ORONO, Maine — Nearly a dozen people argued Wednesday for the continuation of the department of public administration at the University of Maine.
Faculty, students and alumni spoke in support of the program at a two-hour forum held in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union. The program is slated to be suspended in January and eliminated next fall.
No one spoke in favor of ending the program that supporters said has trained thousands of state employees, town managers and heads of nonprofit organizations over the past six decades. Many of the program’s graduates have spent their careers in Maine, supporters said.
“I frankly was shocked when I heard the state’s flagship university was going to eliminate this program,” Scott Morelli, a 1999 graduate and city manager of Gardiner, said Wednesday. “This program is akin to the university’s business program, which prepares people to work and contribute and stay in Maine. Over 80 of my fellow town administrators [in Maine] came from this program.
“Considering what these folks contribute to society,” Bangor native Morelli continued, “I am astounded that so little value is being placed on professionals such as myself who oversee millions of dollars in public money. What I do every day I learned here.”
The elimination of the department was one of the recommendations that came out of a report written by a university committee and endorsed by UMaine President Robert Kennedy in an effort to trim $12.2 million from the academic affairs budget. While the report recommended doing away with majors in several programs, the only department recommended for elimination was public administration.
The language of the proposal was modified last month to state that the program would be suspended for a period before being eliminated. Under rules promulgated by the University of Maine System, a program may be suspended for up to three years before a decision about elimination must be made.
Under the current proposal, the program would stop accepting students in January. Those already enrolled would be offered the required classes over a period of up to four years to complete their course of study.
The two-hour forum Wednesday was conducted by the Program Creation and Reorganization Review Committee of the UMaine Faculty Senate. The committee is expected to submit a report before the end of the year to the Faculty Senate, which will make a recommendation to Kennedy. The program may be suspended under the authority of the university’s president. If it were slated for elimination, however, the system’s board of trustees would have to give its approval before the dismantling of the department could begin.
Dara McIntire earned her graduate degree last May in public administration while working for the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on campus. She said the program offered a balance of theoretical knowledge and practical skills along with an emphasis on ethics.
“It would be tragic to dispose of one of the oldest nationally accredited programs in the country, and reckless as a land-grant university to eliminate a program which takes seriously the job of educating and training public servants for our American democracy,” she said.
“Yes, it is a small department, but it has a significant impact and an important mission,” she continued. “Many of the program’s graduates go on to serve active leadership roles at colleges and universities, serve as town and city managers, work in state and federal government, hospitals, the military, or have key administrative re-sponsibility at private corporations.”
The department employs four full-time faculty, 13 adjunct faculty and a part-time administrative assistant.
While several people at Wednesday’s meeting wondered aloud if the forum was not just a futile effort, Carolyn Ball, director of graduate programs, said the program might be saved through a cooperative effort with other campuses in the system.
“This can be an exciting opportunity to save money and make public service stand out,” she said. “We don’t want to be considered not relevant to the state’s future.”
The public administration undergraduate major is the oldest of its kind in the country. It was officially established in 1945. It is the only accredited program in northern New England, according to Ball.
Public administration itself is the study of the concepts, theories and principles of setting public policy in areas that include management, budgeting and finance, personnel, law, state and local government, health care, environmental policy and law enforcement.