Another American university is planning to close academic programs and lay off faculty, a move I’ve dubbed the queen sacrifice. The University of Southern Maine is facing a serious budget shortfall, and has responded with cuts.
“We can no longer afford to carry all the programs we have”, explained USM’s president. Programs and departments facing the axe include:
American and New England studies, geosciences, arts and hmanities at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College facility, and recreation and leisure studies.
A number of faculty and staff will be terminated:
[President Theo] Kalikow said she is recommending between 20 and 30 faculty reductions. She said she also is proposing between 10 and 20 additional staff position cuts…
[T]he number of full-time faculty will be reduced from 310 to about 280.
Twelve received layoff noticed today. Some of those position reductions are from other programs not scheduled to be closed:
faculty layoffs came in the departments of economics, English, sociology, theater, the honors program, in the School of Music, and in the Muskie School’s graduate program in public policy and management.
The university is considering emphasizing a different set of programs:
Kalikow… hinted at potential future investments in new programs in perceived growth areas such as cybersecurity and entrepreneurship, as well as new health- and business-focused adult completion degree programs.
What caused this financial problem? Enrollment decline, as in many other cases:
the school’s enrollment has dropped from the equivalent of 7,348 full-time students in 2005-2006 to 6,460 full-time equivalents today.
Or enrollment plus other factors, a:
“perfect storm” of factors including lower revenues, higher costs, flat funding and a decrease in student enrollment of about 12 percent over the past seven years.
The USM queen sacrifice move connects with a multi-campus strategy:
Kalikow said the proposed cuts would set the stage for a rebuilding effort for the university, which she hopes will include further integration of the Lewiston-Auburn facility into the more tightly connected Portland and Gorham campuses. That integration will increase efficiencies and make courses currently isolated at the different sites more accessible across all locations, she argued.
Summing up, Southern Maine is apparently experiencing a typical set of problems now facing American higher education: declining enrollment and rising costs. USM is also responding in a now familiar way: reducing humanities, laying off staff and faculty, looking to STEM and professional programs for increased revenue.
Since pursuing this queen sacrifice theme, I’ve received criticism to the effect that in many cases the terminated programs are not so central to a campus mission as a queen is to a chess player’s group of pieces. There is much sense to this, at least statistically, but I meant the metaphor to capture the qualitative importance of some programs to many in academia. For example, according to one USM faculty member:
Mark Lapping, a professor at the university’s Muskie School of Public Service and a former provost, said the American and New England studies program has generated some of the school’s most high-profile scholarly research.
I picked that particular chess metaphor to capture this qualitative sense. I’d also like to emphasize the emotional power of such cuts, both within an individual institution and for individual academic disciplines.
It seems that 2014 will see more of these events, unfortunately.