USM professors share concerns with Chancellor over university independence


Professors at the University of Southern Maine are voicing concerns to the University of Maine system about what the recent move to unified accreditation will mean for their campus.

The unified accreditation, approved in June 2020, aims to facilitate the sharing of resources and programs by universities in the system by also allowing them to share governance and oversight obligations. But this has raised concerns at USM about whether the university will continue to exercise independent oversight over its own programs and budget.

These concerns, which faculty and staff raised with UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy at a town hall on Friday, have intensified since the announcement of the resignation of USM President Glenn Cummings, who also raised questions among faculty about the university management.

Malloy told faculty and staff at the meeting that he believes unified accreditation provides an opportunity to create programs across campuses and identify strengths that can be shared. He later said that while some professors and staff have concerns, with that comes any change.

“Change has to be mutually accomplished and it’s a difficult thing to do,” Malloy said. “And that’s why I sit and do these things and I have these discussions and I go out and talk to people.”

During the meeting, he told faculty and staff that budgets would still be largely controlled by individual campuses and that other decisions, such as tenure, would remain with the campuses as well. But he said Maine is a poor state with a declining number of high school graduates and that raises questions about future sustainability.

“Unlike my predecessor, who championed the concept of a university, I was championing something different, namely a new cooperative enterprise between existing institutions, each with a president and most with provosts as well,” Malloy said.

The professors said they were concerned about more centralized decision-making and whether USM would remain an independent university controlling its own programs.

“At what point as we move forward there will be conversations where, as we move forward in some areas, there will be others where we can step back and we need to decentralize some decisions in some areas to campuses to make sure… that doesn’t take away from the uniqueness, their history and the community we serve? Said Damian Medina, vice-rector for student affairs at USM.

Thomas Parchman, professor at the Osher School of Music, expressed concern about the system’s move to a unified course catalog.

“A student who takes, especially a sequenced course, at one institution and then another course with different results at another institution, could put that student at a great disadvantage,” Parchman said. “As a faculty member, I’m also concerned about the quality, the results, the academic part of it all. It would seem to give up that control.

The move to a unified course catalog is part of a larger revamp of MaineStreet’s student information portal and would allow a student to easily search for equivalent courses on other campuses. Students can already take courses at other UMaine campuses, but the unified course catalog would simplify the process, said Carolyn Dorsey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the system, in an interview after the meeting.

“It wasn’t a very user-friendly process,” Dorsey said. “The student had several steps to make sure everything was going well and that counted on his transcript. Now everything will be transparent and taken care of for the student behind the scenes. “

Rozhin Yousefvand-Mansouri, Associate Professor at the School of Business, raised questions about the shift a few years ago from two separate Master of Commerce programs at USM and the University of Maine to an MBA at UMaine. Graduate School of Business which is awarded using professors from both universities. Yousefvand-Mansouri said Orono ended up with more control and she was concerned this would happen to other USM programs.

“The labor-intensive work is done by USM and we are not paid the same amount,” said Yousefvand-Mansouri. “We can give introductory lessons to about 50 students while the UMaine professors give seminars that they like to teach. This is how it hurts us.

Enrollment grew from 149 students in both programs in 2018 to more than 400 in a single statewide program developed before unified accreditation, according to the system. Malloy, who was not Chancellor at the time the changes were made, said he was still not sure the MBA program was run as well as it could have been.

“Maybe if I had been chancellor then we would have handled things differently,” Malloy said. “How long do these problems fester?” If you have any ideas on how to resolve the issues you are having, I invite you to contact me.

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