PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Maine System is projecting that it will be $90 million in debt by fiscal year 2020 if nothing is done to reduce the costs of operating its seven campuses and central office, according to a report presented at a board of trustees meeting Monday.
The report is created by vice chancellor for administration and finance Rebecca Wyke at this time each year and uses the system’s current revenue and expense figures to forecast what the financial position will be in five years.
Last year, the system projected it would be $69 million in debt by 2019. Though cuts have since been made on all campuses, Wyke is anticipating that the system’s financial challenges will continue to grow.
The report shows expenses will continue to outpace revenue over the next five years.
“When these trends persist, revenues do not keep pace with expenses,” the report stated. “The Current Trend projection shows that the System will need to implement course-changing actions to ensure costs are in line with available resources.”
This projection represents what would happen if nothing were to change. Changes are being made, however. Cuts to the campuses’ fiscal year 2016 budgets have not been reflected in this analysis because those budgets have not yet been finalized or approved by the trustees.
The University of Southern Maine is in the process of cutting $16 million from its budget, while the University of Maine is looking for $7 million in savings this year. This is on top of years of reductions at all seven campuses.
Another change Wyke said could reduce the deficit is a plan that would centralize the budget-making process and give her office and the trustees more influence over budgetary decisions. Under a preliminary version of this plan, financial officers on campuses who once reported to their presidents would report to a chief operating officer at the system level.
The trustees voted on Monday to direct Wyke to move ahead with this plan, authorizing her to come up with a new organizational structure for financial management that would affect all seven campuses.
University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn Foster presented another plan at Monday’s meeting aimed at reducing inefficiencies across the system and enhancing the value of the degrees offered at the universities.
Foster is leading a committee that is reviewing the academic offerings at all seven universities and looking for ways to integrate programs across campuses with the stated goal of saving about $18 million in five years.
In her presentation, she highlighted the detrimental, but inherent competition that exists between the seven universities.
“What incentive do I have to send a student somewhere else when it’s going to harm my enrollment numbers [and] my budget?” she said, referring to what university presidents think when they are asked by the system to work toward integration.
She tried to make a case for integration by explaining that joining programs on separate universities that are similar but may not have the same focus — American and European history, for example — would result in programs that have more course offerings, faculty and students, making them less vulnerable to cuts.
Some members of the USM faculty have argued that the financial crisis at the university system has been largely exaggerated by administrators. They cite the fact that the amount of unrestricted funds the system holds in reserve has grown over the past few years to $183 million in 2013.
But in 2014, the amount the system holds in reserve shrunk to $179 million, according to another report that was presented to the trustees on Monday. It was the first time in 10 years that this number had decreased.
The trustees also voted unanimously to adopt a new policy on sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and retaliation.
The policy clearly defines sexual consent as an active declaration rather than the lack of an objection.
“What this is really about is culture and creating a culture on all our campuses that does not tolerate this type of behavior,” trustee Gregory Johnson said. He acknowledge that training every student and staff member in the university system would be a challenge.
In other business, the trustees heard a presentation on the feasibility of a new graduate center that would house the University of Maine Law School and the graduate business schools of UMaine and USM.
The presentation was made by Haven Ladd of the Parthenon Group, an outside consultant that was hired by the Harold Alfond Foundation. Ladd told the trustees that the business community is not only supportive of the idea, but would like to be involved in the formation of the new center.
“It needs to be designed independently and separately from the rest of the system,” Ladd said of the graduate center. After the meeting, he explained that he believes this institution should be created independently of the rest of the system so it is not affected by across-the-board cuts, like those that are currently underway.
He said there was ongoing discussion as to which university would award the business degree and that had not been determined yet.