday, Kalikow announced a USM-wide proposal that included cutting four programs and 20 to 30 faculty jobs as well restructuring staff. Few other details were available, including how many of those faculty cuts would come from L-A College.

Later this month, Kalikow is also expected to announce USM faculty and staff layoffs and the possible closure and sale of high-cost, underused buildings.

Coste said she understands the bind USM is in.

“The university clearly needs to make some efficiencies if it’s going to even come close to meeting the request of the system,” she said. “I believe that necessarily means there will be some elimination of programs that are perhaps not as central to the mission of the university or are duplicated by other places in the system.”

And, she said, this proposal is at least less worrisome than an earlier one.

“Which eliminated the college,” Coste said.

That early proposal called for downgrading the school from a college to a campus. Caswell said Kalikow dropped that idea and “decided to first focus on the goal of providing more access and letting those involved in the discussion/feedback period come up with ideas on how to best achieve the goal.” 

“We don’t want to damage the LAC culture in any way. We want to replicate it on the other campuses where appropriate,” Caswell said in an email.

But Coste and others worry that the cuts that have been proposed will come at L-A College’s expense.

The arts and humanities program, for example, is an integral part of the college’s overall interdisciplinary approach to education, she said. That interdisciplinary focus won’t work without one of the major disciplines.

“Even if a college exists, if you take out one of the four legs . . .  you’ve caused a serious problem,” she said. “We can’t say we have liberal arts-based professional degrees if we don’t have robust programs that provide the liberal arts.”

The arts and humanities program has 22 to 40 students majoring in it at any one time and provides classes to students from other programs.

L-A College Associate Dean Blake Whitaker has concerns, too. He believes the college is already running so lean that it won’t be able to handle more restructuring or the elimination of staff. 

“We’re certainly cut to the bone by the budget cuts that we’ve suffered up until now,” he said. “I think as we go further, we’re going to become less and less nimble, less able to meet all of the demands of students in this area and more of an outlet than a fully-functional college.”

One example he stated was the fact that L-A College has a single administrative assistant left to handle the work of all faculty and the dean’s office.

“Now think of another professional entity, a professional enterprise, like a lawyer’s office or an accounant’s office, and how many administrative assistants those people have,” he said.

Losing more people would not serve the college or its students, Whitaker said.

Caswell said Kalikow recognizes that USM’s choices are tough, and she doesn’t make the proposals lightly.

“It’s painful, especially for the people affected, obviously,” he said. “But it’s really an issue that needs to be addressed so that, in the long run, USM is stronger and more connected to the community.”

More information on Kalikow’s proposals and USM’s future can be found at USM.Maine.edu/transition.

An open campus forum will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. to give USM community members a chance to talk about the university’s future, including Kalikow’s proposals. The forum will be held in the Hannaford Lecture Hall at USM in Portland and will be broadcast live on the Web and to students on the Lewiston-Auburn campus. For more information call 780-4200.

USM will offer opportunities for people to give input about the proposals this spring, but the details have not yet been finalized.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees will have the final say on any proposed program cuts this summer. If a program is eliminated, students who are already enrolled will still be able to finish their degrees. 

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