2014-11-18 / Front Page

UMaine system trustees see worst-case scenario

PORTLAND (AP) — The University of Maine System faces a deficit of up to $90 million by 2020 under a worst-case scenario presented to trustees.

The scenario was presented at a meeting Monday temporarily disrupted by about 100 students chanting and protesting cuts at the University of Southern Maine. The university has eliminated several majors and dozens of faculty positions in an attempt to balance the books.

Rebecca Wyke, the seven-campus system's vice chancellor for administration and finance, says the worst-case scenario can be headed off by increasing tuition, boosting enrollment, getting more money from the state or laying off hundreds of workers.

Tuition and state funding have been level for several years.

Wyke says increasing enrollment is difficult because the number of teens and young adults in Maine is falling fast.

Students, frustrated over budget cuts that eliminated programs and led to staff reductions, disrupted the trustees' meeting, marching in and chanting “stop the cuts,” and taking seats at their table after the trustees yielded to the cacophonous demonstration.

Trustees tried to talk to the protesters before giving up and adjourning briefly.

Chairman Samuel Collins and USM President David Flanagan were shouted down before retreating to the sidelines for 45 minutes, allowing demonstrators to stage a sit-in at their table. Flanagan supported proposals to eliminate programs and 50 faculty positions to save $6 million. The school is trying to close a $16 million budget gap for the next fiscal year.

“I understand the frustrations that led to the demonstration,” Collins said in a statement. He said “economic and demographic realities are forcing us to make some very difficult choices.”

Trustees seemed to take it in stride.

Collins noted that he and Flanagan already had met with student leaders, including some of those who took part in the protest.

“I'd be concerned if you were not here,” Collins told the demonstrators, saying their presence indicated that they were passionate about their studies and their university.

Afterward, trustees approved development of a unified budget process to cover all seven campuses and listened to an updated, multiyear financial analysis that projects a deficit at $90 million by 2020.

Trustees who have gone to great lengths to avoid tuition increases for the past three years are asking lawmakers for a 3.5 percent funding increase over the next two years to keep tuition in check, said Dan Demeritt, university system spokesman.

But the long-term plan calls for tuition increases and more state funding to reduce the size of the projected deficit. The plan also envisions further reductions in the university workforce, along with efforts to boost enrollment.

In other action, trustees approved a strategic plan for the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus and agreed upon a new definition of “consent” as a part of its new policy on sexual assault and harassment. They also agreed to proceed with planning for a professional and graduate center in Portland.

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