June 24, 2018
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UMaine faculty knocks system sustainability plan

By Jessica Bloch, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine faculty senate voted unanimously Wednesday to condemn some sections of a financial sustainability plan announced this month by the chancellor of the University of Maine System.

The resolution from the 37 faculty senate members came during a regular meeting in the Wells Conference Center.

Faculty senate president Dianne Hoff, an education professor, cut the meeting short after about an hour because of the weather.

“The muscle of the University of Maine faculty really needed to come to the table on this and say, ‘This is not acceptable,’” Hoff said after the meeting. “We really want to be part of the solution, and we don’t feel like we’re being included.”

In the resolution, the faculty senate says centralizing functions at the system level — which Chancellor Richard Pattenaude calls for in his “New Challenge, New Resolutions” plan — does not provide for oversight of the central office in Bangor and will not save money in the long run. It also says the plan will weaken the iden-tity of the individual campuses, therefore hurting recruitment of high-level faculty and students.

“We’re not opposed to the idea of centralization,” Hoff said.

If certain functions are being performed well on one of the campuses, that campus should take the lead in being the central service for that function, she said.

The central services don’t all have to be located at the University of Maine in Orono, Hoff said.

“There are some [services] that make perfect sense for [the University of Southern Maine] to be the central hub. But building up the system office I don’t think is popular with the citizens of this state. No students are educated there, and I’m concerned.”

Moving services to the central office, the resolution claims, will add bureaucracy, move employees from the campuses to the central office, and therefore leave holes in on-campus services, and treat all campuses the same when some campuses are stronger in certain areas than others.

There are seven University of Maine campuses, including the flagship campus in Orono.

“Problematic for all campuses, [the plan] specifically undermines the University of Maine [in Orono], where the complexity of our research, service and educational programs fits poorly with a one-size-fits-all approach,” the resolution states.

Hoff said the system attempted to centralize functions under Chancellor Joseph Westphal, who resigned in 2006.

“Most of those things ended up not saving us money; they don’t work very well and then many of them were put back on the campuses when [Westphal] left,” Hoff said.

Pattenaude presented the plan Jan. 11 during a board of trustees meeting in Gorham. In it, he called for a six-month process he claimed would produce “major transformative change.” The plan estimates a cost savings of $35 million to $45 million over four years.

The plan focuses on three areas: administrative, academic and structural. The faculty senate’s resolution applies only to the first two arenas.

A 12-member task force, which applies to the third area, was announced Wednesday. Robert Rice, a professor of wood science and a faculty senate member who voted along with the group Wednesday, was named a member.

The faculty senate also claimed many aspects of Pattenaude’s plan already have started without other parties having a say. Hoff said a staff member from the central office spoke with members of UM’s Information Technology Council, a group of IT leaders including faculty members and others.

Those council members told Hoff they’re concerned IT could be moved to the central office.

UM System spokesman John Diamond said no decisions have been made and that the process is in the information-gathering stage.

“The feedback that the University of Maine faculty senate offered today in this resolution is an intended part of the process to hear not only from UMaine but all the faculty, staff and students about how the university system can meet the goals of financial stability,” Diamond said. “There will be other opportunities for input from faculty, students and staff. The chancellor intends to visit each university to hear from them directly.”

The faculty senate resolution also offers several suggestions, including strengthening the Orono campus while reaffirming the missions of the other campuses; designating centralization of services, when necessary, to one or another campus suited to the task; and downsizing the system office to reaffirm its core functions of over-sight and governance.

Hoff hopes the UM resolution will spark similar actions among other bodies in the UMS campuses. Representatives from student government and the student senate both said Wednesday their groups have informally discussed the chancellor’s plan. Hoff said the IT council may draft its own resolution.

Despite the senate’s disagreement with parts of the chancellor’s plan, the resolution supports the efforts by Pattenaude and the board of trustees to create a more stable financial base, Hoff said, and the faculty understands the need for institutional change.

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