by Colin Harris, Treasurer
UMF is rolling out a new plan with Berkeley Research Group. (Photo courtesy of Sam Shirley)
UMF has partnered with Berkeley Research Group (BRG) to work on a new plan concerning the urban mastrangeloniversity’s goals and how they are going to be attained.
Ryan Mastrangelo, a member of the Strategic Planning Committee and Director of Marketing and Communications at UMF, said in email, “The plan lets people know the school’s purpose, the values (or how staff and students are expected to behave), the context (or what is different about UMF), goals and targets, and how UMF is going to do this (key improvement strategies),”.
Simplified this means that UMF wants to provide the best possible experience to students and this new plan that is being set in place will help in doing so.
“We conducted a national search for a strategic planning firm to work with us,” President Edward Serna said in an email interview. “What impressed us with BRG was their depth of expertise in strategic planning and breadth of experience working in the higher education sector.”
The Strategic Planning Process has been in the making for quite some time now. “We developed our current strategic plan back in 2014. Think about how much the world has changed since then. Honestly, that plan no longer reflects the realities that we are facing. We needed a new plan that more accurately reflects our current and emerging challenges and opportunities,” Serna said.
This new plan is sure to bring questions. Mastrangelo said in an email, “What changes do we want to see in UMF? Should there be an emphasis on certain programs? If so, which ones?” These are the questions that UMF and BRG have teamed up to tackle.
The proposed plan will be three to four pages in length. The proposal will describe the goals of the plan and methods that will be used to accomplish them. Hopefully this will answer any questions that may occur throughout the process.
“I encourage students to get involved in the Strategic Planning Process—if the final result of our work is to identify the best possible path forward for Farmington, your input will help us get a sense of the key issues and themes, as well as hopes and dreams, that will shape a shared vision for Farmington’s future” said President Serna.
Vanessa Charlot, a consultant at BRG said in an email interview, “There’s a place for every voice in the UMF family; whether student, faculty, staff, alumni, or community member.” UMF and BRG place an astronomical value in making sure that the voices of the Farmington community are heard. “Student input is critical to the success of the strategic planning process that is currently underway. The strategic plan will serve as a roadmap for how our university will make decisions for the next five years; and you have a say in that,” said Charlot. “This is an opportunity for you to take ownership of your legacy at UMF and enhance the current and future student experience in a meaningful way,”.
“For me, a successful strategic planning process will result in a plan that the community feels they own. I want us to be excited about the vision and values we identify as representing our aspirations for our community,” said Serna.
In short, the strategic plan is going to drastically change students’ lives here at Farmington and we need YOU to help make Farmington more of a home than it already feels like. To contact BRG about changes you’d like to see in your community please email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit ideas.
Darby Murnane Editor in Chief
On Jan. 26 and 27, the University of Maine System (UMS) Board of Trustees will convene on the UMaine campus in Orono to vote on whether or not UMS will transition to a unified accreditation, rather than function with each university being individually accredited.
Accreditation is the process by which a university is vetted for the quality of its programs and improvements as well as allowing students attending the school to seek federal aid. UMS institutions are accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The new UMS chancellor, Dannel Malloy who was formerly a two-term Governor of Connecticut, is leading the push for unified accreditation for UMS as a means of cutting system costs and opening a pathway for greater collaboration among the universities.
At a November forum held at UMF on the initiative, Malloy said, “What I’m trying to get to is a much more student-centric focus, so that we understand our consumers as well as our human product at the end of the process is better served.”
According to documents released by the chancellor online, the One University initiative for unified accreditation was first proposed in 1986 and revisited in 2015 but not fulfilled. Malloy’s push to unify the system is driven by the need to protect the system financially.
Student Senate reported that UMF has had a significant decrease in enrollment in the past three years, leading to some financial distress with less funding coming from students’ tuition and fees. This reflects a statewide issue of depopulation as the birthrate in Maine has been in decline for several years, according to a report on the state population outlook released by the Maine State Economist.
It has then become increasingly difficult for UMS to justify multiple accreditations, as Malloy noted, because the repetitive process is costly.
“We know that we could potentially be under financial strain at any moment, because recessions do that sort of thing,” Malloy said. “So we want to make sure that we’re able to preserve even very small programs that in some cases might get wiped out because there’s not enough students on one campus to justify the commitment to professors and instructors. But maybe we can retain those things in difficult times if we can do it across multiple campuses.”
