EDITORIALS

Don’t let mistrust derail potential consolidation of USM, UMaine business schools

Richard Borgman, professor of finance at UMaine, teaches a class in Orono in November 2013.
Brian Feulner | BDN
Richard Borgman, professor of finance at UMaine, teaches a class in Orono in November 2013.
Posted June 12, 2014, at 1:37 p.m.
Last modified June 12, 2014, at 2:05 p.m.

If you become a lawyer, it’s likely you will also need some business acumen. You might start your own business, run a law firm, work as in-house counsel for a business or simply have business clients. The reverse is true if you get a degree in business. You will likely enter a heavily regulated environment and need to know legal concepts.

The two worlds of business and law are heavily entwined. That’s one reason why the idea of having a Professional and Graduate Center in Maine that combines the University of Maine System’s two graduate business programs is a promising one. The independent consulting firm Parthenon Group is currently evaluating how to create such a center, which could join together the graduate business programs at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine and allow both business and law school students the opportunity to take courses across the disciplines.

Currently, the system has two business schools — at the University of Maine in Orono and USM — which serve undergraduate and graduate students. Both have a cooperative agreement with the University of Maine School of Law where students can obtain a combined law and graduate business degree in four years.

As part of the potential Professional and Graduate Center, that joint degree would still be available; but the business schools would be consolidated. There would be only one graduate business program, likely with a physical location in Portland, though students from all campuses would ideally be able to participate in its courses. Business students there would take some courses in law, and law students would do the same by taking graduate courses in business. The undergraduate programs would remain the same.

The consulting firm, which is being paid by the Alfond Foundation on behalf of the university system, is still looking into many of the details. But clearly there is the shape of a good idea here. Business and financial operations jobs are expected to increase 8.3 percent by 2020 in Maine, while the number of legal occupations is projected to increase 7.2 percent, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Both sectors offer high wages.

The type of center being imagined could become a resource for small businesses in Maine. Perhaps student- and professor-run entrepreneurial clinics could help small businesses better understand their market or create expansion plans. Business owners, meanwhile, could have more opportunities to share their real-world experience with students. The center would ideally be a more efficient way to serve the state’s business and legal communities, maximize university resources and show that campuses can work together.

Faculty should be careful to not overreact. Some USM School of Business faculty have expressed doubts about the “secretive” way the potential joint degree program is being shaped. No one wants them to be left out, but they should also understand the importance of completing reports before publishing them.

Faculty members’ concerns are supposed to be addressed within the study, along with many other important considerations. How would the center enhance economic development? What would be the most critical programmatic areas on which to focus, given the state’s needs? How could the broader community be engaged? How will the center be relevant within Maine’s economy and affordable for students?

We are pleased the university system is looking at how to provide a fuller interdisciplinary education for law and business students in a more efficient way. We hope larger divisions and mistrust between faculty and administrators don’t get in the way of a worthy pursuit.

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