The University of Southern Maine’s president defended the institution Wednesday night, saying a retired professor acted in a “rogue manner” when she offered students a “pop-up” course and college credit to take a bus to Washington, D.C., with demonstrators planning to urge Sen. Susan Collins to oppose confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

President Glenn Cummings in a telephone interview denounced the actions of Dr. Susan Feiner, a former professor of economics and women and gender studies, who Cummings said retired from the university on July 1.

“Dr. Feiner is technically retired,” Cummings said. “Dr. Feiner acted in a very rogue manner. Her behavior was inappropriate. It was unacceptable.”

Cummings said the university is investigating how Feiner was able to advertise the course, which was done without approval from the committee of faculty and deans that reviews all pop-up course offerings. Pop-up course offerings don’t usually last for more than few weeks and students must register through a university portal called MaineStreet.

Uncovering Black History in Maine, which began Sept. 27, is an example of a pop-up course that requires students to attend two events and three class meetings. Pop-up courses offer credits that can be counted toward the 120 credit hours required for graduation.

University officials found out Wednesday afternoon that Feiner had asked another university employee to advertise the trip – the bus left Portland at 9 p.m. Wednesday – on social media.


“This pop-up course was hastily arranged in the past 24 hours, without the knowledge of the Provost or myself. It was not appropriately reviewed nor went through proper channels,” Cummings said in a statement. “As soon as the Provost and I were apprised of the course, we immediately pulled the one-credit offering. We also made sure that no USM monies were being used for the trip.”

“University policy makes it absolutely clear that our public, taxpayer funded institutions must be non-partisan in terms of political activity and institutionally impartial in all political, religious, and social matters that are unrelated to our universities’ core mission of education, research and public service,” Cummings said.

James Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System, also issued a statement late Wednesday night.

“The use of institutional resources to advance a partisan agenda violates Board policies established to ensure Maine’s public universities remain non-partisan and politically neutral,” Page said. “Inviting arrest for college credit goes much further, violating the trust our students, their families, and Maine taxpayers have placed in our universities and could result in serious professional consequences.”

Feiner, who was interviewed on the bus bound for Washington, D.C., said she works at the Francis Perkins Institute at USM, which organizes pop-up courses that are funded by a grant and offered free to students.

“We want these to be topical and responsive to events like this,” Feiner said.


Feiner said she felt it was important for students to have the opportunity to make the trip. She said students would act as observers, not protesters. Any student, regardless of their opinion of the Kavanaugh nomination, was invited to ride the bus.

“We’re not inviting them to protest,” Feiner said. “There was never a dime’s worth of university or taxpayer money involved.”

Feiner defended her decision, but also took responsibility for not going through the proper channels.

“I have to confess that because I was the person who wrote the grant I did not fill out the form. I was going to type it up on the bus,” she said. “It is on me. I didn’t fill out the form.” “It’s terrible to deny students such an incredible learning opportunity. Social justice is not a partisan issue. There is nothing seditious about students taking a bus to Washington, D.C., in a historic moment,” she said. “Their senator is in the epicenter of it.”

The Maine Republican Party blasted the pop-up course offering on its Facebook page.

“The University of Maine uses your tax dollars, offers college credits to protest Senator Collins in Washington, D.C.,” the Party’s Facebook post says.


The post goes on to describe an email from Gabriel Demaine, a Social Justice Community Outreach Organizer for USM’s Geography and Anthropology Department.

Cummings said it was his understanding that Feiner asked Demaine to promote the event on social media.

The Maine Republican Party shared the email to students offering college credit for taking a bus to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate. The email links to an online form asking students if they’re willing to be arrested.

“UMaine students are told that they can earn a free credit if they hop on a free bus ride down to Washington, D.C. to protest Senator Collins. The event page goes so far as to ask if students are Okay with being arrested. That will look good on a job application when they graduate,” the Republican post says.

Late Wednesday evening, Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, issued a follow-up statement to the party’s original Facebook post, a statement that was developed after Savage spoke with Cummings.

“I believe President Cummings is being truthful when he says he and the Provost had no knowledge of this pop-up course. I have been told the university is investigating this incident, and that the rogue elements at play will be dealt with appropriately for this shocking and unacceptable violation of USM’s policy,” Savage wrote.


Savage said the Republican Party will watching what actions the university takes. “The status quo must change at USM and these rogue elements must be held accountable,” Savage said.

Cummings said he is not certain if or how Feiner, who has taught at USM for more than 30 years, could be disciplined since she is no longer working at USM.

“She is not teaching here,” he explained.

Feiner said she is retired from the university, but remains involved with the Francis Perkins Institute. Her goal is to offer six to 12 pop-up courses each semester.

Susan Melcher of Pownal protests in front of the charter bus bound for Washington, D.C., from Portland on Wednesday night. The Mainers who left Portland, including Susan Feiner, holding an anti-Kavanaugh sign at center, hope to meet with Sen. Susan Collins to voice their concerns about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Melcher, who supports Kavanaugh, said she decided to voice her opinion to stand up for Kavanaugh and his family. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)

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