UMS trustees commit to keeping 3 USM campuses

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BANGOR — The University of Maine System Board of Trustees said Wednesday that they are committed to keeping all three University of Southern Maine campuses open, the system announced in a news release.

As the system weighs how to close USM’s $16 million structural gap for fiscal year 2016, the university launched a “strategic academic alignment of its programs” to close the gap and maintain affordability and student access.

Last week, University of Southern Maine President David Flanagan announced a plan that would cut $6 million from the school’s budget by eliminating 50 faculty positions.

His plan, which is the first phase of an attempt to cut $16 million from the budget and reshape the university into a leaner, more “metropolitan” university, would eliminate two programs — undergraduate French and graduate applied medical sciences. That’s in addition to three programs that the University of Maine System’s board of trustees voted to cut in September.

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The USM Faculty Senate proposed an alternative soon after: Shut down one of the university’s three campuses. But the proposal didn’t state which could be closed or what the effect on the university’s budget might be.

The trustees decided to respond to media reports about the idea and voice their strong opposition to such a response, according to Dan Demeritt, director of public affairs for the system.

“The suggestion that USM should close one of its campuses to close its budget gap is shortsighted and is inconsistent with current law,” said Trustee Chair Sam Collins. “Our Lewiston-Auburn campus serves Maine’s second-largest population center and state statute mandates that USM include campuses in Gorham and Portland.”

The students and tuition dollars lost if the system shut down the Lewiston-Auburn campus likely would result in lost revenue that could force the elimination of more faculty positions and university programs than the system is projecting through Flanagan’s proposed cuts, trustees said.

State statute requires that the system consist of seven universities and defines where they should be located — USM being in Portland and Gorham.

“Closing one of our campuses would be a huge strategic mistake,” said Trustee Karl Turner. “We will continue to find savings in our facilities, but we cannot jeopardize the reach or mission of USM by eliminating one of our campuses. Uprooting existing facilities and relocating them to maintain critical services would take several years and likely cost tens-of-millions of dollars we simply do not have.”

Flanagan also has expressed his support for keeping all three USM campuses open. He said he believes the best response to the fiscal woes of the university would be continued work to “knock down the programmatic and campus silos that threaten our affordability and are a barrier to academic integrity.”

BDN reporter Nell Gluckman contributed to this report.

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