A recently retired professor at the University of Southern Maine offered students a “pop-up” credited course to take a bus to Washington, D.C., with demonstrators planning to urge Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to vote against confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Press Herald reported.
University officials found out Wednesday afternoon that Susan Feiner, a former professor of economics and women and gender studies, had asked another university employee to advertise the trip on social media, the paper said, adding that the bus to D.C. left Portland at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Many of the people travelling on a bus from Portland to D.C. are carrying signs to protest the #KavanaughHearings a… https://t.co/MIWqdrEl9K— Taylor Cairns (@Taylor Cairns) 1538614942.0
How did school officials react?
“This pop-up course was hastily arranged in the past 24 hours, without the knowledge of the provost or myself. It was not appropriately reviewed nor went through proper channels,” President Glenn Cummings said in a statement to the Press Herald. “As soon as the provost and I were apprised of the course, we immediately pulled the one-credit offering. We also made sure that no USM monies were being used for the trip.”
Feiner — who Cummings said retired July 1 — told the paper she works at the Francis Perkins Institute at USM, which organizes pop-up courses funded by a grant and offered free to students. Her goal is to offer six to 12 pop-up courses each semester, the paper noted.
“Dr. Feiner acted in a very rogue manner," Cummings added to the Press Herald. "Her behavior was inappropriate. It was unacceptable.”
What are 'pop-up' courses?
Pop-up courses offer credits that can count toward the 120 credit hours required for graduation, the paper said, adding that they don’t usually last for more than few weeks. One pop-up example is Uncovering Black History in Maine, which began Sept. 27 and requires students to attend two events and three class meetings, the Press Herald said.
How did the state GOP react?
The Maine Republican Party ripped the pop-up course.
"The University of Southern Maine uses your tax dollars, offers college credit to protest Sen. Collins in Washington D.C.," the organization wrote on its Facebook page, adding an image of an email about the course from Gabriel Demaine — who the Press Herald said is a "Social Justice Community Outreach Organizer for USM’s Geography and Anthropology Department."
Image source: Facebook
The email in question links to an online form asking students if they’re willing to be arrested, the paper added:
Image source: Facebook
Cummings told the Press Herald it was his understanding that Feiner asked Demaine to promote the event on social media.
What else are school officials saying?
“University policy makes it absolutely clear that our public, taxpayer funded institutions must be non-partisan in terms of political activity and institutionally impartial in all political, religious, and social matters that are unrelated to our universities’ core mission of education, research and public service,” Cummings added to the paper.
James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, also wasn't too happy with the turn of events.
“The use of institutional resources to advance a partisan agenda violates board policies established to ensure Maine’s public universities remain non-partisan and politically neutral,” Page said in a statement, the Press Herald said. “Inviting arrest for college credit goes much further, violating the trust our students, their families, and Maine taxpayers have placed in our universities and could result in serious professional consequences.”
What did the prof behind the course have to say?
Feiner was interviewed on the bus bound for Washington, D.C., and told the paper students would act as observers, not protesters, and that all students — regardless of their opinion of Kavanaugh — were invited to ride the bus.
“We’re not inviting them to protest,” Feiner added to the Press Herald. “There was never a dime’s worth of university or taxpayer money involved.”
Twelve hours after we arrived in Washington D.C., we are back on the bus and headed for Maine. Here's my story from… https://t.co/4NrKY0tTkH— Megan Doyle Gray (@Megan Doyle Gray) 1538701767.0
And while defending the course, she took the blame for not going through the proper channels.
“I have to confess that because I was the person who wrote the grant I did not fill out the form. I was going to type it up on the bus,” Feiner told the paper. “It is on me."
She added to the Press Herald that "it's terrible to deny students such an incredible learning opportunity. Social justice is not a partisan issue. There is nothing seditious about students taking a bus to Washington, D.C., in a historic moment. Their senator is in the epicenter of it.”
Cummings told the paper he's uncertain if or how Feiner could be disciplined since "she is not teaching here."
Some students said they supported the course even thought it went against school policy, NECN-TV reported.
“Every college should take a stand,” student Mustfa Kadhim told the station. “We have to support women.”
But not every student agreed.
“I feel like there’s a time and a place for protesting,” Ian Trumpler told NECN. “I feel like it shouldn’t be run through the school. That’s an easy credit for the kids, but kind of crazy for a professor to offer."
Here's a clip of Feiner discussing the course:
(H/T: The American Mirror)