The University of Maine system’s Chancellor James H. Page held an open forum on Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Wells Conference Center. Around 75 members of the University community were provided updates on the system’s legislative agenda, budget, strategic resource allocation and academic transformation.
Page congratulated UMaine Orono on leading enrollment within the system, emphasizing a need to educate Maine residents while also drawing new people into the state through the university. He also applauded the successful partnership with the University of Maine at Machias.
Page announced successes within the legislature, such as adding $4.6 million to the base budget. He and his staff have conducted a comprehensive study evaluating the needs of the facilities on campus. They identified a need for $600 million in repairs and updates over 10 years, and broke that amount down into two-year periods. The university was granted $50 million for two years, half of the projected need, to expand the engineering department.
Page closed his portion of the forum with the hope that the remaining $50 million will be granted during the legislature’s January session.
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Ryan Low laid out a budget timeline, reporting that the university’s Service budget is currently about $45 million and increases are limited to 0.4 percent.
Low also said that a peer selection survey is available for university community members as part of an effort to choose similar universities to compare with the UMaine system.
Robert Neely, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, focused his presentation on the expectations of modern college graduates. “Our world is changing rapidly,” Neely said, citing challenges universities face in keeping up with technological advancements.
Students today are less traditional than in the past few decades. Rather than being only students, they work at least 20 hours a week, they only attend school part-time or they have spouses and children to support. Neely acknowledged the need for universities to cater to the needs of the modern student.
Neely quoted Phil Gardner, director of the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute: “There are really only two choices for graduates who want a lot of employment options — to be a technically-savvy liberal arts graduate or a liberally-educated technical graduate.” Universities are expected to provide students of all majors with the foundational skills required for most job opportunities.
Several ongoing initiatives were introduced, including the Maine Nursing Summit, Early College programs and the UMaine system peer analysis.
The forum concluded with a question and answer session, where Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Emily Haddad thanked the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors for their support of a liberal arts education.
Vice Chancellor Low answered a question from a community member regarding the amount of savings the current budget provides.
“We’re absolutely getting the value of the savings side, but we need to continue working on the service side,” Low said, referring to the continued need for repairs and renovations around campus.
Low also encouraged people to make appointments with him if they had specific budget questions or concerns.
Vice Chancellor Neely explained that not all expectations are system-wide; some are specific to each campus based on differences in mission statements and UMaine Orono has its own challenges.
“We’re going to have to work on making sure our technical folks have the foundational skills they need to be successful,” Neely said.
The forum closed with a question from Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Robert Dana about issues on the horizon.
“We need to look at how we allocate resources,” Page said. He plans to minimize competition between UMaine campuses and focus instead on bringing students into the system.