Plan to consolidate USM and UMaine business schools draws mixed reactions from faculty

Vendean Vafiades
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Vendean Vafiades
Posted June 02, 2014, at 2:11 p.m.
Last modified June 02, 2014, at 4:39 p.m.

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BANGOR, Maine — A plan to consolidate the graduate business programs at the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine and possibly offer the master of business administration degree at a new facility in Portland has been met with doubts by USM School of Business faculty.

A letter written by USM business school faculty explained that University of Maine System representatives asked the faculty about their interest in a joint degree program a year ago.

“The school of business faculty were told that the new joint MBA degree would be based in Portland and that courses would be taught by graduate faculty from both institutions,” the letter, which was distributed at a USM Faculty Senate meeting last Thursday, said.

It went on to say that under this plan, degrees would be conferred by UMaine.

Business school professor Bob Heiser, who presented the letter, said he and his colleagues are supportive of a joint degree program, but they have doubts about the process by which it is being shaped and about ceding degree-granting ability to UMaine.

“We wish to express concerns about: how the degree is conferred, the current approach to forming the new MBA program, the need for transparency in the process, and the possible narrow leadership framework that is being established for the new program,” the letter said.

“I recognize that it’s a difficult process, we the faculty at both institutions were expecting a lot more participation and involvement in the process since it’s our graduate programs,” he said Friday.

But at least one UMaine business school professor said she’s happy to leave the initial planning of the program to others.

“Does the faculty want to deal with all these little things?” Gloria Vollmers, a UMaine accounting professor, said. “There’s so many other things to worry about.”

She acknowledged that the planning may get contentious when questions of curriculum come up.

“The devil, of course, is in the details,” she said in an email. “Who offers the degree, how are tuition dollars allocated, etc?”

“We’re probably going to fight about that, but we shouldn’t,” she said.

Regarding the possible consolidation and move to Portland, nothing has been decided, according to Vendean Vafiades, director of advancement and external affairs at the University of Maine School of Law.

An outside consultant, called the Parthenon Group, is being paid between $400,000 and $500,000 by the Harold Alfond Foundation on behalf of the university system to explore the possibility of consolidating the programs and offering an interdisciplinary program with the law school, she said Friday.

“It’s premature to be hypothetical about what the conclusion would be,” she said. The group will present its findings in late summer or early fall.

The Parthenon Group has formed a committee made up of the deans and one faculty member from the USM business school, the UMaine business school and the University of Maine Law School, of which Vafiades is the chair.

The UMaine business school dean, Ivan Manev, deferred questions about the plan to the system office, which referred inquiries to Vafiades.

Vafiades said the committee has been working with the consultant to determine what kind of program prospective business school students are looking for and what kind of graduates employers want to hire.

Vafiades said she hopes the negativity around the potential new program will dissipate.

“It’s a real opportunity to develop something new,” she said, adding that she believes there’s a demand for an interdisciplinary program with the law school.

“Having business leaders with some legal background is useful,” she said. “Lawyers now even more need to be informed about business practices and financial issues because they’re running their own practice or they’re dealing with business clients.”

 

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