Direction Package Advisory Board presents final recommendations

Sam Hill | The Free Press

Posted on March 03, 2014 in News
By Sam Hill

Sam Hill | The Free Press

The Direction Package Advisory Board met for the last time last Friday to present its final recommendations to the President’s Council. While the work of the board is officially finished, what will actually be done with the work has yet to be determined.

The board sub-groups came together for a cohesive presentation and gave plenty of recommendations, both short and long-term, to fill the $14 million budget shortfall. The task of turning these recommendations into action falls to University President Theodora Kalikow and the President’s Council.

“I don’t particularly envy Theo’s next two weeks,” said Direction Package advisory board co-chair Jerry LaSala. “I feel like we’ve got a promising vision, some great suggestions and [a] nice framework for trying to make academic judgements as well. Time is money, they say, and we have not much of either.”

The academic review committee spoke at length about the evaluation of programs and departments at the university, citing enrollment numbers and program costs, but the data gathered doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration.

“It’s not that cut and dry,” said Munger. “We need to learn a lot more about what each other does.”

At the previous board meeting, Munger stressed that evaluation of programs should include input from the programs themselves and that decisions could not be made solely on the numbers. The academic review committee stated that the qualitative information about each program was worth as much as the raw, quantitative data, which is another problem area for analysis.

“We’ve been talking about programs a lot, but when it came down to down to crunching the numbers, we could not look at programs,” said Carlos Lück, an associate professor of electrical engineering.

According to Lück, they couldn’t look at programs because they do not have the means with the data available in the current structure of any university environment to look at the cost to deliver a program in isolation. The analysis has to stop at a departmental level because of the way the data is recorded. Because certain programs require students to take credits in other programs, it’s difficult to measure them accurately.

What the committee was able to do was look at departments, their enrollment and costs. A graph identifying programs having trouble with enrollment and costs over the past four years was a staple of the presentation. Major programs that were in the red in both categories included, art, theater, geology and anthropology.

“If anything, this picture will highlight areas that may need closer attention,” said Lück. Programs in the red may need to reinvent themselves, while well-off programs can share their success stories, said Lück.

“There’s a story behind each one [department],” said Munger, adding that this is the reason cuts cannot be made strictly on a numbers basis.

This issue of information gathering and analysis will now fall on the President’s Council to sort out.

“I know and I think President’s Council members know that this is not fully cooked by anybody or anybody’s group, and that as we move from these really great ideas to implementation, we’re going to have a lot of questions,” said Kalikow
A lot of the questions will have to be answered quickly so progress can be made before the next fiscal year. The President’s Council will be taking advisory recommendations to use to make their decision on how USM should move forward within the next two weeks.This plan will be reported to the Faculty Senate on Friday, March 14, and in an all-campus open meeting scheduled for the following Wednesday. The timeline for these decisions was a topic discussed at length at during the board meeting last Friday.

“I would urge you to continue with the data analysis, but you have a very urgent problem at hand, and not all of it can wait for complete analysis,” said Rebecca Wyke, the vice chancellor for finance and administration for the University of Maine System. “You have quite a bit of information before you, and you need to use that to inform the decisions that you have to make pretty quickly.”

“I think there’s one thing that’s very important, and we all need to subscribe to,” said Laurenz Schmidt, a member of the Board of Visitors, an active group of volunteers that assists the president of the university in various tasks. “It is that there will be no time at which we will have all the necessary information to make a fully informed decision.”
The need for action on the work of the board was emphasized by Maine State Senate President Justin Alfond early on in the meeting, who shared an anecdote about his grandfather.

“He would say, ‘Justin, don’t tell me you’re going to do something, show me you’re going to do something.’ So, please, show this state and show this community that we can do this,” said Alfond. “This university is too important to fail. Failure is not an option.”

UMS Chancellor James Page brought Alfond’s words up again as the meeting closed, agreeing and adding that getting by was not an option either.

“The people, the businesses and the community leaders of this region want this institution to shine,” said Page.
Over the next two weeks, the President’s Council will review the advisory board’s final recommendations and draw up plans for action.

“I think one of the challenges of the next two weeks will be to digest some of this information enough to put forward the plan and the vision,” said Kalikow. “What I hope to do is give us enough of a way forward and a picture as to what this institution can be that we will be able to unite behind it and have civilized conversations about how to work out the details.”

An audio recording of last Friday’s meeting and the slideshow that was presented can be found on the Direction Package website through USM.