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Faculty continue to voice contract concerns at March 19 trustees meeting

One era ended and another began Monday when the University of Maine System’s longtime chancellor attended his last board of trustees meeting, but it appears problems that grew under Richard Pattenaude’s watch won’t be forgotten as James Page takes the helm.

Two system faculty members lambasted the board at a meeting at the University of Maine’s Wells Conference Center for its current treatment of full-time faculty system-wide. All are members of Associated Faculty of the Universities of Maine, a union.

“I’ll be awfully glad not to bring this topic up, but it’s the topic of faculty working without a contract for, now, eight months. It’s the faculty morale issue that is not just on my campus,” said Valerie Hart, a University of Southern Maine nursing professor. “I think it’s the issue of several years of not having a cost-of-living increase for many faculty.”

AFUM members have been working without a contract since June 30 and are currently working under an expired contract’s terms. Before a November 2011 protest in Portland, union officials said they were worlds apart on any sort of deal, with the system offering faculty a 0.5 percent across-the-board pay raise. Then, a member said faculty were asking for 4 percent.

Hart said a decrease in morale would be disastrous for the future of education in the University of Maine System.

“There is this impression that the money is available, but there is this hesitancy on the part of the board to spend it out,” she said. “I think that translates to faculty don’t feel valued.”

Mosley, also a professor of business and law at the University of Maine at Machias, took up a similar theme in evaluating the morale problem university faculty are facing in the system.

“If we just add up the numbers with the 2012 data on them, almost $54 million is being invested in new capital projects this year,” Mosley said. “The conclusion I reach is that this system places a higher priority on bricks and mortar than on the people that really are the university.”

In addition to this, the system’s goal of examining a performance-based funding model has temporarily stalled.

“No award was made on the request for qualification regarding consulting services for performance-based funding,” said trustee Norman Fournier, chair of the Finance Committee. “However, we gave the new chancellor 30 days to look at the RFQ, and consideration of this issue will be taken up by the committee in about 30 days.”

The board also met with student representatives, who offered suggestions of their own as to how universities could be changed for the better.

“The one main thing we really wanted to talk about today was the potential for formal evaluations of academic advisors,” said Katie Foster, UMaine’s student representative. “We really wanted to create a dialogue that included the presidents, to invite them to weigh in terms of the weight of advising on tenure promotions on specific campuses.”

In addition to this, the students suggested an evaluation process that would allow students to formally evaluate their advisors. The trustees were intrigued by the idea and many expressed interest in pursuing it in the future.

“Well, it certainly makes some sense to have some input from those that are directly affected,” said Samuel Collins, vice chair of the board.

“I think with what we’ve been talking about today, in terms of enrollment and retention particularly, this sounds like the last piece of it,” said trustee Victoria Murphy. “It’s never occurred to me, but I think it sounds perfect.”

Also at the meeting, the trustees approved two new degree programs for the state: a baccalaureate degree in tourism and hospitality at the University of Southern Maine, and an associate of science degree in physical therapy assistance at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

The meeting also brought positive news for roughly 30 faculty members who achieved tenured positions with their respective universities after the board approved nominations put forth by the institutions.