The One University initiative also seeks to remove the roadblocks that currently stand in the way of sharing resources among UMS institutions. During the forum, the chancellor mentioned that professors from across the system had met to discuss the possibility of creating a system-wide program, but accreditors said it could not be done under the current individual accreditations as it would be difficult to report on the program to a singular leader or entity.
Clyde Mitchell, professor of business and UMF’s faculty representative on the matter of accreditation, has seen firsthand the difficulty in attempting to collaborate across campuses under the current accreditation structure. “I have experienced the frustration on many of my students, struggling to take a class or two on other campuses and not being able to do this easily, due to multiple administrative barriers,” Mitchell said in an email interview. “I also know of many barriers that have been experienced by faculty wishing to collaborate with peers at other campuses. . .”
Malloy noted at the forum that these barriers have halted the progress of students’ degrees in their struggle to meet course requirements. “We know that at some of our smaller universities these people are not graduating on time because they missed the once every two years or once a year offering of a course,” he said, “and therefore they can’t get their license if they want to be an educator.”
Michael Poliakoff, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, supports unified accreditation initiatives among state university systems and sees the endeavor as a way to rectify the issues UMS institutions currently face. In a phone interview, Poliakoff noted that the prime directive of a university should be the “finest possible education at the lowest possible cost.”
“And when a system comes together and seeks a single accreditation, it sends a very strong signal that this is no longer a situation where individual campuses are competing with each other and wasting resources,” he said, “but the birth of a new efficiency whereby each campus looks at itself as part of a unit that’s entirely focused on the optimization of resources.”
For universities with a focus on liberal arts education such as UMF, inclusive and collaborative environments are vital. However, with the barriers of the current accreditation preventing this collaboration, UMS administrative practices appear dated.
“In the 21st century the word is interdisciplinary,” Poliakoff said. “But that’s just a cliche if you’ve got a bunch of campuses, each one thinking of itself as a single treehouse wanting as many different options as possible. . . rather than thinking of interdisciplinary as a way to develop programs in which scholars are sharing in the development of academic offerings of research.”
To amend the situation, Poliakoff recommends looking to technological advancements to enhance learning environments. He said, “When you have small campuses widely dispersed, in the 21st century the remedy for that is not to have an independent set of duplicative resources at each location, but to use interactive video, which has now gotten so good, in the sharing of academic resources.”
Yet, this sharing is complicated by the credit standings of UMS institutions as UMF is unique in being four-credit based while the other universities are three-credit. At the chancellor’s forum, President Edward Serna discussed the difficulty in working with fellow UMS schools due to the credit difference. He told the chancellor, “So we’re looking at a collaborative nursing program with Augusta, but three-credit hour [and] four-credit hour bear a lot of work to get it done.”
This has induced some fear among UMF students about how unified accreditation may impact the university’s credit load, many believing that it will be necessary to drop to a three-credit basis. However, Malloy ensured students that it is not part of the One University proposal to force the universities to all became three or four-credit based. “That’s up to your campus, and your leadership and your faculty. We’re not insisting on that,” he said.
One student raised some concern over how it would be feasible to open up cross-listed courses between universities under unified accreditation without matching the credit load of each school. Malloy did not give a definitive answer, but said it would have to be a topic of discussion among administrators should the vote pass.
Students were also assured that whatever the decision may be, any credits already earned by students, under whatever credit load their universities offer, are protected.
However, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Eric Brown raises the question of the necessity of UMF’s credit model. He said in an email interview, “I think the larger question is: do students, faculty, and staff here at UMF still see abiding value and competitive advantage in the 4-credit model? So this is an opportunity to reassess and address those kinds of questions, but operating under single accreditation will not in itself force a change.”
He hopes that the One University initiative will “help UMF to become more nimble when change is called for and better able to develop and innovate on the academic side without the additional steps and reviews that individual campus accreditation has required.”
Ripley Biggs Contributing Writer
Recently the University of Maine System (UMS) announced that they are unveiling a new initiative called “Maine Values You,” to bring more students to UMS institutions. This will proactively reach out to members of the graduating high school classes of 2020 who will be attending a UMS institution, aiming to cover all tuition and fees for more than 1,200 of these students, according to a recent UMS press release.
The message, which will be seen on television and social media, is coming from UMS newly appointed Chancellor Dannel Malloy, formerly the Governor of Connecticut, who outlines the work the System has been doing over the past six years to make Maine’s Public Universities affordable to everyone. This affordability has been attained by tuition and fees being capped for the past six years, with increases only being made to keep up with inflation.
