Anger at faculty layoffs at Southern Maine is boiling over into a battle between the generations.

Professors say administration is attacking tenure, pitting younger and older faculty members against one another. Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard files this report:

Anger over faculty layoffs at the University of Southern Maine boiled over Friday when about 100 people, led by students, protested outside the provost’s office, trying to prevent and protest meetings he scheduled to tell professors they were losing their jobs.

The cuts were recently announced and are part of a broader attempt to restructure the 6,000-student university in Portland. The university is trying to shed 30 faculty jobs through layoffs and retirements.

The plan to lay off a dozen liberal arts faculty members on Friday prompted students along with some faculty and staff to occupy a hall outside Southern Maine’s administrative suite, a move that kept Provost Michael Stevenson in his office. Stevenson was able to do some layoffs in person as professors came to the scheduled meetings; others he did by email, according to one professor.

Southern Maine is not alone in its woes. It and six other institutions in the University of Maine System are planning to lay off about 165 faculty and staff members this year, according to the system’s central office. Since 2007, the seven universities have gotten rid of 520 positions, including a tenth of the faculty, a quarter of the administrators and about a sixth of the hourly employees.

The tension at Southern Maine became acute, though, and faculty have accused the administration there of making cuts needlessly and somewhat manipulatively by attempting to pit junior and senior professors against each other. The effect, faculty critics say, has been an attack on tenure.

…Faculty complained that the administration’s way of going about the layoffs was manipulative and resulted in an attack on both tenure and senior professors. The administration had offered inducements to get some senior faculty to retire early. But when not enough decided to leave, junior faculty found out they were getting the axe and pressure emerged on senior faculty to leave and spare the younger faculty their jobs.

“They are really pitting old against new in a kind of social Darwinism,” said Christy Hammer, a sociology professor and president of the local chapter of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Hammer said the method prompted infighting to break out within departments.

The “last hired, first fired” method is nothing new, but the faculty said that sort of thinking did not belong in nonprofit higher education.

“To my way of thinking, the administration is assaulting the whole institution of tenure,” said Rachel Bouvier, an economics professor who was laid off Friday.