USM Free Press News Feed
Attendance at Husky Career Week events last week at USM was limited. Student Success and Student Life on the Portland and Gorham campuses teamed up to plan this first-time week of events in anticipation of this Wednesday’s job fair.
Rodney Mondor, student success coordinator for the Portland campus, said Career Week is a response to employers at job fairs. Over the years, employers have said that USM students were under prepared for the job market. The intention of Career Week is to help college students prepare to start careers after school.
“It’s a great opportunity to explore,” said Stacy Stewart the USM Coordinator for STRIVE U, an organization that helps young adults with developmental disabilities to build career and academic skills, “For students looking to gain experience that they could earn in an internship.” Career Week offered an students the opportunity to learn from professional how to create a resume, how to act and dress in an interview and how to work a job fair.
Attendance averaged only about four people per event, but Mondor called this year a pilot for Career Week and said it was an opportunity to ask “What can we do better?”
Director of Portland Student Life Chris O’Connor was aware of the small attendance of Career Week and said a large part of the problem was in the promotion, which consisted of a mass student e-mail and a few posters around campus.
“We have to come back and revisit how to market it,” said O’Connor. The plan was to schedule workshops multiple times at different times of the day to accommodate students’ differing class schedules. Since the low attendance indicated that this strategy did not lead to high attendance, O’Connor said, “that wasn’t the most realistic way to program for it.”
O’Connor believes student involvement would have grown with more promotion, including getting into classrooms, getting more people talking about it and having more than a week to promote for it and put it together.
Another cause may have been that in previous years the job fair occurred in March rather than February, as it is this year. The job fair is scheduled for Wednesday at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex. The early date, Mondor said, is a response to employers’ requests to move it up, and to help students prepare for the fair, Student Success and Student Life wanted to hold Career Week in case the early date caught student off guard. The lack of attendance was especially surprising due to the massive attendance seen at the job fair in previous years according to O’Connor.
However, Career Week was helpful to some students. When senior philosophy major Jamie Grindle was asked about her experience at Career Week, she said, “looking for a job can be very overwhelming.” She said that she feels that it is important that students attend these events because many people find it difficult to get started after college. She believes that it should seem even more pertinent to the upperclassmen. “There is guidance out there,” said Grindle.
Nominations for this spring’s student government elections opened up last Monday, and the Student Government Association is waiting for student nominations to come rolling in. This year, the SGA is making promotion of the elections a top priority and focusing on making the process easier for students.
“We want to get as many people nominated and as many people voting as we can,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
Along with senior political science major and student body Vice President Marpheen Chann, Gattis is a co-chair of the SGA election committee. Their goal is to make this year’s elections the most active elections in recent USM history.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by creating a specific, user-friendly website to make it easier for students to get involved. All information about SGA elections is now on USMVotes.com.
“It is a new external website which will allow us to enhance and improve the way we present information, candidates and voting in general,” said Chann. “Candidates will also have their own personal webpages that they will have the freedom to update. This will then lead them to directing students to the website for info about their candidacy…[and] theoretically will also get them to look at other candidates and general election information.”
“When all the nominations come in and it’s time to vote, students won’t just see the names of other students and choose one on a whim,” said Gattis. “We want these profiles to be personable and informative. If students can see the priorities of all of the candidates, they can align themselves with people who they align with.”
The new website was created using Weebly, a web-hosting service that features a “drag-and-drop” website builder, and solves a number of issues that have hampered SGA elections in the past.
In past years, the SGA website was not readily searchable through the main USM page and could only be accessed through another page or external link. Now it is one of the first that appears when searched on the USM website. The simple nature of the Weebly platform will also ensure that future SGA members will not have to worry about finding someone with the technical skills to build a website. According to Chann, the new website is already having an impact. “There has been decent traffic since Monday,” he said.
While voting has taken place online for several years, low voter turnout has always been an issue at USM. In spring of 2013, the elections only saw 609 counted votes out of the entire student body, an increase from the 146 votes cast the year before. Nominations for senate seats have been low as well, with senators frequently running in uncontested elections.
“[The seats on the senate] have been uncontested for the past few elections, and I really want to change that,” said Gattis.
At last Friday’s student senate meeting, Gattis encouraged other senators to nominate each other and to encourage leaders in the USM community to consider becoming members of the SGA.
“Every student pays a student activity fee, and the senators, they’re essential the guardians of that money,” said Gattis. “I love all of the people here [on the senate], but I would like to see all of the seats contested. It’s important that students get to choose who controls all of the money that they spend in student activity fees.”
The election committee has included information about how much students pay in activity fees per credit hour. A full-time student taking 12 or more credits spends $55 a year for their student activity fee, while part-time student pay less at different credit number intervals. All of these fees combined leave the SGA to oversee the distribution of over $500,000.
