Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Letter to the editor: USM name change would be rejection of identity

Gabe Souza, Portland Press Herald

Posted on September 24, 2018 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By: Spencer McBreairty, 2014 USM Alum

Dr. Glenn Cummings:
I graduated from USM in 2014. What makes my experience unique is that when I entered USM in the Fall of 2009, as a resident of Dickey-Wood Hall in Gorham, the institution appeared to be thriving. Gorham was an active campus, Dickey-Wood was full and students were happy.
By 2011, the institution I loved had changed drastically. Changes in administration, largely the removal of President Botman, had done little to stop the major concerns at USM, namely budget shortfalls. In the Spring of 2014, shortly before I graduated, I served as Clerk of the USM Student Government Association. This was the session of SGA that voted no confidence in President Kalikow due to her aggressive faculty changes and overall mismanagement of the institution. I also participated in protests and was actively engaged in demanding change.
At the same time, I was a Resident Assistant, member of Greek Life, Student Conduct Committee member, and wrote for The Free Press. I did these things, as well as the others, because I loved USM – deeply. To this day, just four short years later, I remember USM fondly and speak of it often. It shaped who I am as a young professional and I will always feel a debt – not just financial – is owed to USM for all it gave me.
When I read in the news today that you are promoting a name change, my first reaction was a feeling of intense disappointment. Your tenure as President of USM has been a bright spot for the community. You were not the first person hired from the search, but it turns out you were the right one. Your changes and support of USM has been astounding and the institution seems to be thriving again – for the first time in a decade.
A change in name is not as simple as rearranging or adding a word. It signifies a rejection of the current identity. It throws aside the history associated with that name and it undermines the work so many – including myself – have done in a fight to make the institution better for those who follow.
Promoting the Portland region is wonderful – in fact Portland offers much to the USM community. But Portland is not USM and USM is not Portland. USM does not exist without Gorham and LAC, which are vital to the past and future of our school. Adding Portland diminishes the role of Gorham and LAC in making this a true University of Southern Maine. It is not UMPI, it is not UMF and it is not UMA. It is a university for all of Southern Maine. Through three campuses and a wide variety of online offerings, USM provides an entire region of a struggling state with a world class education.
I do not expect you to read this email, but if you somehow happen upon it, I wanted you to know that many of my peers have already utilized social media to reject this plan. It is, to me, offensive. If the goal is to help prospective students know the location of USM better, I’d argue that “University of Maine” is awfully vague and yet it does not harm their numbers. Schools like Husson and Thomas, although private, succeed despite any reference to their geographic location.
Students are not so uninformed in this day of technology that they cannot simply see that USM is located near Portland. Most students today do tremendous research on the areas their potential colleges are in. If anything, promoting Portland more on the USM website could achieve your aims, as students frequently visit their prospective school sites. You can utilize social media accounts to promote events and connections with Portland, such as the new Husky Line. All of this can be done and more, without upsetting tens of thousands of alumni and spending unknown numbers to re-brand.
When I visit the campuses of USM now as an alum, both Portland and Gorham where I spent my time, I reflect on my years there: my freshman residence hall that is now closed, my meals in Brooks, events in Woodbury, SGA meetings in Bailey and Payson Smith and classes in Luther Bonney to name a few. I cannot redo my college years, but I can advocate for better experiences for those Huskies who come after me.
I strongly urge you to suspend your support for a name change and to instead focus on real solutions to making USM an even better institution. I will continue to love and support USM and kindly ask you not to erase the institution that has given me everything I have.
Thank you.

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