After a proposed meeting between the University of Maine System and faculty representatives from each campus turned sour, there was much on the agenda at UMaine’s faculty council meeting, which featured a Q-and-A session with the UMS Chancellor, James Page.
After a brief introduction by UMaine President, Paul Ferguson, Page spoke to members of the faculty before answering questions — many of which had been compiled beforehand. Page brought up the overarching changes that the board of trustees developed in its “Goals and Actions Plans” last January.
“Hopefully, we’ve started that process, and that team building and integration will continue into an active, efficient and well-run system [that] will cascade through,” Page said. “And your engagement in that — and your critical participation — is going to be an essential part of that.”
Page identified three problem areas that need to be fixed in order for UMaine to sustain long-term prosperity: economics, demographic and the revolution of how technology is being consumed.
“The challenge that is very real — in terms of general economics — is one you’re all aware of, and I want to present an early win in that area,” Page said. “It was very significant that, in the governor’s budget that was released, the university system was flat-funded. That was an important first step.”
Page’s concerns with Maine’s demographic are rooted in the geographical corner of the U.S. where Maine is situated. To illustrate his point, Page compared Maine’s graduating high school population with that of New York City.
“We graduated slightly under 14,000 high school students throughout the state,” Page said. “New York City has about 280,000 seniors, to give you an idea of scale.”
Page continued by citing data gathered by the Obama Administration: In terms of economic development, at least 60 percent of a state’s population should have post-secondary education credentials by year 2025. According to Page, if Maine is to accept those percentages, it’s going to take a drastic effort to obtain students from out of the state.
“If we took every single student in our public school system from kindergarten through [grade] 12, and we got every one of them to one of our campuses and got them a four-year degree, between now and 12 years out, we’d get halfway to the president’s goals,” Page said.
That’s why, Page said, there needs to be a determined focus on identifying and helping the 200,000 or so Maine residents who have had some exposure to post-secondary education, but haven’t finished their degree or program.
“If we can capture 10 or 20 percent of those [who haven’t completed their academic program] and convince them to come through, the addition it would mean for us and the advancements for those families and communities would be enormous,” Page said.
To better serve some of these people and to expand UMaine’s footprint, Page said, it is necessary to advance how technology is delivered.
“That is going to have to be a part of our portfolio,” Page said. “How we react to that is going to be a big part of how we succeed going forward.”
Two other areas of the board of trustees’ “Goals and Actions Plan” that were in motion, according to Page, were the improvement of the credit-transfer project and performance-based funding for departments — according to Page, the former has been well-received in communities, while the latter is being heavily criticized by UMaine faculty.
“We prioritized and one of the projects we are working on is the credit-transfer project, and by the way no single item of which I’m aware has stood us in better standing with the legislature and our communities than our commitment to make progress in this area,” Page said.
After speaking for about 20 minutes, faculty president Harold Onsrud opened the conversation up to questions — he had already prepared the first few.
The first question was directed toward the issues of the contract negotiations, which has plagued UMS since June 30, 2011, when the previous contract expired. Page addressed the concerns, but said that this meeting wasn’t the time or the place for a detailed conversation about the contract issues.
“We’re all highly dissatisfied with the model and how we get together to try and do this,” Page said. “One of the things we’re looking hard to find is a way to change that model on how the dialogue ensues. No one likes the current situation, but it would not be appropriate to get into specifics.”
Questions followed about the performance-based funding model and how it appears to the Orono faculty that it’s primarily redistributing funding away from the flagship campus. Page addressed those concerns and tried to detail that the outcome-based formula has two parts and the second is integral to Orono’s campus. While one goal of outcome-based funding is to provide cost-efficient four-year degrees — something the flagship campus can’t do — the other is to allocate money for research and development, which Orono’s campus excels in.
“[Research and development] really occurs on this campus,” Page said. “What we’re really talking about, when we talk about funding around that parameter is what happens here.”
A question was raised about the UMS budget, and why it has the third-largest budget in the system — a notion Page denied — and if there should be some more review at the system level — something Page agreed with.
“I’m largely in agreement with the [size of administration being a problem],” Page said. “[But] the University of Maine System office does not have the third-largest budget — it has the fifth.
“I made the claim that the system office needed to be looked at. There were 160 hard-working employees generating no credit hours,” Page continued. “We compare to our peers, per student, heavy on administration. We are $400 per student above the average cost of administration. If we reduce that administrative cost to average amongst our peers, we’d put about $10.5 million in the bottom line. I’d like to double that. I’d like to be $400 below.”
One of the last questions raised was about the importance of maintaining high-quality faculty — and the rumors of a reserve of money the UMS had available. Page addressed his concern for bringing in and keeping new and qualified faculty and his skepticism of the available money in this reserve fund.
“A critical challenge this campus faces…is the ratio of tenure stream — non-tenured faculty,” Page said. “If we can’t find a way to invest in young scholars and bring them along and keep them here, the problem won’t be 1 or 2 years from now when you all are still here, but 5, 10, 15 years from now.
“I have heard — and god I wish it were true — that [Rebecca Wyke, UMS vice chancellor for finance and administration] is sitting on $177 million,” Page continued. “First of all, it’s monies that exists not in a bank account, but exists throughout the entire system. Seventy-five percent of that money exists on the campuses. You have it and use it, day in and day out, for capital improvements and delayed maintenance.
“I can name 25 categories of expenditures that are made possible by the fact those funds exist.”
The faculty senate meeting comes just two days after UMS faculty representatives refused to partake in a meeting with UMS board of trustees members, citing “contentious contract negotiations,” according to the Bangor Daily News.