Legislators urge students to speak up at USM EDTalks

Posted on December 09, 2013 in Perspectives
By Bryan Bonin

While the future of education is a topic generating much debate at USM, getting involved shouldn’t be.

The event, spearheaded by Student Body Vice President Marpheen Chann and sponsored by several other campus organizations, was a forum in which state legislators spoke about the future of higher education in Maine, fielding questions from the audience, which was mostly students. Five state legislators made up the panel for this event, including Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland), Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth), Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham), Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) and Rep. Michael McClellan (R-Raymond).

Rep. McClellan apologized, preemptively, in his opening remarks for the likelihood that he would be a “stick in the mud,” and as he predicted, many audience members found his responses quite frustrating. Students listened intently to McClellan as he responded to the first question, raised by USM President Theo Kalikow on how USM and its students can be more communicative with legislators. He responded that students are often discounted in the process of educational decision making because they stereotypically follow a particular party and don’t have original opinions. That answer garnered whispered boos of disapproval.

Though, in between frustrating responses, such as these, there was one that stood out. One answer, while simple, seemed to resound rather clearly throughout the forum: get involved.

Rep. Millett may have put it best–innovate, she said, challenging students to think outside the box, a task which many of us here at USM are familiar with. There is a unique opportunity in Maine, one that is often taken for granted: citizens have extraordinary access to the legislature.  Students have the opportunity––and responsibility––to present their ideas to help this struggling institution.

And for new students enrolled at USM this coming spring, there has hardly been a more suitable time to get involved. The discussion of public higher education’s future is especially important at USM, because its future is so uncertain, with imminent budget shortfalls and enrollment deficiencies causing academic departments’ course offerings to plummet.

As USM lumbers through these labyrinthine issues, real opportunity arises for us to address them and implement change. Students must become innovators so that dramatic improvements can be made; all of which are inevitable if we do not alter the status quo. Portland’s newest college students will have plenty to do.