By: Riley Mayes, Staff Writer
On Friday, November 5, faculty members raised concerns at a town hall meeting with Chancellor Malloy about the recent move to unified accreditation and what it will mean for USM’s campus.
Previously, all seven campuses of the University of Maine System (UMS) have been accredited separately by the New England Commission of Higher Education. However, as a new chancellor at UMS, Malloy has accelerated the move to a more integrated system. Unified accreditation was approved this past June when the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) voted to accredit the University of Maine System, effective July 1, 2020.
The primary objective of unified accreditation is to make it easier for universities in the system to share resources and programs by allowing them to share governance and oversight obligations. The move is also a function of the recent overhaul of the MaineStreet student information portal, and allows students to search for equivalent courses on other UMaine campuses.
It also provides further support to smaller campuses with declining enrollment, including Farmington, Presque Isle, and Fort Kent by sharing resources and collaborating within the university system.
“We’re a relatively small system, where two universities represent 75% of the students,” said Malloy. “We have a number of smaller institutions that could call upon us for help. And there students could call upon us for help. And I think because we are the size we are, and because we can work these issues out, because we’re a single-state system, we should make it easier for our students to be successful in a timely fashion.”
However, not everyone in the UMaine system feels as confident about this decision.
Faculty at USM have expressed concern that this process may leave USM without independent control over its own program and budgets.
Among its opposition includes the state president of the associated faculties of the Universities of Maine, James Clyer. “It seems too fast,” he said in an interview with Portland Phoenix, and stated that other members are “very concerned” about the possible results of this process.
Thomas Parchman, a professor in the Osher School of Music, stated at the meeting he is concerned about the system moving to a unified course catalog. “A student taking, particularly a sequenced course, at one institution and then another course with different outcomes at another institution, could put that student at a serious disadvantage,” he said. “As a faculty member, I’m also concerned about the quality, the outcomes, the academic part of this whole thing. It would seem to be giving up that control.”
Manuel Avalos, a professor of political science, has a different opinion on the move. In his previous experience as a professor and associate vice-provost at Arizona State, Avalos saw this process firsthand. In 2006, Arizona State University consolidated its four campuses into one. Similar to UMaine, the move was in response to increased economic stress and declining enrollment.
“Personally, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner,” Avalos said about Malloy’s decision. “What’s happening here in Maine is really a function of the fact that we just don’t have enough students. We’ve got seven campuses with a total number of students about 28,000. That’s just not sustainable.”
Avalos also stated that this process had already been underway well before Malloy arrived on campus. “I think when Chancellor Page talked about ‘one university,’ he was sort of moving in that direction,” he said.
For example, one of the goals of unified accreditation is to increase collaboration among departments on different campuses, and this has already been launched under a two-year collective bargaining agreement signed in 2019. Departments such as Human Resources and Computer IT have also already been centralized across the UMaine system.
Another point raised was that students can already search for classes on different campuses via the MaineStreet portal. However, a goal of this move is to simplify this process further by establishing a unified course catalog.
“Faculty, and people in general, are wary of change,” said Avalos. Part of that fear, he added, stems from the fact that “Malloy hasn’t been terribly specific about what this change means.”
Many questions still remain on what unified accreditation will mean for faculty when it comes to independent control of their programs and budgets.
Malloy said the details of system accreditation may take about two years, but the “cultural aspect” of widely separated campuses working together may take longer.