The primary message shared with the public at an informal meeting held at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM) on February 15 was that future growth and new opportunities await UMM.
A process that started back in early 2016 is nearing completion with the formal vote by the University of Maine System board of trustees to accept a primary partnership between UMM and the University of Maine (UMaine) flagship campus in Orono. The vote is set to occur on March 27, which is after a six-week period of community engagement. The official launch of the new partnership structure is scheduled for July 1.
The evening gathering was the end of a visit made by Chancellor James Page of the University Maine System, President Sue Hunter of UMaine and members of the UMM board of visitors. "There were three outcomes we kept in front of us with regards to this plan," Page explained as he opened the meeting. "The first is to retain UMM's unique mission and vision while getting resources to this institution so it can succeed in carrying out its mission. The second is to support and amplify the message that this is an anchor institution. Its mission goes beyond education. It is a social, economic and cultural driver for this community. And the third outcome is to do them both while being financially responsible and sustainable to the campus and the community. We are here to invest, we are here to build and grow."
The partnership's primary objectives, which were reiterated over the course of the hour-long forum, centered on seeing an upward trend of enrollment at UMM and financial viability. In becoming a regional campus of UMaine, UMM will work with it to reach the stated objectives while retaining its name and unique, regionally focused mission. Degree and athletic programs will continue, and diplomas will still be awarded and issued by UMM.
UMM President Sue Huseman told those in attendance that it was a very good day because in the past 10 years UMM has struggled financially to operate and achieve its mission. "It has been a long time since we have had a balanced budget, but I am delighted to report for the first time in a long time, with some tightening and cost reductions made as a result of the beginning stages of this partnership, we now have a balanced budget," Huseman said.
Hunter will take on the additional mantel of UMM president, and an executive dean, to be named later, will lead the day-to-day administrative and operational charge for the staff, faculty and student body on the campus of UMM. "My office will be the point of contact between these two campuses," said Hunter. "We are really trying to maintain both institutions' singular identities while working together to grow using the attributes each institution brings to this partnership."
Earlier in the day, the three met with studews director for UMM, describes the meetings as very positive. "The overriding concerns from the UMM faculty were the potential loss of identity for the school and that their UMaine counterparts would not see this partnership as an addition to their own workload and would sustain the same enthusiasm and drive for success for both institutions," Mack said. Both concerns received positive assurances from the visiting group.
With the overall mood by those in attendance being accepting and positive, the questions raised were focused on current and future enrollment numbers, diversity and the potential for curriculum expansion. Scott Reynolds, grandson of the late Frederic Reynolds — who once served as UMM president — a graduate of UMM and a business owner in Machias, was there primarily to express his thanks. "I am absolutely delighted with this decision to partner because it just makes sense," says Reynolds. "This institution means a lot to me personally, and, as my grandfather always told me, it is also vital to this community. I think it would also be great if the curriculum could be expanded, perhaps to include areas such as nursing. I know there is a national shortage of nurses, and the hospital here is expanding its emergency department."
Enrollment at UMM, which is at 750 students, has declined by as much as 20% over the last five years, and there are currently 66 staff and faculty. The new partnership will allow students who are accepted at UMaine to attend a smaller school with a more individualized approach if that would be a better fit for them. The program now has about 50 students who meet the criteria and would perhaps be the catalyst to immediately begin increasing student numbers at UMM. Huseman indicated that UMM already has plans to hire six additional faculty members within the month.
Hunter plans to return to campus with her UMaine leadership team on March 16 and intends on being seen on the UMM campus more often once full implementation is achieved after July 1.
The six-week period of community engagement is now under way. The goal is to continue answering questions and receiving input from the community and businesses in the area.