“The Cuts Make No Academic Sense”

As reported last month, the University of Southern Maine has announced drastic cuts to faculty and staff and an academic restructuring so as to make up for a budget shortfall. The philosophy department there was merged with the English department, and there is one (unconfirmed) report that one philosopher was forced into retirement on pain of termination with reduced benefits (if anyone has confirmation of this please let me know).  Further, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has weighed in, criticizing the decision-making behind the cuts as well as the need for them, noting that “Faculty members at the University of Southern Maine continue to raise questions regarding the extent of the ongoing financial difficulties, especially when the financial condition of the University of Maine system appears to be by no means precarious.”

Gideon Rosen (Princeton) has written an open letter to the President and Trustees of the University of Southern Maine and invites others to sign it. An excerpt:

This decision has been taken in clear violation of AAUP guidelines as set out in the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure  (1940), which provide that any such decision must be made in close consultation with the faculty and with procedural safeguards for faculty members who face termination.   The process leading up to these decisions at USM — which include the decision to close five programs and to consolidate many others — was kept secret from the faculty.  Many tenured members did not learn of their terminations until they were publicly announced.  This is unconscionable and bespeaks a profound failure to appreciate the values that have informed American higher education for the past half-century….

This lack of input from the faculty is reflected in the nature of the cuts, which make no academic sense. The university has moved to close the French department, despite the fact that Maine has one of the largest Francophone populations in the United States; the program in Geosciences, despite the growing relevance of geoscience to industry and public policy; and the program in American and New England Studies, despite the fact that this is one of the most distinctive programs in the University.  It has moved to consolidate the departments of philosophy, history and English, despite the fact that this collection of fields is a hodgepodge with no clear intellectual unity, and the list goes on….

We urge the administration and the trustees to reverse the cuts immediately and to restart the process, involving the faculty, the students and the public in a sustained and transparent discussion of the future of the University.


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