A committee from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) praised USM for strength, candor, passion and commitment after spending last week on campus assessing the University for reaccreditation.
“Every 10 years all colleges and universities are evaluated by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education,” said Bob Goettel, executive assistant to the president. “The commission selects peers from other institutions in the region. They evaluate the Self-Study for Reaccreditation – which is required for all institutions to produce for the committee to evaluate.”
The committee presented a verbal summary of their findings last Wednesday. Goettel said they were very complimentary of USM, congratulating the University for diversity planning and an improvement in enrollment and retention.
“They felt that there were interesting things going on here that members of the team will bring back to their own campuses,” said Goettel.
Areas of concern for the committee at the University were the library resources, or lack of, and the need for more communication between the administration and governing bodies on campus. The committee also cautioned the University in trying to be all things to all people.
“The committee said that the Faculty Senate needs more participation, that they lacked vitality,” said Judy Ryan, vice president of Student Development, who was present at Wednesday’s verbal summary.
In addition to evaluating USM’s self-study, students met with committee member Cynthia Forest to express comments and concerns. Topics the students talked about included safety and access to the library, sensitivity for students with disabilities, diversity issues, student involvement, and space limitations.
Heidi MacDonald, a senior criminology major, talked about the need for faculty training to help them interact with disabled students better.
“For deaf students like myself, I go to class the first day and the professor does not understand why they need to wear the microphone. So I have to explain and the kids gawk at me, I feel singled out and embarrassed.”
Ryan Anderson, chair of the Student Senate, expressed his concerns about accessibility for disabled students.
“We can’t say we are open to all until all can gain access to the University both physically and emotionally. We need to find the money to do this. The Student Senate, The Free Press and WMPG are not handicap accessible.”
Another area of student concern is the level of student involvement.
“The biggest struggle in a commuter-dominant university is getting students involved in terms of going to events and participating in student organizations. The opportunity is there for them but we need to get the word out better,” said Justin LaBerge, treasurer of the Student Senate.
Jelilat Oyetunji, a computer science major, praised USM for its commitment to students of color.
“I came from Nigeria to USM and I have been supported and encouraged a lot by non-academic staff especially. They provide good interaction and do a great job,” said Oyetunji. “I appreciate the Multicultural Center, I feel I am respected being of color.”
Still, graduate student J.B Whipple feels the University could do more in terms of diversity.
“We need more people of color in key positions, especially advising. It would be nice to have a person of color there to deal with race issues and make people feel more comfortable.”
Students also pointed out the need for a more user-friendly library, as the NEASC committee did.
“Whenever I try to find a book it is either outdated or just not available,” said Erin Whitish, a junior therapeutic recreation major. “The computer database is good but we need to utilize books. I, along with a lot of other people, enjoy learning from books instead of wasting tons of paper printing out stuff that I use and throw away.”
Over 300 people met with the committee during their visit to the Gorham, Portland, and Lewiston-Auburn campuses. The self-study took 18 months to piece together but Goettel feels that all the time and effort paid off. The draft of the NEASC report will be sent to the University in six weeks, and reaccreditation is expected by the end of the summer.
“The committee saw enough people to learn about USM and get a good feeling about what is going on here and they will recommend us for reaccreditation,” said Goettel.
Staff Writer Kate Bucklin can be contacted at: [email protected]