In addition, more financial aid has been made available to Maine students to help make paying for college less of a burden if they attend a public university. By attending a state-supported school, students owe about $4,000 a year less than their peers who chose to attend one of Maine’s private universities or who choose to go out of state.
The deal is even better for those attending the University of Maine Augusta, Fort Kent, Presque Isle or Machias. Through the tuition guarantee program of each of these four UMS locations, qualified and eligible in-state, full-time, first-year students will not pay any out-of-pocket expenses for tuition and fees.
According to UMS Executive Director of Public Affairs, Dan Demeritt, “The gap between the cost of higher education and the student’s ability to pay for that education using full financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships has gotten smaller.”
In fact, the high school class of 2018 saw 1,142 freshmen, which was 40% of the incoming freshman class to UMS schools, receiving a high-quality education free from all tuition and fee charges. The “Maine Values You” initiative was formed in order to formally build on the success that UMS has seen for the students with the most need.
Last year $11 million in scholarship money was collected from alumni, civic organizations and other Maine businesses.
In the aforementioned press release, Jack Ryan, President of Wright-Ryan Construction in Portland as well as University of Southern Maine (USM) Foundation Board member and UMS community donor, stated, “Education is the best investment money can buy. . . initiatives like USM’s Promise Scholarship [helps] underserved young achievers from Maine the chance they deserve to attend and graduate college with little or no student debt.”
UMF President Edward Serna is supportive of the “Maine Values You” initiative, as he said, “The commitment to cover tuition and fees for 1,200 new Maine students next fall is another important way we can put the power of a UMF education — and all the benefits it provides — within reach of Maine students and their families.”
As the money from this initiative will be going only to the incoming class of Fall 2020, current UMS students will not be able to access this funding. However, the younger siblings of current students may be able to take advantage of this program.
The first step to receiving this aid is filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) which is the form completed by current and prospective college students in the U.S. to determine eligibility for financial aid.
According to the Finance Authority of Maine, as cited by the UMS press release, 2,595 Maine students did not complete the FAFSA which resulted in over $10 million in Pell Grants left unused (Pell Grants being federal student loans that don’t require a repayment from the student).
The UMS hopes the “Maine Values You” program will encourage every Maine student to at least fill out the form even if they don’t think they are college-bound. “We hope to meet the need for as many students as we can, for as long as we can,” said Demeritt.
Darby Murnane, Editor in Chief
Serna aims to add diversity to the UMF community and to build strong relationships with students (Photo courtesy of UMF).
New UMF President Edward Serna envisions a future of the university which fosters opportunity for greater student diversity, career development and increased community partnerships. Serna also aims to continue work started last spring in response to Bangor Daily News articles on UMF’s handling of sexual misconduct via Title IX investigations.
Serna said he is “curious to start developing a new marketing plan and to start investing in that area,” as a way of bolstering the diversity of UMF’s student population and outreach to prospective students. Part of this marketing campaign has entailed Serna traveling to Maine high schools and community colleges where he’s spoken with principles and administrative staff.
Coming from University of Arkansas- Fort Smith (UAFS), where Serna previously worked as the interim chancellor, he said, “We had a large Hispanic population, a large Vietanmese population, representing our campus population. So I think coming to Maine, which in my understanding is the oldest and whitest state in the union, there’s some challenges there. How do you create a diverse student body when your state doesn’t represent that?”
In his conversations with community colleges, Serna indicated that there are plans to arrange partnerships between these schools and UMF as part of student outreach. “[There’s] excitement around the community colleges to even partner with us,” he said.
Serna said that it is currently unclear exactly what those partnerships would entail but there will soon be follow-up meetings to discuss possibilities.
His vision for UMF’s community involvement exists hand-in-hand with his goals for more in-depth career development. “I think our mission has to be more about career development, not necessarily that first gateway job but about putting our students in a position to have a fulfilling life and a fulfilling career,” Serna said. He’s thinking of partnering with nonprofit organizations in the area, preferably ones that students might seek employment with post-graduation, and has spoken with the Board of Visitors on this topic.
“The partnerships have to make sense for that school,” he said, “. . . .[UAFS] is very much a workforce development school. . . .This was about social mobility for these kids and a better life. So I felt it was incumbent upon me to be their advocate so they would have those opportunities.”
