University of Southern Maine, We Will Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Since I posted my open letter to the University of Southern Maine about their plan to sell the Stone House where I attended the Stonecoast MFA program, a lot has gone down.  This week’s Portland Phoenix explains that the University is delaying its plans to lay off faculty, and from my contacts at Stonecoast it appears that the Stone House has at least one more residency left.

The bad press over the last couple of months has frustrated the USM administrators into stalling their big plans to gut the University.  It is clear, however, that just because they are stalling, does not mean they are stopping the austerity train.  No, it seems they are waiting for the rough seas of discontent to calm, people’s anger and attention to wane, and then, when no one is watching, they plan to go right on ahead with their plan.

I say, fat chance.

Stone House Image copyFrom my sources at Stonecoast — a low-residency writing program that meets twice a year at the Stone House in Freeport — I’ve been told that University officials are going to close the Stone House in the winter, not this summer as was originally planned.  However, the rough waters of resistance will continue to rage right through to the end of any plan they have hatched.  That’s a promise.

Here’s my biggest issue with the closure of the Stone House.  USM has noted that the Stone House costs $45,000 to maintain a year.  With an alleged $14 million budget shortfall the University claims it cannot afford to keep the 96 year old waterfront estate open.  But the numbers don’t work out here.

Yearly tuition from three to four students in the program covers this cost.  That leaves the tuition from the remaining students to cover the rest of the expenses to run the program.

Furthermore, what is $45,000 in the grand scheme of a $14 million deficit?  Even if they sell the beautiful waterfront estate, that only brings in a one-time influx of money.  You can’t base a sustainable, long term budget around a quick sale of a property.  Property that will only appreciate in value.  The money they will lose from prospective students alone has to outweigh the short term gain.

What is going on with this institution of higher learning?  If I was a member of the family of Mrs. Eleanor Houston Smith, the family who donated the Stone House to the University, I would be livid.  How could this University be such a poor steward of a generous gift of this magnitude?

After reading the Portland Phoenix article, it seems that this entire budget short fall might just be a fabricated move on the administration’s part to allow them to enact vast changes to the University of Southern Maine.  Oh, humanity, I hope this isn’t the case.

I’m joining #USMfuture, a group that has helped push back the cuts at USM, and I will continue to join them in this fight as an alumnus of the Stonecoast MFA program.

USM officials, despite your greatest wishes, we will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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