Q2 could improve USM’s labs

Posted on October 22, 2013 in News
By Sidney Dritz

In the midst of debates over funding and program cuts, USM may have the chance to give some laboratory space an upgrade.

Question 2 on the Nov. 5 ballot will be a bond package that includes $15.5 million to update science labs and classrooms across the University of Maine System, including $4 million to be shared among the lab spaces on USM’s three campuses.

“We’ve received pretty broad, bipartisan support,” said Ryan Low, the executive director of governmental and external affairs for the UMS, who has been working to promote the referendum question. One of Low’s main goals for the “Yes on Question 2” campaign is to impress upon voters how important this election could be for the UMS. “There’s a statewide need [for funding] at a lot of our universities,” Low said. “Some of our labs date back to the ‘70s.”

According to Low, the biggest concern for the “Yes on Question 2” campaign is that, in an election year when none of the larger political offices are being voted on, low voter turnout might work against the bond package.

“A lot of people aren’t even aware that there’s an election,” Low said.

USM Dean Andrew Anderson of the college of science, technology and health expanded on what the bond package could mean for USM. One of the projects that he says will be addressed if the bond package passes would be the introductory chemistry lab in Payson Smith.

“It’s very old, not up to code, not up to standards,” Anderson said.

It’s impossible to tell what specifically can be done with the money until surveys are taken to see how much renovations will cost, said Anderson. However, there are plans to renovate lab space on each of USM’s three campuses, regardless of the surveys’ results.

“In these financial times, everyone worries about spending money,” Anderson said. “I’d like to think of it as more of an investment.” He went on to say that up-to-date laboratories are key in attracting STEM students to USM. “Like it or not, science progresses,” Anderson said of the need for more modern laboratory facilities.

Anderson is not alone in wanting to draw the bond package funding to USM. Question two’s bond package has been a topic of concern underlying various discussions from the beginning of the fall semester. Associate professor of psychology John Broida cited the vote for the bond package as a factor that might encourage the UMS to more quickly come to an agreement over faculty contract negotiations. Not long after, President Kalikow began her participation in the Sept. 20 faculty senate meeting by reminding the senate that the vote on the bond package was fast approaching, and that, were it to pass, it would be a very good thing for USM.

Low has recently met with the Advocacy Subcommittee of the College of Science, Technology and Health’s STEM Advisory Board. The board is a group of local business leaders who, according to USM’s executive director of public affairs Bob Caswell, advocate for the sciences at USM to the larger community. Additionally, a number of USM students, notably student representative to the Board of Trustees Alex Greenlee and student senator Jason Blanco, have been working to promote “Yes on Question 2.”

According to Low, Question 2 has not met with any formal opposition, although he intends to campaign aggressively for the bond package just the same, he said. According to Low, lack of formal opposition is no reason to get complacent. “By no means would we take anything for granted,” Low said.