Monday, Jan. 30, will be a stressful day for the community at University of Maine Machias. The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet to determine whether the campus will become part of UMaine’s flagship campus 100 miles away in Orono, after several years of struggling financially. The meeting is expected to start at 8:30 a.m. and last all day.
According to the Portland Press Herald, the move would “cut administrative salaries because it would eliminate the need for a campus president and other administrative positions.”
The proposal was posted online for board members and called for Machias to become a branch campus of UMaine, with an executive campus head and dean at Machias and administrative services and overall academic leadership provided by UMaine. The report was composed by a task force including both campuses’ presidents, representatives from each campuses’ board of visitors, the system’s general counsel, a trustee, a senior system official and a facilitator.
On Monday afternoon, the board will convene at the University of Southern Maine to review the report, but will not yet take any formal action. The board will vote on the proposal in March. Officials plan to hold community meetings across both campuses before they vote.
UMaine Machias currently has 745 students, a 20 percent drop from five years earlier — and a smaller population than several Maine high schools. The campus has 94 employees, two administrators and 28 full-time faculty members. The campus has a roughly $9 million annual budget and in recent years has needed up to $1 million in emergency funds to balance its budget. Machias is currently facing enrollment issues due to a declining number of high school students graduating in the area.
System chancellor James Page previously described the partnership between the campuses as a benefit to students by “expanding academic opportunities while cutting costs.” The original proposal for the partnership was made in 2014 when UMaine took over handling Machias’ financial aid.
New ideas for the proposals include a “four-plus-one” program and a “two-plus-two” program. This means that Machias graduates could attend one year in Orono and graduate with both an undergraduate and a Master’s degree. The other program would split the students into two years at each campus. Machias faculty members have not yet seen the report, but understand why certain changes are being considered.
According to the Portland Press Herald, Assistant Professor Uriah Anderson, the UMaine Machias faculty representative to the trustees stated on Thursday, “We recognize the extent of the problems. I’m not sure cautiously optimistic is the right phrase because opinions vary, but there wasn’t any outrage. It wasn’t a big surprise.” Anderson added that the faculty expect to still report to the Machias dean, who will then report to UMaine President Susan Hunter.
Over the past several years, the system has been working toward a “one university” initiative, in which the UMaine system would be seen as one, unified system instead of seven distinct universities overseen by one central office. Page emphasized that under these changes, none of the campuses would be closed.