Prepared Remarks by Marpheen Chann for March 24th, 2014
Within the state statute establishing the University of Maine system and the state’s public policy on higher education, there are principles laid out in the law which state that:
“… faculty shall enjoy the freedom… in teaching, research and expression of opinions; and That the faculty shall be consulted in the formulation of academic policies pertaining to it.”
Unfortunately, they do not have that freedom today. They do not have the freedom to freely teach, research and express their opinions because there is one freedom they do not enjoy in times of austerity, and that is the “freedom FROM fear.” Our faculty fear for their livelihood. They fear for their life’s work, their life’s calling. And this translates into a negative energy at this university and in our classrooms; an energy detrimental to our education.
Instead of being consulted in the formulation of academic policies, our professors have found themselves on the chopping block. They cannot teach, cannot research, cannot express their opinions and enjoy the freedom afforded to them by law if they are in fear of their livelihood day after day.
The law further states, That “To develop, maintain and support a structure of public higher education in the State… the highest priority for fiscal support shall be assigned.”
That it is the role of the state, “To assign continually a high priority… public funds… to provide opportunities for those who (are limited) by economic, social, educational and cultural factors."
And furthermore “To support financially the programs of public higher educational institutions…”
But what have we seen occur for the past two decades and what do we see happening to this very day?
The biggest reason why these layoffs are occurring is not only due to an irresponsible administration and irresponsible system over the past few decades, but also to an irresponsible governor and an irresponsible legislature which has overseen the decline of our public education by shifting the burden of the system they set up - to the students.
Two decades ago, in 1990, the state share of maintaining public higher education in Maine was 72%. Back then, students share of the system was 28%. Year after year the state’s share steadily declined until today, the situation has reversed itself and it is we the students that are burdened with a majority of the costs – while the state has sat idly by.
But written within the law that our legislators and representatives drafted, they themselves “…expects…public accountability for this support.”
It is time that we live up to their expectations– that we hold them accountable to their promise of a public education; their promise to the community; their promise to the state of Maine; their promise to us.
It is time for us to hold USM, the UMaine System and the state of Maine accountable for the barely legal and lackluster support and de-prioritization of public higher education in Maine.
It is time for us to re-invoke the principles of shared responsibility.
We won’t pass this opportunity up because the livelihood of our professors and the future of our state is at stake. We won’t kow-tow to tea party efforts and Koch addicts and sit idly by while they assault the hallowed institution of public higher education.
This year is an election year. The protest here at USM is only the beginning. We cannot let our legislators and representatives sit comfortably in Augusta and say to themselves that they are safe in their seats and that this will all go away.
It’s time for us to make them fulfill their promise to us; it’s time to hold them accountable. It’s time to make them fight to keep their seats. It is time to occupy USM, to occupy the System; it is time for us to occupy Augusta and demand that promises be kept. The UMaine system is a system they set up, now it’s time for them to step up.
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