BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System reached the midway point in its “New Challenges, New Directions” effort on Monday as the board of trustees was given three reports with suggestions for revamping the system in the face of an estimated $42.8 million shortfall in the next four years.
Although UMS Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude released the reports last week, Monday’s bimonthly trustees meeting was the board’s first official look at dozens of recommendations from two internal committees and a task force composed of educators, outside experts and a student.
David Flanagan, a former UMS board of trustees chairman and retired CEO of Central Maine Power Co., presented observations and recommendations from the task force, which he chaired.
“We need to have a vision for the future,” he said. “It’s up to you what that vision should be, but the task force would ask you to consider a vision of the University of Maine System serving a truly public agenda.”
He also took time to rebut several objections about the task force’s proposals leveled by the faculty senate of the UMaine flagship campus in Orono.
In a statement e-mailed to faculty members earlier this month regarding a draft version of the task force report, the faculty senate took issue with suggested adjustments to the 40-year-old funding formula used by the system, which the senate claimed would divert some of UMaine’s appropriation.
Flanagan said there is a possibility that could happen, but it would not be automatic. Diverted funds might, for example, go to bolster nursing programs or be used for tourism research or another deserving program proposed by one of the campuses.
“After 40 years of a rigid, inflexible [funding formula] system, it’s way past the time to get this policy off automatic pilot and give back control to the leaders of this system,” Flanagan told the trustees.
He also rebutted faculty senate objections about a proposed systemwide calendar, a proposed increase in graduate programs at the University of Southern Maine and the recommendation of centralization of distance learning functions at UMaine-Augusta.
In addition, he defended the task force’s suggestion that students spend their first two years of school at a community college or regional university before enrolling at Orono.
“Given our [low] retention rates, and the relative cost of an Orono education compared to that at the other campuses, we must explore more cost-effective options while preserving the University of Maine’s distinction as the highest-quality institution available for Maine students,” Flanagan said.
UMaine professor of Wood Science Robert Rice, who sees each side of the issue as both the faculty senate’s representative to the board of trustees and a member of Flanagan’s task force, said he disagreed with some of the chairman’s statements Monday.
“The criticisms here, I thought, were a bit off-base,” Rice said during a break after Flanagan’s presentation. “As far as the criticisms of the faculty senate, I thought the senate voiced their concerns at the time, and I think some of those concerns were [legitimate] and are situations that might increase the cost of education.”
Rice was also surprised to hear Flanagan call the task force report “a new business model.” Flanagan acknowledged in his comments it was a phrase that hadn’t been used in the task force’s discussions.
“I think he veered from our report,” Rice said. “He [talked] about a business model, that as he said was never brought up before, so I don’t know where that came from.”
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Rebecca Wyke and Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs James Breece also summarized reports from their committees. Wyke’s committee addressed administrative, student and financial services, while Breece’s group addressed academic programs and services.
After the board of trustees reviews the reports and public comments, the chancellor’s office will begin to meld the reports into one comprehensive draft plan. Once completed, the plan will be made available for comment in September and will be presented at the Sept. 14 UMS board meeting.
Also on Monday, the board of trustees approved a plan that would put UMaine forest and agricultural bioproducts researchers into unused space in the former Georgia-Pacific Co. paper mill in Old Town.
The Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative, or FBRI, would open a Forest and Agricultural Bioproducts Research, Development and Commercialization facility in a 40,000-square-foot space in the old paper mill. UMaine will lease the space at no cost for 15 years with two renewals of five years each.
The space will allow for research, technology development and commercialization activities. The project, which would renovate the mill space and include a 4,000-square-foot addition to Jenness Hall in Orono for office and conference space, will be funded by a $4.8 million grant from the Maine Technology Institute.
Pattenaude lauded the project.
“I believe we are on the leading edge,” he said. “We should be proud of this paper project. It gathers together so much of our public agenda.”
The University of Maine System is taking public comment on the “New Challenges, New Directions” reports until Aug. 1. To read the committee reports, go to www.maine.edu/UMSNCND. To comment on the documents, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to New Challenges, New Directions, c/o Office of the Chancellor, University of Maine System, 16 Central St., Bangor 04401