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Maine professor barred from teaching after offering course credit for lobbying US senator — October 2018

Portland, ME

As part of an initiative to offer “pop-up” courses in social justice at the University of Southern Maine, Professor Susan Feiner offered students one course credit for taking a bus to Washington, DC, to lobby Republican Senator Susan Collins during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. After the university learned of Feiner’s plans, it barred her from teaching there again.

Key Players

Professor Susan Feiner, of the University of Southern Maine (USM), was barred from teaching at the university on October 3, 2018. For 21 years as a tenured professor, Feiner had taught both economics and women and gender studies, but she retired from full-time teaching on July 1, 2018. She subsequently became head of USM’s Social Justice Pop-Up Program, run out of the Frances Perkins Initiative. One of the program’s “pop-up” courses offered students a free bus trip to Washington, DC, to talk with Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, about how she would vote on the then-pending nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and a single course credit for doing so.

The University of Southern Maine is a public institution based in Portland. University President Glenn Cummings barred Feiner from further teaching in the University of Maine system.

Further Details

On October 3, 2018, Professor Susan Feiner created a “pop-up” course with the Frances Perkins Initiative that offered students one course credit to take a bus to Washington, DC, to discuss Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court with Senator Susan Collins. Over a 22-year career in the Senate, Collins had earned a reputation for centrist views and for taking her time making decisions, and she was considered a swing vote heading into the final days of the confirmation process for Kavanaugh, who was the object of last-minute allegations of sexual misconduct while in high school. She was the last Republican senator to announce a decision on Kavanaugh’s appointment and was the object of much lobbying.

Feiner developed the course, “Engaged Citizenship,” by advertising the opportunity through another professor on Facebook, but without going through traditional registration processes. Feiner told the Portland Press Herald that she had planned to fill out the proper form to register the class during the bus ride to DC, but that she thought it was not necessary to do so immediately.

After learning of the course, Maine Republicans were enraged, and contacted the university’s president, Glenn Cummings, expressing their anger over the use of public funds for what they saw as partisan purposes. On its Facebook page, the Maine Republican Party criticised the expenses, citing Feiner’s circulation of a course registration form that included a question asking students if they were willing to be arrested during the visit. On the form, Feiner also noted that, should they be arrested, the students themselves would have to post bail of $50.

Feiner defended herself, saying that no university funds were used for the course, because the money came from a private grant to the Frances Perkins Initiative. However, Cummings quickly pulled university support for the course, and released a statement on October 4 explaining the move and assuring the public that no university funds would be used to pay for the trip. “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,” the statement said. Cummings would later reemphasize that Feiner was no longer technically a USM faculty member. On October 5, the university provost permanently barred her from teaching at institutions in the University of Maine.

Campus Reform repored that the bus was scheduled to depart Portland, ME, on the night of October 3 and arrive in Washington the next morning. But, according to The Associated Press, “University spokesman Robert Stein said that ‘as far as we know,’ no students participated in the bus trip to Washington, D.C. ‘If any students went, it was without credit and on their own.’”

Outcome

Feiner defends herself

In a newspaper column and television interviews, Feiner emphasized that although the course did not require students to protest during the trip, she did want them to witness, and optionally participate in, the “historic moment” of late-breaking controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination. She further decried the “rabid misogyny” of the Republicans who attacked her and the officials who barred her from teaching.

Feiner barred from teaching, pending an investigation into her conduct

The current prohibition on Feiner extends to all campuses of the University of Maine system. An investigation of her conduct was launched, but Feiner speculated that the investigators did not plan to talk with her..

External References

Professor who offered college credit for trip to lobby Sen. Collins is barred from teaching, says USM.

USM president says retired professor went ‘rogue’ in offering trip to lobby Collins as college course.

Statement from Pres. Glenn Cummings, Oct. 4, 2018.

Maine Voices: I’m the so-called rogue professor. USM was my rogue adjudicator.

USM pulls credit for ‘hastily arranged’ pop-up course traveling to DC to protest.

Former USM professor explains course traveling to Washington.

UMaine ‘bars’ prof who set up anti-Kavanaugh DC trip (Update).

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker: November 8, 2018