By: Julie Pike, Editor-in-Chief
USM is looking at major changes within the next few years, by way of a name new name. USM President Glenn Cummings has announced plans to move forward with changing USM’s name to University of Maine – Portland.
One the main motivations to change the name, Cummings said last fall when he first spoke of the idea, is to increase the appeal to students from out-of-state and enhance the university’s reputation.
This announcement comes after three months of research conducted by Broadreach Public Relations and Market Decisions to look at current perceptions of USM and the impacts of a name change. They conducted their research with alumni, current students and staff, prospective students and their parents, and high school counselors across all six New England states and New York.
From prospective students surveyed, a majority of those from Maine preferred the name USM, while a majority those from out-of-state preferred a name that includes Portland. Fifty-six percent of prospective students said that knowing USM is located in Portland makes them more likely to visit the campus.
A survey was sent out to the USM community in mid September, a few weeks after the idea was first announced. From the research with the internal community of students, staff and faculty at USM, slightly more than half of those who responded said that they oppose a name change that includes Portland. The most common reason listed for this was that it would be detrimental to the other USM campuses in Gorham and Lewiston/Auburn. However, despite having a majority opposed to the name change, a majority said that the change would not have a negative impact on their perceptions of the school.
Some students and staff feel that the money that would go into a name change should be used for more needed expenses such as housing, parking and food quality.
There isn’t enough space in the dorms as it is,” said Alexander Winn, a sophomore nursing major. “I’ve seen dorms with three people in them even though the dorm room was only designed for two.”
Colin Donovan, a senior history major, said that the name change could be a good move with time, but he said there are current problems right now that the university could put the money towards.
“What we need desperately right now is more housing and more parking, followed by more activities,” said Donovan.
A USM alumna and Academic Advisor at USM, Christen Eaton,said that it would be a waste of money. “We need more resources for our growing student body, like more parking, dorm space and better dining hall food,” she said.
One of the major concerns Cummings said he was getting from the community was that it would overlook the Gorham and Lewiston/Auburn campuses.
Winn said that the name would be misleading. “Since all of the residence halls are in Gorham, some students who are from out of state will wonder why the school is called University of Maine Portland if they are living in Gorham,” he said.
In response to this concern, Cummings said that “The problem is that it doesn’t buy us anything in the rest of the world, people just don’t know how to identify with Gorham.” He also mentioned that he has a long history with Gorham, he taught at the high school there for 13 years and it’s also where he met his wife. “Gorham means a lot to me,” he said.
The survey research for alumni shows that there is strong opposition to the name change. Sixty two percent of alumni oppose it. The most common reason listed for this is because it would exclude the other campuses. A majority of alumni who responded to this survey also said that they do not think the name change would have a positive impact on the university and that it would have a negative impact on the relationship between the school and alumni.
The recommendations from Broadreach Public Relations after conducting their research is that the potential increase in interest from students would have a significant and positive impact on the university.
“Based on our research, a name change will position the University of Southern Maine for continued growth in the future by capitalizing on the current cache of Portland and drawing in new potential students,” they wrote in their findings.
Bob Stein, Executive Director of Public Affairs, said that President Cummings will be making a recommendation to the University of Maine Board of Trustees (BOT), likely to happen this summer.
Cummings said that they don’t have an estimate yet of what the cost of changing the name will be. However, he mentioned that it will be done in phases, starting with the physical signage, which he says could be a quarter of a million dollars. Then there is the athletic teams, Cummings said, changing the uniforms and gear. Cummings says this would all be staggered over a few years.
“The one good thing about that is it tends to be one time costs, so it doesn’t build and push up your annual budget,” he said.
Cummings said that the next step going forward is to meet with the internal community of students and staff to hear their thoughts on the change. He hosted a town hall meeting in Portland in mid January, and will host another on Friday, Feb. 22 in 10 Bailey Hall, Gorham, at 1 p.m. He also mentioned that he is in the process of planning forums in Lewiston/Auburn as well as with the Student Government Association.
Part of the process of changing the name also includes going to State Legislature, if the proposal to change the name passes through the BOT. Cummings said that the name change would likely not happen for another three years.