At least a half-dozen significant donors have voiced concern about proposed cuts to university academic programs. The cuts could result in the loss of as much as $3 million in charitable gifts, according to University of Maine Foundation President and CEO Amos Orcutt.
These donations are in the form of bequests — money that would go to the foundation following the donor’s death — that were left to the language, music and theater programs at UMaine, the majority of which have been recommended for elimination. The university would retain instruction, minors and low-level classes in these areas, according to the interim report released by the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group.
Established in 1934, the foundation manages a collective pool of more than 1,200 individual endowments to the university and invests it in stock options and bonds. UMaine uses the earnings from the investments to fund scholarships, research programs and supplement faculty salaries. The foundation also solicits new donations in the form of gifts and bequests, which are then added to the collective endowment. The foundation has contributed more than $75 million to UMaine since 1934, according to its Web site.
The foundation is overseen by an independent board of trustees — mostly comprised of UMaine alumni — and is generally not involved with university activities or decisions. Orcutt said his knowledge of the proposed cuts comes mostly from reading newspapers.
“We’re far removed from the university,” Orcutt said. “But our donors have heard about the proposals and are expressing some of their concerns, which I have passed on to President [Robert] Kennedy, the provost and the deans, when appropriate.”
Most donors have questioned if UMaine can continue to provide a well-rounded education without foreign languages, music, music performance and theater majors, Orcutt said, and whether students can go elsewhere in the university system to attain high-level instruction in these areas.
Orcutt would not name any of the donors who have bequeathed money to the arts, nor would he be specific about the amount the university could lose, saying only that it was more than $1 million and could be as much as $3 million.
“The thing to keep in mind is that these donors don’t have to give to the university,” Orcutt said. “If their interest is music, theater and languages, and if we don’t have those programs, they can give to another school or charity.”
Alumni Richard and Anne Collins are members of the foundation and have served in a number of leadership roles across campus. The Collins Center for the Arts was named after the couple following their $5 million donation to the building’s restoration project that was completed in February 2009. They are also involved in raising money for the renovation of Memorial Gym.
“I’m very concerned about the future of higher education in Maine,” Richard Collins said Wednesday. “All these cuts are, in many ways, hurting our younger people.”
Collins said he understands the financial pressure UMaine is under and hopes the financial situation will be a platform issue in the gubernatorial race.
“I think the administration needs to be looked at,” Collins said. “At the end of the day, the university’s mission is education.” Collins said that presidents and high-ranking administrators may not be needed at every university in the system and that Maine probably has more public universities than its population needs.
Collins said he believes UMaine is still committed to the arts, but financial issues have put restrictions on that commitment.
“Key decisions need to be made about what’s critical, what’s important and what’s just nice to have,” Collins said. “It’s a difficult situation. It needs to be dealt with. It should have been dealt with years ago.”
Despite questioning some of the university’s decisions, Collins said he and Anne will remain unwavering in their support of UMaine.
Todd Saucier, CEO of the Alumni Association, said he has received more than 40 responses from alumni regarding the proposed academic cuts but painted a less bleak picture than Orcutt. The association is an independent, non-profit corporation that manages relationships with alumni for the university. Saucier said most of the alumni who called graduated from programs suggested for elimination and were looking for more information about the criteria the working group had used.
“We do fundraise, but the primary job of our organization is relationship building,” Saucier said. According to Saucier, only six alumni — who earned degrees in public administration, economics or vocal performance — said they would stop giving to UMaine if the proposed cuts were approved.
“People act out of their emotions sometimes, but that’s fine,” Saucier said. “Part of my job is to listen and answer as many questions as I can.” Saucier added that a few alumni have commented positively on the working group’s recommendations. He would not comment specifically on the amount alumni have threatened to withdraw.
Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Eric Rolfson has had a similar experience as the head of the Office of University Development. The development office also raises funds for the university, but — unlike the other two organizations — it is a part of UMaine. The three groups have helped raise $125.8 million for the university since 2005 as part of the philanthropic endeavor Campaign Maine.
Rolfson said donors to the development office, who are mostly alumni, have either been very disappointed with the proposed cuts or understanding of the financial strain the university and the state of Maine are under. Rolfson said most who talked to him were of the first group, but less than five said they were so upset they would not support the university anymore.
About 90 percent of outside contributions to the university come from individual donors, according to Rolfson. He said the long-term effects on charitable giving to UMaine will depend on the outcome of the budget cuts.
“People invest in success,” Rolfson said. “If we’re able to make some cuts, reinvest in other areas and come out a stronger institution, that will yield additional investment. If we come out as a weaker institution, it will decrease investment.”
According to the working group’s criteria for making decisions, both tuition and nontuition revenue generated by each academic program were taken into account for the group’s recommendations. Vice President of Administration and Finances Janet Waldron said the group “definitely looked at the revenue implications,” but some donations — like bequests — would have been difficult to account for.
“If they don’t know for sure that people are thinking about giving a gift, they wouldn’t know to include it,” Waldron said.
Orcutt was in agreement. “I’m sympathetic to the university’s position,” he said. “They have to make these decisions today, and they can’t base them off of what could happen in the future.”