Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Flanagan pitches USM to local businesses

Emma James | The Free Press

Posted on October 04, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

President David Flanagan gave more details about his strategy to “vanquish USM’s daunting budget challenge” during a brief speech to an audience of over 300 local business and education leaders at an “Eggs and Issues” event at the Holiday Inn in Portland.

The monthly business forum, organized by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, invites community members from many sectors to gather and discuss important issues. Last week, the forum served as both a brief overview of USM’s financial deficit and, apart from many strategies, an extended invitation to form a more symbiotic relationship with many of the local businesses in the greater Portland area.

“To succeed we will need your help as corporate partners, as intern generators and advocates for restoring our funding in Augusta,” said Flanagan. “We must find and adopt a new business model.”

Flanagan, who was recently appointed as a member of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, stressed that USM needs to become more entrepreneurial and work towards an increase in community engagement, which he believes will benefit both students and local business leaders. Flanagan wants to increase appropriation funds from the state legislature to around $6 million, the amount that’s been gradually lost since 2008.

“We need to get more funding for the whole UMS system,” said Flanagan. “So the bulk of the cost of education goes to the state instead of to the students.”

Jim Page, the chancellor of the seven colleges of the UMaine system, spoke alongside Flanagan and cited that in-state tuition in Maine has increased 365% over the past 25 years. This is part of the reason that the system is suffering from a $69 million structural gap.

“The university system is broken and must be changed and transformed,” said Page. “We have outstanding expertise across all our institutions and we need to unlock their full potential.”

Page said that in order to compete with the fierce competition on the higher education market, USM needs to increase and spread its inspiring educational capabilities.

“We must be second to none when it comes to research in economic development and public service,” said Page. “We want to be a critical partner in our region.”

Both Page and Flanagan noted the efforts of the students and faculty working in the new cyber-security lab as a prime example of departments that are leveraging their resources to serve the community. The lab was recently featured in a national spot on the CBS evening news.

“Our pioneering efforts in cyber-security illustrates how well USM can contribute to the needs of our students and the economic development of our town,” said Flanagan.

According to Flanagan, gaining community partners will open the doors for more internships and work-study opportunities for students and actually provide them with some real world experience. A more complex relationship with USM would also give local employers a database of skilled laborers. This ties in directly with the administration’s new “metropolitan” vision.

Flanagan said that the metropolitan university, above all, means concentrating on “purer areas” like music, health, business, science, technology and engineering. These are the academic areas that are experiencing the most growth and are always seeking out new practitioners, scholars and workers.

Katie Zema, a junior women and gender studies major and student representative at the event, said that USM’s plan for increased involvement with the city of Portland is fantastic, but she’s also concerned that community engagement will be limited to just the business and political sectors.

“I would love to see the university and city I have come to love, work together toward a better future,” said Zema. “However, we need social scientists and critical thinkers just like we need doctors and lawyers from this university. I fear that ‘metropolitan university’ is simply just a fancy phrase for getting rid of the humanities and some close professional relationships that are so meaningful to making USM a great university.”

Flanagan ensured that the humanities and social science concentrations will still be a part of USM’s curriculum, just in a more economical and efficient way.

Flanagan wants to add to the existing corporate partnerships USM has with companies like UNUM, Texas Instruments and IDEXX, and said that he’s anxious to talk to as many business leaders as he can. So far ideas have been flowing with a company called Connect Ed as well as with District 3’s City Councilor Edward Suslovic.

After the two speeches and a brief Q-and-A, Suslovic pitched the idea of a partnership between USM’s private bus system and the city of Portland’s. Suslovic posed the question that instead of having a private bus that USM pays 100% of the cost of, why not have the Metro operate it and give students access to the whole region?

“Wouldn’t it be great if a commuter could just get anywhere around Portland just by flashing their student ID?” asked Suslovic.

“I’m totally open for it,” said Flanagan. “Send me an email about it. Transportation between Portland and Gorham is a major issue.”

Flanagan closed his 14 minute speech with optimism and a request for the audience to become involved in USM’s future.

“I ask you to invest in USM,” said Flanagan. “It will be among the most rewarding and enduring actions you can take anywhere this year.”

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