Public to comment on UMS report

Posted June 18, 2009, at 11:02 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Members of the University of Maine System’s “New Challenges, New Directions” task force met Thursday to edit and revamp a draft version of a report that looks at ways to counteract an expected $42.8 million systemwide shortfall in the next four years.

As the task force discussed in previous meetings, the draft report calls for a more cohesive system, moving the chancellor’s office to Augusta and keeping the seven-campus system. It also calls for a new financing plan and an examination of academic programs, through which the task force believes the most savings can be realized.

The task force will ask the public to read and comment on the draft report next week after it is posted on the UMaine System board of trustees Web site.

Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude released the “New Challenges, New Directions” proposal in January to look at changes to the system in the face of the shortfall. The task force was charged with examining one of the proposal’s three arenas, “Structure and Governance,” or Arena 3, which concerns the system’s organizational and financial operation.

The other two arenas are “Administrative, Student and Financial Services” and “Academic Programs and Services.” Each arena has a committee preparing a similar report.

All three reports will be sent to the chancellor and UMS campus presidents next month.

The other draft reports have not yet been released, but one section of the Arena 3 task force’s draft report states the other groups will likely come up with ways to relieve $38 million-$40 million of the shortfall.

The Arena 3 task force has no specific monetary goal.

But task force chairman David Flanagan said Thursday, “I think this basic idea we have of operating the system as a cohesive whole with complementarity, rather than competition, should, if there’s a firm and decisive administration, result in substantial savings.”

The task force draft report calls for a revamping of the 40-year-old formula for distributing state appropriations and states that the system’s reliance on tuition increases is “self-defeating.”

The task force suggests the board of trustees make fiscal year 2015 a target for full implementation of a financial plan that would realign the system’s resources with its public agenda goals. Those goals include increasing the number of college graduates in Maine and the affordability of the system.

The recommendations include the alignment of UMS institutions’ funding with that of its peer institutions and the establishment of a benchmark level of funding for each institution.

Other financial suggestions include reducing tuition for students in the freshman and sophomore years to encourage retention and pricing different campuses to reflect what they are able to offer. The report also raises the possibility of compressing the usual four-year schedule into a year-round, three-year schedule to differentiate the system from its competitors.

“When I appointed the task force, I told its members that they were free to consider fresh and perhaps unconventional approaches within the broad parameters of their charge,” Pattenaude said in a statement. “Consequently, I am not surprised that they are offering some constructively provocative options for us to consider.”

As to academics, the draft report calls for the reduction of duplication of programs and the consolidation or elimination of programs with low graduation rates. Examples of the roles and missions for each campus are included in one of the report’s appendices.

The draft report stresses the importance of a public agenda, spearheaded by the proposed Augusta-based chancellor’s office, which would be funded by the board of trustees through state appropriation.

Under the task force plan, systemwide services such as facilities management and legal services would remain in Bangor.

For information, go to www.maine.edu/chancellor/TaskForce.php

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