University of Maine System Chancellor James Page pledged his support Thursday in helping the University of Southern Maine move on from the recent controversy surrounding a no-confidence vote in USM President Selma Botman.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is driven by a desire to see a better University of Southern Maine and a better place for the community as we move forward,” Page said before opening up the forum for questions and statements from members of the community.
Page, who has served as chancellor just since the end of March, is in Portland for a two-day series of meetings with members of the USM community in the wake of a fractious debate over Botman’s leadership in which 51 percent of all faculty eventually voted no confidence in the president. Page heard and responded to faculty and student concerns at a public forum at the Hannaford Lecture Hall Thursday.
Page said in his opening remarks that he has received feedback about the issue, which has received considerable attention from Maine media outlets.
Most of those who spoke were faculty members who broached concerns ranging from criticism of and support for Botman to problems within departments and more general statements about the future of the university.
Women and gender studies professor Wendy Chapkis took the opportunity to praise the faculty at the university and make suggestions for ensuring adequate funding at USM and other schools in the University of Maine System.
“People don’t realize what a little gem this is in southern Maine, and I’m heartbroken about what’s been going on,” Chapkis said. “There is something that could be done at the top: take a hard look at the system and system office, make cuts there and reinvest in schools across the system.”
English professor Nancy Gish took the mic to criticize the administration for a perceived lack of interest in listening to faculty — a common refrain in recent weeks during discussions of the no-confidence vote.
“I have been here working for change for 32 years now, and I no longer feel as if faculty initiative is listened to,” she said.
Few students attended the forum, although several got up to speak or ask the chancellor questions. Junior Mea Tavares, who was the last community member to speak, said USM needs to carefully consider how it markets itself to potential students.
“If I’m a client being marketed to, for me it’s not about sitting in a classroom but about the quality of the faculty,” Tavares said. “If I’m buying an experience, it better be a really good one. And that’s going to come from the people that make this campus rich, diverse and safe.”
Throughout the forum Page stressed the importance of communication amongst faculty members and the administration and of involving the larger community in the process of moving forward from the divisive of the vote.
“We need to make sure dialogue is open and sustained, because people have different ideas,” he told members of the press following the event. “We also have to bring in constituencies from outside this campus, because no university exists in a vacuum.”
Page is meeting with a number of members of the USM community this afternoon and tomorrow, including union leaders and the Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell.