A University of Maine faculty member joined the system’s board of trustees this week, marking a milestone for those who have advocated for giving faculty and staff seats on the board and a voice in its decisions.

University of Southern Maine geography-anthropology professor Matthew Bampton sat at the large U-shaped table with the 16 members of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees during their meeting Monday.

“This level of engagement (between the faculty and the board) I think is valuable,” he said. “The seat at the big kids’ table is much appreciated.”

Board Chairperson Trish Riley’s decision to let a faculty member sit on the board as a non-voting member is a first in recent history and comes following consistent complaints from faculty and staff that they are not given adequate opportunities to communicate with the board.

Lawmakers passed two bills during the recent legislative session to add UMaine employees to the system’s board of trustees, but Gov. Janet Mills vetoed both, citing issues with conflict of interest and violation of system policy.

Advocates for greater faculty representation on the board were pleased with Riley’s move but said that more work needs to be done.


“There is nothing memorialized in board bylaws about having a faculty member at the table,” said Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who presented both bills. “I think that it is encouraging that the chair is inviting one member of the current faculty representatives to sit at the table, but since it’s just the current board chair’s decision, the faculty seat could be taken away at any time.”

Riley, however, said that’s not going to happen as long as she is the chairperson.

“This is a permanent commitment,” she said.

In the past, faculty members could attend meetings and speak, but they were limited to three minutes during public comment. Sitting with the board, faculty are able to pipe up any time they see fit, an opportunity Bampton took advantage of multiple times at Monday’s meeting.

“The seat is a significant gesture,” Bampton said. “But it remains to be seen if it is substantive or just window dressing.”

Riley said having a faculty member on the board will provide a much-needed direct line of communication between faculty and the board, but Bampton questioned whether the new seat would truly give faculty a greater voice in important system and school decisions.


Currently, the faculty seat is non-voting and does not have executive committee privileges.

Bampton volunteered to fill the seat at Monday’s board meeting, but in the future, the plan is that faculty representatives – there is one for each of the seven universities and the law school – will rotate depending on where the board meeting is held.

Adding board seats for rank-and-file UMaine employees has been a goal of faculty, staff and legislators in recent years. But attempts have failed, blocked by vetoes from Mills.

The first bill Millett presented would have added two new members to the board – one UMaine faculty member and one staff member. They would have been governor-appointed, full-voting members of the board and serve five-year terms. The second bill would have added three non-voting members – a faculty member, an adjunct faculty member and a staff member – each to serve a two-year term. They also would have been appointed by the governor.

In her veto of the first bill, Mills said that because the board of trustees bargains with employee unions, allowing employees to vote would be a clear conflict of interest. In her veto of the second bill, Mills said that even though the new bill stipulated that members would be non-voting, concerns about conflict of interest remained.

Because employee compensation makes up a majority of the system’s budget and budgetary issues are central to the board’s work it would be inappropriate to have current employees be members, Mills said.


Mills did, however, encourage the board to create better lines of communication with system faculty and staff, but said that should be done without adding employees to the board.

No other large public education entities in Maine, such as the Maine Community College System or K-12 school boards, have employees on their boards. But that is not the case in other states. Boards governing higher education in some states, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, have employees on their boards as full voting members.

Riley said she is committed to restoring faculty and staff trust in the board and that details about the role of the faculty seat will come in the fall.

“The faculty has expressed real concerns that they don’t feel listened to and we want to make sure they know we respect them and want them to be heard,” she said. “We may not always agree, but we sure want to make sure we understand each other and how and why we sometimes come to different conclusions.”

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