A few weeks ago, I wrote about the peculiar coup attempt against University of Southern Maine president Selma Botman. As word of a no-confidence motion emerged, the plotters–most of whom were deeply-entrenched faculty–struggled to articulate a rationale for such an extreme move. They seemed displeased that a handful of administrators received raises when the plotters’ salaries had remained flat, but in a recession-suffering state with a legislature determined to reduce spending and an anti-education governor, no reasonable person could possibly blame President Botman for faculty salaries. The plotters also seemed to oppose Botman’s efforts to modernize the campus–but, again, they struggled to articulate a positive vision or explain exactly what Botman did that was wrong.
Then, USM board of visitors member Harold Pachios was accidentally cc’d on a series of emails to and from the plotters; Pachios passed the e-mails onto the Portland Press-Herald. The e-mails read as if they were a caricature of everything critics say about out-of-touch faculty: the median age of the professors who pushed the no-confidence motion was 63, their average salary was almost $100,000, an extremely high salary in Maine, and they seemed to spend most of their time quarreling among themselves about how best to sell their coup to a skeptical public.
You might have thought that the humiliation of seeing their true agenda exposed to the community they supposedly serve would have encouraged the coup plotters to set aside their plans. Or, at the least, it might have seemed that the Press-Herald article would have led faculty outside the 53 coup plotters to stand up to these powerful interests on campus.
Alas, neither happened, and Wednesday, the no-confidence vote occurred. Prevailing required two-thirds of the total number of professors at USM, and, fortunately, the plotters fell short of that total. But incredibly, more than half of the USM faculty voted in favor of the no-confidence motion.
The chair of the faculty senate, Jeannine Uzzi, was almost giddy at the result. (Again, her side fell short.) “The petition itself was an historic event,” Uzzi informed the Free Press. “The percentage of senior faculty who signed it was a serious statement of concern, and the [University of Maine System] chancellor got that message.”
Uzzi is correct that the vote process should communicate a “message” to the system chancellor, James Page: that the plotters believe that, in the words of one of their members, “faculty really are the center of the academic universe.” If the Chancellor has any sense, he will give that message the 30 seconds of consideration it deserves, support Botman in her efforts to improve USM, and move beyond this embarrassment for the taxpayers of Maine.