ORONO, Maine — Jeremy Logan is a doctoral student in the computer science department at the University of Maine, but before arriving in Orono he did undergraduate studies at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Augusta’s Biddeford-Saco Center.
Logan has clearly benefited from the small campuses and schools in the University of Maine System. Still, Logan sees a need to close some of the system’s smaller campuses.
“I recognize the value of the University of Maine System,” he said Wednesday as a task force charged with making recommendations on the future structure and functions of the system held a public session at the Wells Conference Center. “But in difficult times like this, I think it’s important to consider the possibility that parts of the University of Maine System should be taken away.”
Logan was one of several speakers to suggest to the New Challenges, New Directions Task Force the closure of smaller campuses to help close a $42 million shortfall the system will face in the next four years.
Wednesday’s public forum was the first of nine the task force will hold as it gathers data, reviews models in other states, and obtains comment from individuals and groups both inside and outside the university system. The task force is under the leadership of David Flanagan of Manchester, the former president and CEO of Central Maine Power Co. and a former UMS trustee.
The group will report its findings to Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude and the system presidents in June. Pattenaude’s “New Challenges, New Directions” plan announced Jan. 11 called for the task force formation.
Flanagan told the audience early in the session the task force would operate under the assumption that there will be seven campuses in their current locations. The suggestion to close or consolidate campuses at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias has been presented as an option over the years.
Several audience members, however, told the seven task force members present that closing some of the smaller campuses ought to be an option.
“I want to say that I think you have been given an impossible task,” said Pamela Dean, a UM alumna who is now the archivist at the on-campus Maine Folklife Center. “I do not see any way you are going to find the means to cut or raise [$42] million without closing campuses. I think it’s very shortsighted to have limited your charge in this case and I hope that will be reconsidered. … Closing campuses is very difficult politically, but it can be done and perhaps it should be done.”
Dean’s comments drew applause and further comments from the crowd, which included a range of students, faculty members in the arts, humanities and sciences, staff members, other employees and alumni.
“When you look at the state of Maine, it doesn’t make sense to have the majority of campuses in the area with the least population density,” said first-year student Nate Wildes, a member of the student senate.
After the meeting Flanagan reiterated that the task force is moving along with the assumption of seven campuses.
“I’m not going to prejudge anything,” he said. “We’ll go through all the meetings, look at all the evidence. But we understand what our charge is, and I intend to stay faithful for that unless there’s some compelling reason [not to]. We will report on what people will tell us, for sure.”
Among the concerns aired by faculty senate president Dianne Hoff was the fact that UM with its 926 faculty members is held on a par with UMS institutions with 70 faculty members.
“It’s [exponentially] more complex here,” said Hoff, who is an assistant professor of educational leadership. “The tendency feels as if there’s a homogenization of the campuses that’s going on. Campuses are being treated the same, decisions are being made to centralize things. … [The Orono campus] can’t just meet the needs of the lowest common denominator in the system.”
Other speakers said the system office, which has about 155 employees, including about 100 in its downtown Bangor office, ought to trim itself.
Suzanne Estler, an associate professor of education who studies the inner workings of university systems, suggested the Orono campus itself be separate from UMS.
“I’m not going to argue for eliminating those small campuses at all … but they can be administered more effectively,” she said. “I would say the problem we have is the University of Maine doesn’t fit within the system. If you took the University of Maine out of the equation, it would allow for centralization that would serve the small campuses that don’t have the resources for centralized services.”
The other major area of concern was a lack of representation on the task force for graduate students. The task force has one student, Charles Weiss, who is an undergraduate at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
“It’s the kind of oversight that makes us worry about the future of our campus and the future of the system,” said Liam Riordan, associate professor of history. He noted that the UM history department awards the only humanities doctorate in the state.
Maine native Julie-Ann Scott, a Ph.D. student in communications, said graduate students are among the drivers of research in the system.
“When you’re deciding where appropriations should be, please remember the only reason why we’re the University of Maine System is because there is graduate education going on here,” Scott said. “We’re doing graduate-level research, creating new knowledge, and participating in a worldwide community.”
The task force will host a forum at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Jewett Hall Auditorium from 1 to 2:30 p.m. today — a change from an earlier plan for a morning session. The forum in Augusta includes University College of Bangor, which is part of UMA.
Other forums: University of Maine at Farmington, Lincoln Auditorium, 1-2:30 p.m. Feb. 27; University of Southern Maine, Portland, Glickman Library (seventh floor), 9-10:30 a.m. March 2; University of Maine at Fort Kent, Nadeau Hall, 2:30-4:30 p.m. March 4; University of Maine at Presque Isle, Campus Center’s Allagash Room, 9-10:30 a.m. March 5; University of Maine at Machias, Kimball Hall Portside, 9-10:30 a.m. March 6.
Other meetings at Lewiston-Auburn College and the system office in Bangor have yet to be scheduled.