UMaine could take over responsibility for struggling Machias campus this summer

Posted Jan. 30, 2017, at 5:56 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — As the University of Maine System’s flagship university considers taking the system’s smallest campus under its wing, system officials say students and staff wouldn’t notice much of a change if it does happen.

A team of administrators unveiled a report outlining recommendations for the future of the ailing University of Maine at Machias during the university system board of trustees meeting on Monday.

The group — which includes the presidents of both the University of Maine in Orono and UMaine at Machias, members of the boards of visitors, and system officials — suggested UMaine should take responsibility for the Machias campus as a “regional campus,” according to the plan.

The change would take effect on July 1, pending approval from system trustees during their next meeting in March.

Instead of a president, UMaine at Machias would hire an executive dean to oversee academic programming, day-to-day operations and serve as the public face of the campus. That dean would report directly to the president of the UMaine, who in turn reports to the UMaine System chancellor and system board of trustees.

The potential move follows a larger system push to consolidate back-office administrative functions to cut costs. The system already had taken over some functions from UMaine at Machias, such as information technology, financing and human relations, but now UMaine could take over additional oversight in areas such as research, record keeping and athletics management.

UMaine at Machias would keep the same name and retain its own board of visitors, and it would be expected to continue its mission to serve as “Maine’s coastal university,” by building on existing programs focused on fisheries and aquaculture. Students’ degrees and transcripts would still bear the name “The University of Maine at Machias.”

While fewer administrators would be working in Machias, UMaine President Susan Hunter said there still would be advising, financial aid and other employees working on campus. Students still would be able to meet face-to-face with staff trained to help the student find information or resolve issues, who in turn would be in close touch with the larger staff in Orono.

The change in leadership structure means the campuses will have to seek approval from The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the group that controls their accreditation. Machias’ new accreditation likely would be through UMaine.

The Machias campus, the system’s smallest, has been struggling to stay on its feet. The UMaine System stepped in last March after officials determined it was no longer financially viable unless major changes were made.

In the past five years, enrollment dropped 20 percent to 745 students. The system repeatedly has dipped into reserves to help the campus cover swelling budget deficits, which surpassed $1 million last year. At a university with an annual budget at about $9 million, those deficits forced repeated cuts to faculty, staff and programs, and the campus reached a point where it couldn’t sustain much more bleeding, according to UMaine System Chancellor James Page.

“The Machias campus’ challenges put at risk its coastal mission to educate students, provide responsive service to the downeast region, and help create economic opportunity for Washington County and coastal communities,” the report states.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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