Faculty, staff and students have been working in one form or another since 1997 to improve the Gorham experience, but after $5 million in cuts this year, head of the Gorham Initiative and interim Dean for Graduate Studies Dahlia Lynn said that progress has been hindered.
“Frankly, budget limitations brought some of that [progress] to a halt,” said Lynn. “We’re just going to have to keep going back to the drawing board.”
“I think that there’s been a contraction of course offerings for all three campuses, that the recent budget cuts have required some really difficult decisions about what’s going to be on the schedule for next year.”
The progress that Lynn referred to is in part due to her efforts as new head of the Gorham Initiative. She was assigned to the role halfway through this year by USM President Theo Kalikow. According to Lynn, Kalikow and Provost Michael Stevenson have fully committed to supporting those efforts. The Gorham Initiative is a continuation of the work done by a series of committees and task forces that have tried to establish a more dynamic Gorham experience since 1997.
One group, the Gorham Campus Steering Committee, released its final report in October 2012. It stated that “recent reductions in the numbers of residential students have turned the Gorham campus into a rather empty space, a place that students and faculty depart after classes or avoid.” Later, the report called for a “revitalization” and a “new direction” for the Gorham campus community and experience, and the administration’s commitment to the Gorham Initiative followed.
The initiative hopes to improve Gorham campus life in four areas. Its goal is to offer a larger array of classes so that students only have to take their courses in Portland by choice. Currently, the campus sees over 200,000 visits per year from community members coming to see sporting events, concerts, theater productions and other events, but the Gorham Initiative also hopes to build more community connections in Gorham and make campus a more vibrant and dynamic place to be. It also hopes to increase the number of activities and events for students offered on campus throughout the year to make it fun as well as academically challenging. Beyond that, the initiative also intends to boost the faculty presence in Gorham, which has been more centered in Portland. The initiative is centered on improving all aspects of the Gorham resident’s life from the food and the activities to the classes and the dorm experience.
While budget cuts are making a complex situation even more complex for Lynn and the Gorham Initiative, some students are still unimpressed with their experiences in Gorham.
“The food is terrible,” said undeclared freshman Tai Infante. Overall, Infante didn’t enjoy the Gorham campus and intends to move to an apartment in Portland next fall.
Infante also complained that the Gorham campus was not the most open or accepting environment for LGBTQ students. “I don’t think harassment is taken very seriously,” Infante said. “I’ve never been harassed in Portland, only in Gorham.”
Another student, Michael Legere, a sophomore majoring in computer science, explained that he is going to be moving to Portland for the fall semester as well. He also argued that Gorham didn’t feel as open to LGBTQ students.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s because of the athletic culture and fraternity culture, but it isn’t queer friendly,” he said. He feels that a few groups dominate the culture in Gorham, making it difficult for one united community to thrive.
“As a computer science student, I don’t feel very involved in the Gorham campus,” Legere said.
Both Legere and Infante explained that they couldn’t recall many events on campus from the past year, and they think that many events were poorly planned and executed, so that many student weren’t even aware that there were events until just before or right after they had taken place. Legere cited this year’s Reel Big Fish concert as an example.
“From what I understand, the genre [ska] wasn’t very popular,” he said.
On top of that, Legere found it difficult to manage the expenses that accompany a campus lifestyle. “The cost of living on campus [and] the food plan is inconvenient,” he said.
He also explained that he plans to move because a majority of his classes have been in Portland. “I find it more of a hassle to live in Gorham.”
Lynn hopes through the Gorham Initiative to decrease the amount of time that Gorham students have to commute between Portland and Gorham to help students like Legere who are forced to travel back and forth multiple times per week. However, she explained that scheduling for USM’s two campuses and diverse student body is increasingly challenging, especially in consideration of the recent budget restrictions.
“There has been some uncertainty about the extent to which we can maintain those increased [class] listings on the Gorham campus, but I think that’s the same for Portland and LAC as well,” she said.
“I think it’s going to be a work in progress every semester to make sure that students have the classes they need,” she added.