Direction Package board nears next phase

Randy Hazelton | The Free Press

Posted on February 03, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

USM announced the rollout of its new Direction Package in late September and the formation of the Direction Package Advisory Board in October, and as January draws to a close, the scheduled Advisory Board meetings are nearing an end.

The advisory board has met 12 times since its creation, and has five more scheduled meetings, with the last meeting scheduled for Feb. 28. However, as President Kalikow stressed during last Friday’s meeting, “I think it’s really important for everyone to know we’re not going to get there in a week.”
The end of the advisory board meetings will culminate in the synthesis of information the group has gathered and evaluated on enrollment patterns, state and national trends in higher education and different ideas about working with the university’s limited budget. The report will then be presented to the President’s Council for further consideration.

Since the advisory board set up sub-groups to focus on specific issues at the Nov. 22 meeting, a significant portion of the board’s meetings have been devoted to group work. Student Body President Kelsea Dunham told the Free Press that in upcoming meetings, the smaller groups will make reports out to the group at large so the Advisory Board can make its recommendations to the administration.

The sub-group Dunham has been working on is focused on the vision for the future of the university.

“The first subgroup is focusing on a distinct USM identity so that we can focus our resources and become widely recognized and appreciated as a truly integral part of the region and state,” said Direction Package Advisory Board co-chairs President Theo Kalikow and physics Professor Jerry LaSala in an email to faculty and staff about the future of the Direction Package on Jan. 28.

There are two other groups as well. “The second subgroup, C.O.R.E (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence), is looking at how USM can reduce costs and increase revenues in FY 15 [fiscal year 2015] and beyond, while adding value to the student experience. This group is also surveying USM constituencies on a number of topics to inform their work,” wrote Kalikow and LaSala.

The third, which Dunham said focuses on the university’s signature programing, is described in Kalikow and LaSala’s email as working on ways to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate academic programs at USM.

Before the small group work commenced in last Friday’s meeting, the advisory board held open conversations with two invited speakers; George Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Richard Dunfee, the director of the AASCU’s grant resource center.

Mehaffy and Dunfee were invited to USM as guests of the Faculty Commons. “They did a presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed across the nation on the light of serious fiscal and enrollment problems,” said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell. The members of the Direction Package Advisory Board were invited to attend the presentation, and then Mehaffy and Dunfee attended Friday’s Advisory Board meeting. The presentation to the Faculty Commons will be posted on the Faculty Commons website later in the week, Caswell said.

At the Direction Package Advisory Board meeting, Dunfee discussed a series of funding opportunities through the AASCU, and Mehaffy delved deeper into his own and the AASCU’s educational philosophies. According to Mehaffy, one of the problems with universities as they are traditionally organized, USM included, is that there is a division of leadership and a lack of unity. He cited strict departmental delineations as a source of weakness. “I do think if you’re really going to be serious about this stuff, if you think about what Rich was talking about, the funding opportunities, they’re all interdisciplinary.”

This lack of unity, which, he said, comes as much from the diffusion of power created by unions as by departmental divisions, results in an unevenness of quality avoided by organizations that run on a more proscribed, corporate model, like the Cheesecake Factory or the University of Phoenix.

Kalikow objected to the comparison to the University of Phoenix, countering Mehaffy’s point about the lack of unions at Phoenix resulting in fewer conflicting voices.

“They don’t have any full-time faculty, either. They don’t have any anything, except they make a lot of money for their investors, and that’s not the model we want,” Kalikow said.

Mehaffy’s philosophy, which calls for an educational standard to be upheld across the board at a university, drew several objections from faculty and staff who argued that corporate comparisons were perhaps not entirely applicable to the university setting. Mehaffy asserted, “It’s easy to do an honors program; it’s not easy to do an honors program for everyone.”

Mehaffy concluded by stressing the need for the best thing for students and for the institution to be at the forefront of any educational innovation.
“What’s best for the students has to be a top priority, we’ve heard that from the Vision Committee,” Kalikow returned.

Mehaffy told the Free Press that he feels like he always learns something when he visits schools to speak. At USM, he said that he’d been asked a very thoughtful question by a student, which he was still considering the answer to. Mehaffy said the student had noted that the state is paying less of a percentage of the operating costs of public universities, and that students are paying a higher percentage in tuition. “The question was, does the source of funding for an institution change the way an institution operates, and I think the answer is that it does,” Mehaffy said.

“From my perspective, I thought it was a very interesting experience, we had very good conversations,” Mehaffy said.

Mehaffy said he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the work the university is doing to address the budget shortfall.

ing USM’s budget shortfall by Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell and as work that deserves the university community’s support by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page. Over the course of the meetings scheduled for the month of February, and the actions which will follow them, the result of that process will be revealed.

“We do not anticipate that the final product will have all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. This would be an unrealistic expectation. We do expect the recommendations will provide sufficient guidance upon which we can inform and guide decisions,” said Kalikow and LaSala in the Jan. 28 email.