Two students walk past a University of Maine at Farmington sign on the university's campus Dec. 5, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Officials want to cut dozens of adjunct teaching positions at the University of Maine at Farmington in what could be the latest wave of teaching losses to rattle the small liberal arts campus.

Last May, the university cut nine faculty members in the humanities and social sciences, while another nine took an early retirement offer. 

Now, leaders at the small western Maine university are looking to “eliminate most” of its more than two dozen adjunct faculty members due to a “limited budget,” according to an email sent to UMF academic department heads on Jan. 30.

The last round of academic cuts left Farmington without a world languages department, a philosophy and religion department, and women’s and gender studies department. It eliminated a total of three positions in the geography, psychology and history departments.

Those cuts brought almost immediate backlash with students organizing sit-ins and calling for the removal of the system’s chancellor, Dannel Malloy.

So far this academic year, 28 adjunct faculty taught 57 of the 308 courses offered in the fall, while 29 are currently teaching 37 of the 242 courses offered this semester, according to data from the University of Maine System.

A final list of which adjunct faculty will be retained will be presented in March to the university system’s board of trustees, said Margaret Nagle, a spokesperson for the UMaine system. 

If all of the adjunct positions are eliminated, it would leave Farmington with about 100 full-time faculty members. 

UMaine Farmington has not had a balanced budget since the 2014-15 academic year, said Ryan Low, the university system’s chief financial officer and a Farmington alumnus, in December. Its enrollment has dropped by about a quarter over the past decade, from about 2,000 full-time students to 1,500 this fall.

The cuts in May were the result of a financial condition that hadn’t improved in years, Low said. 

So far this academic year, UMF has bridged a $2 million budgetary gap by digging into reserves and other funding sources. But those options have now dried up, leaving few other areas of the budget to trim from, Joseph McDonnell, interim UMF president, told system trustees in January. 

“There’s nothing left in the budget but people,” he said. 

Meanwhile, students have felt the cuts more than ever this academic year, said Celia Canavan, a senior at the university. 

“We did feel that loss, of the nine faculty this year, a lot, but there was still a campus culture and some classes that, if I squint real hard, look kind of like a French class or kind of replicative of something another professor taught because adjunct faculty were able to pick up the slack,” Canavan said. “Losing what could potentially be a massive number of adjunct faculty — I don’t know if our campus can recover from that.” 

The cuts have forced some UMF students to reconsider their courses of study because they can no longer take the classes they need at their university. While students have been encouraged to enroll in comparable courses at other University of Maine System campuses, they’ve had difficulty doing so, including Canavan. 

Celia Canavan stands on the University of Maine at Farmington’s campus for a photo Dec. 5, 2022. Canavan, a senior, has had to change her academic program after cuts at the university eliminated a chunk of classes she needed to fulfill her requirements. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Before the cuts, Canavan and other students in international and global studies had their pick from three pages of classes, she said. Now, that list is half a page long.

Previous cuts to the university’s teaching staff were based on the enrollment sizes and instructional costs of their classes. Consultant Ron Hovis and the consulting firm Gray Associates produced those data for the university system, which paid them about $80,000 for their work, according to their contracts.

For students like Canavan, adjunct faculty often hold a wealth of knowledge and expertise that full-time professors typically don’t, she said. Oftentimes these adjunct faculty have other jobs outside of the classroom or real-world experience students can’t get from other professors, Canavan said. 

But for now, students are forced to wait and see how further budget cuts could uproot their education, Canavan said. 

“It’s very tense. A lot of us are very aware this is the time of year where we’re all kind of worried about not knowing what is going to happen,” she said. “It’s like there’s a storm that people don’t even realize is coming, I think.”

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...