The Board of Trustees of the University of Maine System has recently and publicly claimed that the Divest UMS movement is a success story of how a board of trustees can listen to students and change policy.
“lt was because we heard from our students who were passionate, persistent, and informed that trustees voted last year to divest from fossil fuels,” said Trish Reilly in a testimony submitted to the state legislature.
However, this view doesn’t accurately represent the arduous struggle for divestment. For over a year, Divest UMS worked hard, protesting and advocating for divestment. It was far from an easy win for students, largely due to a lack of accessibility and transparency on the part of the board.
Another big change is coming to campus in March. If you are a student on this campus, you may have noticed the inconvenient construction on Munson Rd. This repurposing of old buildings will soon be the self-described ‘boutique’ Hotel Ursa. The hotel has already received 400 reservations before its completion and is set to open this March. They have requested an additional $500,000 from the University of Maine System, and the Board of Trustees is tasked with making this decision.
Most students do not know what the board of trustees is or does, which I believe is by design. Without a means of connection with the board, most students aren’t aware of who is responsible for making major decisions like those regarding Hotel Ursa that impact our campus. The lack of promotion and transparency with regard to the board’s goals prevents student action. Students cannot express their anger and concern properly, as they are rarely allowed to.
Today, the board will make their annual visit to the Orono campus. I predict they will approve the extra $500,000 for Hotel Ursa. The benefits that Hotel Ursa provides to students are minimal. There are so many possibilities for those $500,000 to improve the lives of the student body genuinely. We could add elevators to inaccessible buildings or put them towards dorm upgrades. Rather than invest in student spaces, the board has put $3 million into that hotel. Even if a few students show up to testify on Monday, will anything change due to their testimony? I don’t think so, and I have lost hope. Over and over again, I have seen the board act outside of the students’ interest.
There are two action items for any student reading this article. First, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your issues on how they spend our money. The second is to recognize that while the UMS Board of Trustees is not receptive to student input, many more productive offices on this campus are. The board rarely considers or encourages student input. I have never seen a board member talk to students on campus.
Engaging with the board is not an entirely futile endeavor. Sometimes, if enough students bring an issue to their attention, they listen. Recently, students were upset about no longer being whole and having to cut fruit for dinner. Within days, due to student backlash, the fruit had returned to the dining hall.
Students, however, will be unable to stop an almost completed boutique hotel from wasting our tuition dollars. We can only fight for ourselves, as the UMS administration will never fight for us.