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Metropolitan rebranding of USM will cost $900,000 annually

Posted on November 24, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

Sam Hill | The Free Press

The recent administrative push to make USM more attractive to potential applicants, and henceforth more profitable through a “metropolitan” rebranding, is going to come with a $900,000 price tag.

According to Richard Barringer, the head of a steering group created to implement the initial plans for the metropolitan university vision, the rebranding is necessary for the future of the university.

The steering group of over 30 members have been working since June to define what exactly a metropolitan university is and how they can bring that model to USM.

“Amidst all the chaos, the work [of the steering group] has proven to be a very positive experience,” said Barringer. “I have no doubt that the repurposing of our university is critical for a successful future.”

According to Barringer and members of the administration, becoming a metropolitan university involves crafting academic programs around the needs of the community and local industries. Ideally, under the model, the university would serve as a one stop shop for employers to fill internships and entry level positions with students that learned the relevant skills.

Barringer said that he was upfront with the cost and if we want to see the benefits of the vision, we’ll have to pay the price. The $900,000 budget is an estimation based on surveys and observations on how other schools have made and paid for a metropolitan transformation.

According to Chris Quint, executive director of public affairs, research has shown that a metropolitan rebranding has cost other schools anywhere from $100 per student to $600 per student. Quint said the steering group’s plan will likely cost USM student’s $150 each, the low end of what other schools have paid. Quint noted that Cornell is spending over $40 million this year on a metropolitan restructuring.

Quint also said that part of the budget includes the salary of a new director, who will lead the metropolitan efforts once the final report of the plan is released on Dec. 4.

“Once we publish the report, this group will be dissolved,” said Barringer. “We need to hire or re-assign someone to continue the job we started.”

The other costs associated with the rebranding are not official at this time, but Quint said they will revolve around start up costs with marketing, changing the letterhead, web design and hiring new staff.

Still many students criticize focus on the metropolitan model, saying that the plan is expensive and that USM already fits the proposed model.

According to Tom Bahun, a student senator and senior double major in history and political science, connecting the university with the community is a great idea, but the administration is simply using the metropolitan model as a facade.

“They want to promote something good, to cover up what is bad,” said Bahun referring to the recent staff layoffs and program eliminations.

According to Ben Davis, a sophomore English major, USM is already a metropolitan university and believes that Portland gives its students more opportunities than any other school in the state. Davis believes that you can’t have a metropolitan university that cuts programs and staff positions and that the term is just being used to justify those actions.

“It’s really awful that the administration is appropriating a term which could be useful in giving definition to our value in the Portland community and turning into a way to justify the senseless gutting of our university,” said Davis.

“It’s really unfortunate that whenever there is something positive and forward thinking proposed, there are those that simply criticize without taking the time to understand,” said Quint. “I hope we move beyond that eventually.”

Quint said that although the new metropolitan vision is being worked on at the same time that the USM community is trying to combat a projected $16 million budget deficit, the two efforts are completely separate. Barringer and his steering group team were never present during any budget meetings, so that his plan would be uninfluenced by the looming deficit.

“Can you imagine the response we’d get if we tried to pitch the metropolitan vision under the context of the budget situation?” asked Quint.

Any correlation between the methods use to bridge the gap and turn USM into a metropolitan university, are unintentional. According to Quint, if they moved towards a metropolitan model because of the budget deficit, the plan wouldn’t work.

“When we transition to a metropolitan university, it’s going to give definition to USM,” said Quint. “It will give us a distinct brand in the region that we’ll be able to market, and in turn become much more attractive to a host of students.”

Addressing the concerns and criticisms of potentially spending $900,000 on a new focus during financially troubling times, Quint said that USM’s future can’t just be dependent on cuts but investment as well.

“If there are folks out there that actually want to invest in USM, and move it forward, the metropolitan university is certainly an area they could do that in,” said Quint. “If people want to see a bright prosperous future for this university, this is the direction we’re moving and everybody is going to need to invest.”

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