Serna is strategizing, with help from the new Vice President of Student Affairs Christine Wilson, to address the lingering tensions from Title IX issues of last semester. According to Serna, his and Wilson’s conversations have focused on their goal to build a specific culture on campus: “. . .a culture of healthy relationships, a culture where people feel safe from harassment or discrimination, that’s our vision.”
Wilson and Serna are attempting to follow through on the proposals brought forth by students to address these issues. “. . .there were recommendations [for a student advocate position] made by [Look Us In The Eyes],” Serna said. “Christine is now working with those recommendations to get them implemented.”
“Personally, from my office, I want to continue to make sure that Students are heard,” Serna continued, “I want to make sure there are mechanisms in place that we hear you, and that we’re listening.”
He is also planning a President’s Advisory Council student representatives to establish more direct contact and transparency between the student body and his office. Serna ideally would like to hold monthly meetings with students, staff and faculty senates individually. “I want [the student’s] voice at the table. And it’s such a valuable perspective that I don’t know how we would operate without it,” he said.
Serna issues a call to UMF students to “keep having honest conversations with me, stop me when I walk into work in the morning.”
The sense of community at UMF and in Farmington as a whole has deeply moved Serna and drives his goals for the university. “Even with the tragedy that happened recently, I think the thing that really just took Lauren, my wife, and I back was just the outpouring of support from the community and the campus,” he said.
Following last week’s explosion of the LEAP building on Sept. 16, Serna attended the candle vigil in honor of the fallen fireman, Captain Michael Bell. “I was so proud and so encouraged by the number of UMF students there. . . I think sometimes the narrative about your generation, if you will, is that you’re disconnected, you’re not part of the community. It really moved me seeing how many of us were there supporting the community on a school night if you will. My daughter was there and it was so important for her to see.”
Faith Diaz, Contributing Writer
After severe, on-going problems with the Creative Writing house’s electrical system and foundations, the home-turned-writer’s-hub is scheduled to be torn down this academic year.
Thirteen days before returning for the fall semester, creative writing students at UMF were notified about the fate of their building. On Aug. 20, Jefferey Thomson, the new creative writing Department Chair, sent out a mass email stating, “As many of you know (after sitting through many false-alarm fire-alarms) there have been some pretty serious problems with the house’s electrical systems. In addition, there are some serious issues with the house’s foundation.”
The email continued, reading, “What this adds up to, sadly, is that the cost of fixing the house has become prohibitive for the University and it needs to be torn down. As a result, by the time you get here, the creative writing program will have been moved to new offices in the bottom of the Fusion Center.”
When students arrived to campus they saw that the building still stood but no one was permitted to enter.
Thomson elaborated on how this decision came to be made and what it means for the creative writing students. “In June, the acting Provost, Kathy Yardley, emailed me and said she wanted to walk us around some spaces for the creative writing program. This was the first we [as faculty] heard about it specifically,” he said.
The board that was assembled for the first notification of the closure consisted of faculty members Linda Britt, Eric Brown (interim President of UMF at the time), Jefferey Thomson, and Kathy Yardley. Britt, the humanities chair, was unavailable to comment due to traveling.
Thomson said, “We, as in the creative writing faculty, we didn’t know that the house was in that bad of shape until that moment. And then because of the transition to the new president and people moving around in upper administration, we weren’t told officially we were moving until the 15th of August or something like that.”
He continued, “The reasons that students were surprised about it is because it happened rather quickly.”
Over the summer, UMF went through a presidential shift from Eric Brown to Edward Serna. This administrative shift stalled many projects, including the placement of creative writing majors, which meant that the official changing of locations happened within the official notification of the creative writing faculty, students and the start of the first day of classes this fall.
Upon students returning to campus, the creative writing faculty is aware of the general displeasure of students for the loss of the house. “There’s hope that the basement down here [in the Fusion Center] is going to be a temporary position for us,” Thomson said. “That within the next year or so, we will be able to move into an equivalent space.”
Thomson came to UMF in 2003 as an assistant professor and after four years, he received tenure. After six years of teaching as an associate professor, in 2013, he solidified his position and joined the full-time staff. Due to Patricia O’Donnell’s retirement, Thomson has become the Department Chair of the creative writing program.
He concluded his thoughts on the program’s location change with, “I’ve asked to be included in that discussion [of the future locale of creative writing courses] because, yes, writing is so solitary that it helps to have a space where you can have a sense of this, this place that is yours to share with your peers. And we are trying to make [the Fusion Center] like that but we understand that it is not the same.”