PORTLAND (AP) – More than a dozen state legislators have signed a letter protesting plans to combine the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Augusta.

The legislators, mainly from central Maine, say they are considering blocking the merger in the Legislature if the University of Maine System’s board of trustees proceeds with the plan.

Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta, Senate Majority Leader Sharon Treat, D-Farmingdale, and Speaker of the House Patrick Colwell, all of whom are completing their legislative service because of term limits, signed the letter sent Thursday to trustees.

The letter only deals with the proposal to merge the University of Southern Maine campus and the University of Maine campus in Augusta. Other elements of the reorganization proposal were not addressed.

The legislators’ letter suggests that the plan, which is scheduled to be voted on next week puts the Augusta campus on the short end of the merger.

“The board’s belief … that this merger is in the best interests of both the students of UMA and the surrounding community could not be, in our opinion, further from the truth,” the letter states.

But University of Maine system Chancellor Joseph Westphal said in a statement that he believes the plan addresses the educational needs of the region and is in the best interest of tax and tuition payers.

Last week, the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine union announced similar plans to submit a bill to block the restructuring plan.

Colwell, D-Gardiner, said he believes merging the universities may be premature. But he said he does not want to see the benefits of the reorganization lost because of resistance.

“I favor increased cooperation between the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Southern Maine,” Colwell said in a statement. “The specific details, and the question of a formal merger, are less important than the need to provide a strong partnership between these two.”



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