‘Bold plan’ aims to boost seven-campus UMaine System

Posted Sept. 14, 2009, at 3:06 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A new report from the chancellor of the University of Maine System seeks to dramatically reduce spending, increase enrollment and improve the quality of education at the system’s seven campuses.

The 10-page draft report, which is still subject to change, is the product of the system’s six-month “New Challenges, New Directions” initiative launched in response to a projected $42.8 million budget shortfall in 2013. Released Monday at a daylong meeting of the system’s board of trustees, Chancellor Richard Pattenaude’s report proposes a number of short- and long-term measures to be adopted by individual campuses and at the system level.

The plan identifies cost savings totaling $31.3 million by 2013 in the area of administrative, student, and financial services. In addition, it calls for $8 million to $10 million in cost reductions related to academic programs and services, and projects revenue increases of $3 million to $5 million as a result of improved student recruitment and retention.

Pattenaude said the report, titled “The University of Maine System and the Future of Maine,” was developed with input from every campus and after “hundreds of hours of discussions and hard work by people at all levels of the system.” It draws on the previous work of three working committees assigned to examine specific aspects of the system’s mission and functions.

“It’s a bold plan,” Pattenaude told trustees, “bold in that it both reduces costs significantly through careful use of technology, strategic cost reductions, and the many talents of our people, and simultaneously invests resources in key priorities facing the state of Maine.”

Among the recommendations of the draft report are elimination of courses and programs with low enrollments, curtailment of employee compensation and benefits, centralization of administrative functions, the strengthening of student aid and greater use of distance learning technology. The report also calls for the creation of a “public agenda” — a systemwide mission statement that includes enrolling and graduating more Maine students, strengthening the state’s economy and enhancing the quality of life in Maine.

Robert Rice, professor of wood science at the University of Maine in Orono and a faculty-elected member of the trustees board, said that defining the system’s mission of enhancing the well-being of the state would help “make a good case with the Legislature” when it comes to funding the seven campuses. It also would encourage individual campuses to identify and develop their strongest programs, he said.

Although implementing the report’s recommendations could have significant effects on faculty compensation and professional activities, Rice said he expected faculty at UMaine would endorse most of the report’s findings.

UMaine President Robert Kennedy said earlier concerns over a proposed restructuring of the university’s funding formula have been largely allayed, after a push by UM to promote the unique “land grant” mission of the Orono campus.

“At this point, we are very pleased at the way the process has evolved,” Kennedy said, adding that changes are unlikely to affect graduate programs or sports programs.

Presidents at some smaller campuses also said they were pleased with the recommendations released Monday.

“I feel very good about it,” said Richard Cost, president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Cost said programs in nursing, education, business and environmental education are among the strongest in Fort Kent and that implementing the recommendations likely will attract more Aroostook County students.

Cynthia Huggins, president of the University of Maine at Machias, said the recommendations will “go a long way toward allowing the University of Maine System to act like a system instead of like seven separate campuses.”

Huggins said programs in marine biology, environmental tourism and community studies attract the most students to the Washington County campus and should be strengthened.

In the coming weeks, trustees will visit each campus and public hearings on the report will be scheduled. The University of Maine System board of trustees is scheduled to act on a final version of the report at its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 16.

The report is available online at the Web site of the University of Maine System.

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