Image via UMaine News blog post

The University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias’s President Joan Ferrini-Mundy focused on the many changes facing staff and students today at her second town hall meeting of the semester. She discussed important budget information, the status of Maine Day and student nutrition concerns.

The town hall, which took place on Nov. 16, featured a diverse array of panelists welcomed and introduced by Ferrini-Mundy. These speakers included Robert Dana, dean of students and vice president for student life and inclusive excellence; Norm Jones, interim vice president for enrollment management; Kelly Sparks, vice president for finance and administration and chief business officer and seven other panelists who did not have their own presentation.

“[This is] the first semester that is close in style and formatting to what was typical before the pandemic,” Ferrini-Mundy said.

The town hall’s purpose is to educate staff members, students and the University of Maine System’s community as a whole on vital changes that directly impact them.

The recent meeting dealt directly with major student concerns, namely dining services switching to new provider Sodexo, the fate of Maine Day and the current budget and its unexpected gaps.

Sparks tackled the Sodexo concerns during the town hall, which marked her fourth week in the position.

“We are exploring dining services with Sodexo,” Sparks explained. “We are looking forward to continuing to serve our students in a high-quality way, but being able to expand … through a partnership with Sodexo.”

For students, this partnership means the dining halls may be renovated in the next one to three years. Sparks acknowledged the focus on helping staffing issues and the consideration of bringing back Oakes Room and Wells Central if possible, as well as extending hours of operation for student convenience.

“[We hope to lower costs] while continuing to focus on sustainability, local sourcing, and food insecurity.”

She also encouraged students to voice their concerns about the partnership. One way to do this is through dining conversations that will be happening on Dec. 7 and 8. Information about these meetings can be found in student emails and dining halls.

Another key issue on the forefront of student minds is Maine Day — a longstanding tradition of a day free of classes for community service, which has been called into question due to concerns about off-campus partying. While Dana acknowledged that Maine Day traditions have a long history, he expressed his deep concerns about the partying situation.

“There’s been a legitimate call to action … by many people across the campus, wanting to know what we’re going to do about this,” Dana explained.

Dana reflected on the next steps to figure out the future of Maine Day.

“We did take an initial look at this with the president and her cabinet,” Dana said. “We’ve talked to students and many other constituents, and recently we went to the faculty senate to have the discussion.”

Ferrini-Mundy has put in place an advisory task force to deliberate and advise on the best interests of students and UMaine as a whole.

“We’ll have people representing the entire campus on the Maine Day rebranding committee,” Dana explained.

He added that the focus of this committee is on what Maine Day should look like going forward.

“What do we want it to be? How do we want it to be? How can we increase service and reduce risk? Students have engaged in this discussion very effectively,” Dana said.

Jones spoke about 2022’s student enrollment rate.

“I want to say what a wonderful place this is: I’ve been here now five weeks, and the sense of place that I see is exciting … to represent from the enrollment standpoint,” Jones said.

Jones focused on connecting with accepted students to encourage them to enroll in the University of Maine System. While enrollment numbers may be on the lower side currently, UMaine Machias saw over a 50% uptick in transfer students for the fall 2022 semester.

“[We hope to] create digital conversations with students around an academic program,” Jones said.

Enrollment initiatives for fall 2023’s incoming students include quick admission decisions, earlier financial aid awards, social media strategy and improved digital campaigns.

Both undergraduate and graduate enrollment was below what was included in the most recent budget, leading to low numbers of students and low numbers for finances. Sparks spoke about revisions to the 2023 financial year budget and exactly what implications lower enrollment has on campus budgeting.

The fiscal year 2023, which started on June 30, 2022, has a budget of just under $400 million. The original budget was approved by the finance, facilities and technology committee of the Board of Trustees last year. A strategic use of reserves has helped to balance the budget while tuition rates remain unraised and salaries are increased.

Sparks discussed budget reserves and how they work. In this budget, $34 million is allocated for education and general fund, referring to academic purchases, such as research staff, things the university runs and meeting the academic mission of students. $68.1 million is in the designated fund, focused on projects and infrastructure.

To fix budget gaps, Sparks explained, some expenses must be removed from the budget such as revenue enhancement. These funds came from things like fees or returned overhead from research grants.

Sparks stated that the focus is on retaining key values like academics, athletics and research and reallocating funds with those priorities in mind.

“Work together to get us to the endgame,” Sparks said, emphasizing community involvement in this process.

Ferrini-Mundy relayed information about various other positive developments. These include semifinal interviews being conducted in the search for a new UMaine Athletic Director and a new UMaine Machias campus director. Ferrini-Mundy also talked about UMaine alum and former Black Bears Baseball player Jeremy Peña making his recent MLB debut.

“There is an abundance of good news always, and it’s important to stay focused on that,” Ferrini-Mundy said.