President announces direction, then switches gears

Patrick Higgins

Posted on October 07, 2013 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Patrick Higgins
Patrick Higgins

Between the roll-out event of President Kalikow and Provost Stevenson’s plan for the university on Sept. 23 and the email Kalikow sent out on Oct. 3, something significant changed. That change caused Kalikow to switch plans in ten days from the process she and Stevenson said, on Sept. 23, they had been refining all summer.

At the direction package event Kalikow and Stevenson invited the USM students, faculty, staff and other interested parties to a “roll-out” event for the “Direction Package” they had been working on since the summer. In an interview with the Free Press before the event, Stevenson stressed that the two events on Sept. 23 were intended not as a presentation, but rather as the start of a conversation.

“We need to talk about the vision,” Stevenson said.

There were two direction package meetings that Tuesday, both on the Portland campus, and both were broadcast to locations on both the Gorham and the Lewiston Auburn campuses. The rolling out of the direction package came directly on the heels of controversy about the possibility of USM cutting its physics major. However, promotional material about the event assured that it had been planned signifactly in advance of the controversy.

During the question and answer period following the slideshow of the second presentation, Provost Stevenson said, “I’ve watched this particular set of slides evolve all summer. We believe this is the right time to expand the conversation.”

The slides in question, which are available on the direction package’s website, propose that the roadmap toward the university’s future success should be guided by the clarification first of vision, then charter, mission, values and finally strategy.

“It’s very rare to go into an institution that doesn’t have a vision statement,” said Dave Stevens, a consultant from the University of Maine System who has been working with the president and the provost on the direction package over the summer.

“I’m especially happy to be here today because this is the start of a process to get the involvement of you folks,” Stevens said, addressing the crowd that filled about a third of the available seating in Hannaford Hall Sept. 23.

His words echoed Provost Stevenson’s sentiments to the Free Press earlier in the week that, “decisions will get made after that conversation plays out.”

The slides presented on the direction package, Kalikow and Stevenson both said, were drawn from a variety of already established sources, including documents that date back to the university’s founding. “Nothing here should be surprising to you,” Kalikow said.

In the question and answer period, numerous faculty and staff stepped forward to express concerns. One of the most well-received comments, made in the second session, by both the crowd and the president, came from Director of Counseling Services Robert Small, who said that rather than discussing the vision and the values of the university, a more student-based approach might be called for. “Our students need vision, they need values, they need hope,” Small said.

In a statement to the Free Press later, Small expanded upon the point, stressing the importance of unity in the university, saying, “due to multiple agendas of administration, faculty, staff and students it is difficult for the USM community (and for many others in our world today), to agree and create a viable harmonious vision,” Small said, declaring that the university’s focus should be on helping students clarify their own visions, rather than being so concerned with vision for the school. “Perhaps programs, faculty and staff who can not help students find meaning and purpose in their education should not be here.”

In a similar vein, student body President Kelsea Dunham and Vice President Marpheen Chann-Berry are responding to the unveiling of the direction package by organizing a student discussion, “Student Visions 2013,” which should take place in November.
“The idea is to invite as many students as we can,” Chann-Berry said.

According to Chann-Berry the “Student Visions 2013” conference is conceived as a means of clarifying and conveying the feelings and ideas of students from all different backgrounds to President Kalikow.

Kalikow said, in her opening address for the roll-out event, that, “If you came here today hoping to see a detailed plan, you’ll be very disappointed,” and a number of respondents in the question and answer period did express disappointment.

“I understood that this was going to be a dialogue, but what it sounds like is a feedback group,” said sociology Professor Luisa Deprez.

Professor of linguistics and department Chair Wayne Cowart expressed a different concern, that the direction package “[has] a missing middle step–how does a vision become a plan we can do things with?”

The “missing step” to which Cowart referred, Kalikow said, was intended to come out of the university-wide conversation that the rollout event was designed to spark. However, on Oct. 3, President Kalikow released an email revealing a change in the plan for the direction package process in response to the concerns of the USM community.

The email, under the subject line “Moving Ahead,” announced that the direction package is transitioning into a newly created phase designed to include students, faculty and staff in the decision making process. This next phase will include the formation of a committee of faculty, staff, students and external partners, although Kalikow will remain responsible for selecting the recommendations which will be acted on.

Kalikow did not respond to the Free Press’s request for a comment by the time of publication.