This letter was contributed by Dustin Ward.
Dear Free Press,
I want to first write and say what a wonderful job you and your organization are doing in covering the news and latest events of the situation at USM. After seeing the many comments, and the constant disgrace that so many students at USM are voicing I feel that there are some alumni that need to have their voice heard as well.
USM is my home. It is what I proudly represent, and it is what I continually will always credit with giving me an exquisite education. It was there I had my first opportunity to work in the political field with one of Maine’s top senators. It is where I connected with a plethora of friends who I still talk to and see to this day. USM will always be where my heart is.
Thus it saddens me to see the state of affairs that the university is going through at this time. Some of the professors that are being laid off, are ones who spoke critical words of wisdom into my life and who coached me to be a better student and a better thinker.
Yet, I want to challenge the students of USM and question where they were, when I, along with my colleagues, were working diligently at trying to save the school from this predicament early on. I am a graduate of 2010, and I worked both as a Board of Trustees Representative and also as a Student Senator. My fellow Senators and I, who I will keep nameless unless they too wish to attach themselves to my statements, were at the fore front of making it known to all students the state of affairs back then. We talked about how our budget was slowly shrinking; we discussed how the funding formula was not adequate enough. However, many students were not in support of getting involved. Many sat on the sidelines wondering what any of this had to do with them.
It was during my time at USM that the legislature was looking to cut 6 million dollars from our State Appropriations. Luckily, the Board of Trustees, along with other reps at Orono and across Maine, did not want this to happen, so we stood in front of the Appropriations Committee and implored them to not cut such important funds. We were successful but only for a short time.
Since then, year after year, State Appropriations for the UMS system have gone from a near $194 million to dropping close to $175 million or less. What makes up about 35 percent of the USM budget is being lost due to higher costs of other goods and services within the State of Maine
Since I have gradated, the enrollment numbers have dropped almost three percent annually; where once we expected 10,000 students total in enrollment, we are well below 8,000. Our dorm room capacity has fallen off the pace from 84 percent to close to 60 percent. That means our residential revenue has also taken a hit, part of what makes the USM budget operate.
Now, as reality has come to fruition, many students are upset at the Administration of the University and their handling of the situation. However, I have to support what they are doing, because they have no other choice. In tough economic times there needs to be steps taken to save what is left of USM. The last thing I would ever want to see is this University completely dismantled and taken out of Portland and Gorham because the Administration failed to act.
I have been through four different presidents during my time at USM and thereafter working as an Admission Counselor. I have watched as each one saw the reality that is the deficit we face right now. Each of those presidents did everything short of cutting faculty, from implementing new strategies, to new direction plans, to building new dorms. All resources were exhausted and we still couldn’t get the students necessary to fix the issue.
So I challenged those students there now, is it really all the administration’s fault. Shouldn’t the students be asking two tough questions? How come I wasn’t more active early on to help my faculty and Administration out? Also, “Was I active in getting more of my friends and family to attend USM?” What has crippled the University for years is the amount of State funding, and the lack of student enrollment. Both are at the core of why USM is taking the actions necessary.
I applaud what is being done because we are left with no other choice. Instead of whining and protesting, students need to be supporting and finding ways to work with what they have. USM is in a serious change, and it is needed. I know that many of these same students, when they realize they are in debt, tend to cut out the things in life they can do without such as, cable or internet or one less Starbucks, and make due. Why is USM any different?
Let me be the first to say we love our faculty, we adore what they have done for us and I can’t thank them enough for the service they have provided. I could name everyone that has been in my life and thank them a thousand times and it wouldn’t even come close to how I feel they have helped. However, if we want to be a school that is united for this “metropolitan vision” then we can’t have division. We need to support the tough choices being made.
My fellow senators, it is your job to not cast votes that make USM look weak, but to gather students to find ways to support the actions taken, and to work out what your next steps will be when programs are gone.
Faculty, it is your job to support students in how they plan to make USM not just a school for Portland and Gorham, but for Maine as a whole. How can we get the word out, how can we begin to make USM a place to go, and not a place to stay away from?
Administration, your continued work at trying to find ways to save the school are not going unnoticed. I sat with you in meetings; I worked alongside many of you on a day to day basis. It has been but four years, and I cringe at what has to be done. However, I implore you to be transparent with the students and faculty. They are becoming educated for a reason, to not look stupid when they get in the real world. These are real world issues; budget cuts, lost jobs, and growing financial pressure. It is your job to help them understand why the choices were made, without the political jargon surrounding it. I preached transparency till I was blue in the face. I expected it out of every student and staffer I was with and with every president of the university I was under, and I continue to expect it from you as well.
Do not make USM a place where I do not want to send my kids, and where my kids don’t want to send theirs. USM is in the hands of each of you, and you all have a part to play.
I appreciate letting my words be heard, and those of you who know me know that I speak with a passion for higher education and for USM. Good luck to every one of you during this difficult time.
Former Board of Trustees Student Representative
Former Student Senator
Former USM Admissions Representative