ORONO (AP) – University of Maine System trustees on Monday approved a restructuring plan to increase the efficiency of the system’s seven campuses and save up to $12 million a year.

The reorganization, which was approved unanimously, has been called the most ambitious since the university system was created in 1968. It will consolidate many services in an effort to bring unity and cost-savings to the system, while aiming to boost enrollment, state funding and university endowments.

The plan calls for merging the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Augusta, while creating a consortium among campuses in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias to encourage more collaboration and efficiency.

The university system would also undertake a branding initiative to give each school, other than the flagship campus in Orono, an identifying name. The initiative will also identify a more suitable name for the university system.

Officials said that without changes, the university system was facing a projected $102 million shortfall over the next five years before any tuition or state appropriation increases.

The reorganization was first introduced in March.

A series of public meetings were held over the spring and summer.

“The strategic plan recognizes that change is necessary, and that maintaining the status quo is not the answer,” said board chairman Charles L. Johnson III. “Today’s vote on the plan will re-engineer our university system to ensure its value and vitality for the years ahead.”

Now that the plan is approved, presidents of the different universities will meet with faculty, staff and students to discuss how it affects them. The reorganization will be implemented in 2005.

The plan initially drew fire from faculty, students and legislators, resulting in changes to the original proposal.

An earlier plan to merge the Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle campuses into one university was nixed, and three long-distance learning centers targeted to be closed will remain open.

The plan continued to draw fire when the Board of Trustees met Sunday and Monday. Critics said the process was flawed and that they weren’t given enough opportunity to provide input on the plan.

“This all could have been avoided if the process had been inclusive from the beginning,” Carol Kontos, the faculty representative from the University of Maine at Augusta, said on Sunday.

System officials say 120 hours of public meetings held after the initial plan was introduced provided plenty of opportunity for input.

Union members and students showed up at Monday’s board meeting to protest the reorganization.

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