USM President Selma Botman announced on Friday her endorsement of the plan to reorganize the university’s eight schools and colleges into a five-college model, which officials say will save the school $1.3 million a year.

Botman answered questions and concerns about the plan with the USM Faculty Senate on Friday and will continue the discussion with them Friday, April 16 before submitting a proposal to the University of Maine System Board of Trustees at its meeting on May 23 and 24. If approved, the proposal would be implemented during the 2010-2011 academic year.

“This new organizational superstructure increases opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary exchanges and collaboration,” Botman said in a news release. “It marries the liberal arts and our professional programs, and it supports undergraduate and graduate education throughout the university.”

The committee in charge of drafting the plan released the second draft on March 19 after two weeks of public debate among students, faculty and staff. The committee – or design team, as it is known – is made up of eight members of the faculty and administration. The final draft retains the focus of the first version, recommending the merging of USM’s eight schools and colleges into five larger colleges, eliminating three deans’ positions in the process. But the committee made a few major changes, like keeping together most of the departments currently in the College of Arts and Sciences. The previous plan had dispersed CAS across three schools, which some had complained would dilute the identity of USM’s programs and departments.

University spokesman Bob Caswell, who is on the committee, said in on interview on March 19 that students likely won’t notice anything different “in the short term,” but the new framework of the university would make it easier to study across different disciplines.

At Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Botman said administrators will work with faculty to implement the plan if the Board of Trustees approves it. Under the plan, department heads and faculty would be responsible for reorganizing their own departments in the new colleges. They would also work with other departments to create multidisciplinary programs, and possibly new majors.

“I hope this is the model we will use for a long time to come,” said Botman.

The University of Maine, faced with similar budgetary problems, announced on March 24 they intend to cut 16 majors and 80 faculty to offset a projected budget gap of $25.2 million. But Botman said she doesn’t intend to slash entire programs just to stay out of the red.

“I honestly believe this university would be weakened if you made across the board cuts to keep up with next year’s budget,” she added. “This would undermine our university.”

Botman also addressed the concerns from the College of Nursing and Health Professions and the School of Business about a loss of their accreditation as a result of the plan. The School of Business was worried they could lose their Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation if they no longer had a business dean. Botman said the university has an “iron-clad commitment” to maintaining nursing and business’s accreditation.

“I’m going to quote you on that,” said business professor Jo Williams.

Some members of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, which has had difficulty recruiting new faculty, still held reservations for the plan. “We fear for the state of nursing at USM,” said Janis Childs, professor of nursing, who pointed out they have not been able to fill vacant faculty positions.

According to the American Association of Collegiate Nursing, the top reason in 2008 for schools to turn away students from nursing programs was lack of faculty.

Botman said the quality, representation and support of the nursing program would be intact under the plan. “One of our areas of distinction at USM is nursing education,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this story had a quote from Janis Childs incorrectly attributed to Nancy Richeson.

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