By: Alyson Peabody, Editor-in-Chief
President Cummings announced via email on Dec. 6 that the proposed university name change to University of Maine at Portland has been postponed. President Cummings informed the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees that they will be “restructuring the timeline” to accommodate pending Portland campus construction of a student center, green space and dorm space.
“We continue to believe that the name change is a part of our future development. We believe future years may demonstrate even more clearly how a name change is in the long-range best interests of the university,” President Cummings said in his email to the community.
Since the ultimate goal is to continue moving forward with the name change, my argument in opposition that was written prior to this announcement is still relevant.
President Cummings is quoted by the Portland Press Herald (PPH) on Nov. 22 as saying that the $1.2 million rebranding will “be returned in triple within five years” with revenue generated by new out-of-state students.
President Cummings is also quoted as saying that he disagrees with the idea that other communities in southern Maine would feel less connected to the school if it were renamed the University of Maine at Portland. “Based on their logic, they’re saying people outside Farmington don’t connect with the University of Maine at Farmington,” he said.
This argument doesn’t apply to this discussion. UMaine Farmington is one campus, not three satellite campuses connected by one thread: the name.
Portland is a part of USM, but it is not USM. There are three campuses that make up the university: Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn. Depending on your major, you may spend more time on one campus over the others. As a Fine Arts major, I am exclusively studying in Gorham. I have only had two classes in Portland in two years.
The Board of Trustees approved the name change on Nov. 18. The university was awaiting approval from the State Legislature prior to the Dec. 6.
According to PPH on Nov. 18, James Erwin, chairman of the system Board of Trustees, said, “By creating more clarity about its identity and improving its marketability, the board believes that USM will be better able to achieve its full potential.”
How will changing USM to University of Maine at Portland provide more clarity to new students? It is more confusing. New students will arrive on campus and realize that they won’t be spending most of their time in the marketed location: Portland.
According to the case made for the USM name change, the change would provide the three campuses with revenue for facilities and programs. This influx in revenue is dependent on the university’s ability to recruit more out-of-state students.
Riding the wave of Portland’s popularity is not enough to take care of students once they are admitted. Students will in all probability be living roughly 11 miles outside of Portland in Gorham. They will be commuting thirty minutes one way via car or bus to get to Portland.
Both forms of transportation have their drawbacks. Last fall was my first semester at USM. I had just transferred from Maine College of Art and was living in Westbrook. I commuted on the Husky Line five days a week multiple times a day. It was a miracle if I found a seat on the bus. One time I waited for over an hour for the Husky Line because it never came. I missed my morning classes.
I’ve seen classmates on more than one occasion run late to a class because they couldn’t find a parking spot in the lots, garage or on the street. This issue won’t become any easier when the Woodbury parking lot is replaced with a proposed green space that would accompany a new dorm unit and campus center on the Portland campus.
If all goes as planned, the estimated $100 million project will be completed by fall 2022 according to USM Chief Operating Officer Nancy Griffin.
The project needs approval from the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. It will likely be brought to the board in January. It will also need to be permitted by the city.
The proposed spaces would have 379 units for upperclassmen, graduate and law students alongside a new student center and green space. This would benefit students studying on the Portland campus, which I think is a great idea. The proposed campus center would make student organization spaces more accessible by providing office spaces in a central location.
As exciting as that idea is, I am worried that focus is being pushed away from the name change and onto the prospect of new infrastructure. The announcement for this proposal was printed in PPH on Nov. 27, nine days after the Board of Trustees vote approved the name change.
Current students were given an electronic survey to fill out last year. According to the Office of Public Affairs 60% of students opposed the proposed name change. Based on student input I’ve heard around campus, many have vocalized their opposition to the change. I’ve heard unanimously that the university needs to invest in its current students rather than focusing on marketing for prospective students.
This is not a criticism on the idea of improving the future financial stability of the university. I think that is a goal that should be an administration’s focus no matter what the university is called. This editorial comes from a place of concern as a current student living through this process.
According to a PPH editorial from February, USM rivals the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) for the university system’s biggest enrollment, granting advanced degrees in education, engineering, business, law and public policy.
In the same editorial is a statement defending the name change against alumni opinion. I would like to note that there is no place in the editorial where current student opinions are mentioned.
The editorial says that alumni “should consider what could happen to the university they care about” if USM enrollment drops. It says, “It won’t do any honor to Gorham or Lewiston-Auburn to be served by a shrinking university that only makes news for eliminating programs or laying off staff.” This statement struck me as fear mongering. There is no guarantee that a name change will result in higher enrollment that will ensure job security or maintain program prosperity.
If convincing alumni to believe in the name change comes from a place of fear, I think that is a flimsy basis for a rebranding campaign that will cost $1.2 million for signage, new sports uniforms and ID cards, and a website and logo redesign. Additional costs would be expected over a three to five-year period, according to PPH.
What will happen if the name change doesn’t uphold its promises?
What if the name change sees an initial increase in admissions with a decrease in enrollment due to false advertising?
$1.2 million would be better invested in current students and their needs.
Has USM conducted a well-being survey for students to voice concerns about where the university can better support student needs? Primary complaints I hear from students daily are about parking/transportation, dining services and housing.
From a business standpoint, it makes more sense to value the students already paying to attend the university than to not meet their needs and try to market for more students to enroll.