UMaine System trustees vote to cut USM programs, sell Stone House

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FORT KENT — University of Maine System trustees voted Monday for the elimination of three programs at the University of Southern Maine and to sell the Stone House, a century-old USM building in Freeport that administrators say is underused.

The actions would be part of a system-wide effort to cut costs amid a looming $69 million budget shortfall by 2019.

The proposal to cut three USM programs — New England and American studies, geosciences, and the arts and humanities program at the Lewiston-Auburn campus — has generated protests on campus. Objections over the cutting process were amplified when Monday’s meeting was moved from USM to Fort Kent.

The program cuts are part of a system-wide effort to cut $69 million from the budget by fiscal year 2019. USM President David Flanagan has said that his campus is facing $15 million in cuts this year alone. University of Maine officials have not yet said how much they will cut.

Five representatives from USM attended and spoke at the meeting Monday, according to Susan Feiner of Yarmouth, an economics and gender studies professor who has spoken against the cuts.

Feiner questioned whether cutting programs is an effective way to save money, because with fewer programs and classes, the university will attract fewer students, who are the main source of revenue.

The cuts come as a result of a budget shortfall that administrators say is caused by flat funding from the state, frozen tuition rates and a declining student population in Maine paired with the rising costs of running the institution.

To help mitigate the budget shortfall and maintain the tuition freeze, the trustees voted Monday to ask the Legislature for an increase in the state appropriation.

After two consecutive years of receiving $176.2 million, the system will ask for $182.2 million for fiscal year 2016 and $189.1 million for fiscal year 2017, increases of 3.4 and 3.8 percent, respectively.

In 2012, system administrators and the trustees agreed to freeze tuition, which had been steadily increasing each year for decades, if the state would not reduce the appropriation.

Wyke said if the Legislature does not approve the increase in appropriation, the trustees will have to cut more and consider whether to raise tuition.

Trustees also voted Monday to:

• Close an office in downtown Bangor. There are 102 people working at the Central Street office whose positions would be moved to one of the campuses.

• Eliminate several programs at UMaine.

• Spend up to $3 million to replace boilers at USM’s Portland campus.

• Spend up to $1.7 million to renovate Little Hall at UMaine

• Spend up to $1.3 million to renovate the dish room in a dining hall at UMaine.

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