The Direction Package Advisory Board met for the first time on Friday in the Brooks Student Center in Gorham to discuss tactics and strategies for creating a cohesive direction package that will be presented to the Board of Trustees.
Approximately 30 people were assembled at the meeting in order to represent a broad cross-section of the university community, with participants from the Student Senate, faculty, Alumni Board, Faculty Senate Budget and Strategic Planning commitee, Professional Staff Senate, Academic Deans, Graduate Student Leadership, advisors and more. “This is our chance to come together and work on how USM is going to go forward into the future,” President Theo Kalikow said to the group.
The first meeting consisted of making introductions, creating a schedule of meeting dates, clarifying objectives and establishing ground rules for discussing the direction package.
The meeting opened with a speech from Justin Alfond, Maine state Senate president. He said his hope is that the Advisory Board could establish a single vision for the future USM. “My hope for you all is to really do this together,” he said. He also offered his support to the group.
Two main objectives were identified for the board to address. First, the difference between how much money USM takes in and the amount it costs to keep the school running must be addressed. They want to come up with strategies to close the gap. This includes finding ways to increase enrollment and increase revenues.
The second objective is to develop a clear vision of what the future of USM is going to look like. This includes answering questions about where the university is headed and what its key goals are.
“Most of the financial problems are long term systemic problems that we’ve tried to address through cuts. We can’t cut our way to brilliance. We need to see the things we do best and do them better,” said Jerry Lasala, the chair of the physics department and co-sponsor of the Advisory Board with university President Theo Kalikow.
Kalikow expressed her hope for what the group will accomplish. “We will achieve a large degree of consensus and understanding,” Kalikow said. She also expressed her opinion that the Board needs to listen to students and discover what they need.
The board addressed concerns about the time constraints they are facing. Despite the 23 meetings that are scheduled for the next four months, the group was concerned that they might not have enough time to come up with a unified consensus and recommendations.
A major concern for many of the participants was whether or not to allow the press to attend future meetings. For almost two hours, the participants weighed the costs and benefits of press coverage. While many expressed their desire for the process to be as transparent and open as possible, many feared the possibility of negative press. Some believed that if the press were to attend the meetings, the members would not feel safe to openly express their opinions. They said that they feared that the board may be misrepresented or have their preliminary thoughts published.
Many believe that recent negative press has been detrimental to the image of the school and that the university is losing applications because of it. They want to present a positive image to the students and faculty.
Some, like Kelsea Dunham the student body president, said that the press is necessary to keep the student body informed about the decisions being made in the Advisory Board meetings.
The Board did not reach a conclusion about whether or not to admit the press. While they want to keep the student body informed, they were unsure about how to do so. Some options included having private executive sessions or presenting relevant information to the press through press conferences.
The meeting ended with a short speech from the Chancellor Jim Page. ”I’m here to voice my strong support to the University of Southern Maine,” he told the group. He offered the board support and a helping hand. “The work of this group is going to have implications well beyond this school,” he said.