FREEPORT (AP) – The strategic plan for the future of the University of Maine system that trustees are set to unveil this week is the result of months of discussion and debate between faculty and administrators.

Neither side is fully satisfied with the compromise, but they agree that it’s better to settle the matter and move on than to continue their dispute.

“I come at this realizing there isn’t a single solution,” Chancellor Joseph Westphal said. “We’re never going to please everybody.”

The draft plan, which is designed to increase efficiency in the university system and save up to $15.5 million a year, has changed since it was first introduced in April. A merger that would have combined the Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle campuses into one university has been nixed, and three long-distance learning centers targeted to be closed will remain open.

Westphal, who will release the amended proposal on Friday, said he understands why some faculty were so upset by the plan.

“All of us react to change in similar ways,” he said. “The key is we have to find a way to work together.”

But in the face of falling federal funding and a tax cap referendum that could widen the system’s budget gap, Westphal said he had no choice but to develop a plan for overhauling the system’s framework and to help plan budget cuts.

“Having a plan helps us make our decisions about budget priorities in the future a little clearer,” Westphal said. “You at least have directions and a set of goals you want to protect.”

For Westphal, those goals include boosting enrollment, attracting additional research funding and growing the faculty talent pool.

Westphal said he had been thinking about developing a strategic plan since even before he arrived in Bangor in 2000 to become chancellor.

“Upon coming here I asked for information about the university system, about where it was headed,” Westphal said. “I was somewhat dismayed at realizing there was very little in the way of strategy or thinking about the future.”

Faculty union president Ron Mosley was equally concerned that the plan was developed by outsiders without higher education experience. Westphal served as the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Acting Secretary of the Army before coming to the University of Maine System.

“We don’t want the direction of this system directed by political appointees with neither higher education experience nor credentials, without consultation with those of us who are closest to the people the university serves,” he said.

Mosley fought unsuccessfully for “shared governance” that would give faculty members a say in the university system’s planning. Trustees two weeks ago rejected the faculty’s proposal to put professors on the board but promised to give faculty a greater voice at future board meetings.

Some administrators said faculty who objected to the cuts proposed in the strategic plan were in denial about the university system’s dire financial situation, and overly suspicious of the strategic plan’s cost-saving proposals.

“Instead of seeing it as a way to keep universities open, they see it as a first step to closing them,” Vice Chancellor Elsa Nunez said.

The original plan’s proposal of a University of Northern Maine with campuses in Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle was met with hostility from professors who said they feared the merger would be a backdoor route to closing campuses.

The final plan backed off from plans to fully merge the three universities, aiming to cut costs by creating a consortium in which each campus would focus on enhancing its academic strengths.

Professors at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, which this fall enrolled its largest-ever freshman class and saw a 17 percent increase in enrollment, were cautiously optimistic about the plan, said Scott Brickman, head of the campus faculty union.

“One of the things you can do to strengthen these institutions is to have us focus on certain programs,” he said.

But, he added, debate over the university’s future had been a searing experience for professors who felt they were ignored by administrators in Bangor. One way to cut spending, Brickman suggested, might be to eliminate jobs in the university system office rather than push for cuts on campus.

“Speaking for the faculty as a whole, I feel that our trust has been broken,” he said. “I’m optimistic, but that’s the way I am as a person. I do believe things are going to be OK.”


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