Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Our opinion: USM needs to keep impacting programs, not just money makers

Posted on October 07, 2014 in Our Opinion, Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Last week President Flanagan was appointed as a member of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, which he hopes will help in bringing in ideas of community engagement and closer professional relationships with businesses and companies in the region at large.

Flanagan urged the attendees to invest in USM and realize that there is a lot of potential to unlock with the UMaine system’s academic resources as a whole. The seven colleges in the UMaine system each have their own individual academic strengths and weaknesses but it seems that the administration wants to compile all the resources into one searchable, educational community. Flanagan’s vision sees a future where an employer looking for a skilled laborer can access a statewide portfolio that provides a list of services from certain departments, no matter where they are in the state.

It would also be incredibly beneficial for a students learning experience if they could log onto a website, and have access to the best programs and teachers, even if they are on a completely different campus. Our rapidly progressing technology could certainly make this digital academic portal a reality, we just don’t want it to replace actual interactions between professors and students, because that’s where the real learning usually happens. Technology can make learning a lot more accessible, but don’t turn USM into a “Netflix University” where you can earn a degree by lying in your bed eating Doritos.

We think it’s important for USM and the rest of the schools in the system to become a more critical option when employers are looking for workers to fill up their job openings. During a four year experience at college, a lot of students have a hard time truly realize what kind of career they should forge. If outside employers spend more time tabling on campus, sponsoring career related events and offering more internships and work-study jobs, it could make the transition between graduation and the real world a lot less terrifying.

USM does need to be engaged with the greater Portland community, we just hope that the nature of the engagement doesn’t solely benefit potential employers and also takes students goals and ambitions into considerations.

Flanagan said that his new business model involves concentrating on “purer” areas like science, technology, engineering and the health professions because those academic departments foresee the most job growth. We hope that USM isn’t choosing its academic focus solely based on entrepreneurial goals. Sure students in those concentrations should be given some help entering the job market and connecting with professionals. But won’t their transition be easier than most students anyway, seeing as they’ve majored in such a desirable field?

Let’s not forget about the academic departments that so many students are so deeply passionate about: arts, classics, history, theatre and women and gender studies, to name a few. These focuses help make Portland prosperous, vibrant and interesting. Portland’s got a vibrant creative community, so let’s not minimize that curriculum just because some other areas are more profitable.

USM just needs to work on marketing itself better as a whole, without  focusing on just a couple of entrepreneurial areas, but all the diverse options that makes USM interesting and unique.

Our Opinion is written by the Free Press editorial board.

 

  • Toracrem

    From Tony Payne Comments:

    “I hope all your readers will engage in a constructive conversation that is not about positions but about the academic product and the lifelong opportunities created by a USM education.”

    Please do not patronize us. I am fairly certain that students think the elimination of faculty positions and programs affect the academic product and lifelong opportunities and students are feeling the effects already as they contemplate next semester and if they should transfer. Students accepted into grad programs that have been summarily eliminated and have not been told how to finish their program are not looking kindly at USM. Undergrads being hurried through a degree without guidance and mentoring from full time faculty scholars are equally unhappy.

    Tony Payne: “David Flanagan has spent countless speeches and meetings explaining that USM must, above all, produce graduates with critical thinking skills.
    That means having a core curriculum that requires courses in the arts and humanities.”

    What about being able to earn a BA in those fields – or are liberal arts only
    for general education? He might have better spent those countless hours learning about USM and the students rather than talking to business leaders. Students at USM deserve access to a high-quality, comprehensive education and not a list of
    academic programs made up of what is left after faculty and programs are cut.

    Other universities can have teacher-scholars and Sociology and Economics but
    USM slashes such programs – same with Theater and Music (who needs that in Portland). Criminology is being told to be Criminal Justice and English should create teach more students who are less prepared, foreign languages in a global world – not for you USM students.

    Then get rid of graduate level professional programs in Community Planning and
    development and Public Policy and Management and American and New England
    Studies even though they exemplify community-engaged learning and the
    metropolitan university vision.

    These action perpetuate a downward spiral of student enrollment declining and more budget cuts. How do you expect to attract and retain students with administration that discusses an education as a product and not an experience and process that culminates in a degree. We are not customers. We are students paying 2/3 of the bill at USM and we are less and less interested in buying USM’s product as administrative actions diminish the institution, our opportunities and choices.

  • Tony Payne, Board of Visitors

    Your editorial is a thoughtful approach to discussing the future of USM and how it fits in the state’s efforts to provide quality public higher education across seven campuses. Earning a bachelor’s degree is and must remain well above learning a technical trade. A degree from USM must certify that the student has completed a rigorous intellectual course of study.

    David Flanagan has spent countless speeches and meetings explaining that USM must, above all, produce graduates with critical thinking skills. That means having a core curriculum that requires courses in the arts and humanities. His plan supports that approach.

    The challenge is that the number one barrier to attending college is the cost of the product. Not far behind is getting courses when you need them. To hold the line on tuition, we need to make strategic cuts and equally strategic investments.

    I believe that when the dust settles, we will see USM emerge as a dynamic center for both intellectual and applied learning that is integrated into the employment opportunities of the region and state.

    I often think of a technical education as the “how” of life. In contrast, a bachelor’s degree in any discipline is about the “why”; it provides context for decision making and encourages people to think with a long horizon in mind.

    Cutting faculty and staff is not about degrading USM’s product but about making it better and more responsive to those who hope to grow and remain in Maine. I hope all your readers will engage in a constructive conversation that is not about positions but about the academic product and the lifelong opportunities created by a USM education.