“For us to know what the students want, there need to be more students involved,” said Gattis.
SGA nominations will close on Friday, March 14 and voting begins just days later. Nomination forms can be picked up in the SGA office or via the elections website, USMVotes.com
At the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, faculty members expressed concern to President Theo Kalikow about the purpose and conclusions of the Direction Package committee. The committee is scheduled to present its findings to Kalikow on Feb. 28.
Many at the meeting were frustrated, saying that Kalikow wasn’t giving enough details pertaining to the initiatives of the committee. “There’s word on the street that the direction package has no direction,” one faculty member said to the president. Kalikow responded, “I think the direction package is moving along nicely. The soft rollout isn’t until next week. The details, I think, are still being worked out.”
“[The committee is] working very diligently and with great focus. I think the process is going to be very fruitful. The overall goal is to do the right thing for our students, the state and the communities where we find ourselves,” Kalikow said.
She went on to stress the scope of the undertaking and the amount of time that will need to be invested in it. “But I hope we will work in partnership with the Faculty Senate to do a good job and to set a reasonable direction for USM,” Kalikow said.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the physics department and the Faculty Senate and co-chair of the Direction Package Advisory Board, spoke to the difficulty of the committee’s task. He explained that it’s the committee’s job to create a vision for USM’s future and to save $14 million next year. “[They’re] trying to focus on both of those; it’s a challenge but they’re doing their best,” he said.
English professor Nancy Gish pressed Kalikow about how the committee was planning to serve the students of USM. Kalikow, who has not yet seen the advisory board’s full presentation, responded, “I don’t know what the hell these people are going to do. So I can’t be pinned down on this.”
Another faculty member expressed the concern that despite the committee’s findings, they would be unable to find a way to cut $14 million from next year’s budget. Kalikow said, “What I think is, we can come pretty close. It may be a combination of things. I don’t how it’s actually going to unfold.”
Some faculty expressed frustration at their inability to help brainstorm ideas to save the $14 million, when the preliminary 2015 budget is due only a month after Kalikow receives the recommendations from the Direction Package committee. One member said, “We could help with that if we knew what those ideas are.” Kalikow responded that she would not share her ideas until after Feb. 28.
Christy Hammer, president of the USM chapter of the University of Maine System full-time faculty union, told the Free Press later, “I was heartened to hear the president say that we will not let [the University of Maine, Orono] take all the resources from USM, because I think it was and has been a fear. And with USM being in the economic and cultural hub of Maine, I believe that political and community members will not be happy that we have to cut opportunities for students at USM.”
There was contention at the meeting about whether or not online classes are an acceptable substitute for live classes. University officials across the system have been discussing the possibility of working more collaboratively using online mediums due to system-wide shortfalls.
Hammer said, “What we’re afraid [of] is that UMO will take over the programs, and we don’t think that’s what the greater Portland community deserves. They deserve quality programs with real faculty and not just online access. I’m hoping they can figure out a different way to restructure the funding so that USM, that runs very efficiently, can still provide the programs to Maine students in the population center.”
Mark Lapping, distinguished university professor for the Muskie School of Public Service, stressed the economic importance of USM to the Portland community and argued that we were not properly funded to begin with. Eve Raimon, a USM English professor, agreed and added to the Free Press after the meeting, “It’s the administration’s job to keep reiterating that USM is in a death spiral.”
Kalikow will present the Direction Package Advisory Board’s findings to the Faculty Senate in a meeting on March 14.
The work of an bioinformatics class offered at USM in spring 2013 will be published in Frontiers in Genetics, an online science journal, with USM undergraduate Jeffrey Thompson leading the co-authorship of the peer-reviewed paper.
The article, entitled “Common features of microRNA target prediction tools” is in part the work of Thompson, a USM senior and computer science major who will be entering the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. graduate program at Dartmouth after his graduation in May, and University of Maine Ph.D. students Sarah Peterson and Melanie Ufkin. The students were mentored by computer science professor Dr. Clare Bates Congdon, who taught the class last spring whose own research and expertise is in Bioinformatics, and Dr. Lucy Liaw and Dr. Pradeep Sathyanarayana at at Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
The students began their work in a course called bioinformatics in spring 2013. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary class cross-listed in the applied medicine, biology and computer science departments and also University of Maine Graduate Studies in biomedical sciences and engineering program. They continued working over the summer and fall 2013 to refine the presentation of their work for Frontiers in Genetics.
Bioinformatics is the process of applying computational tools as a means of understand biological data. Essentially it’s using one form of science to understand the data of another. The class was developed to teach students how to work in this interdisciplinary field and how to overcome the specialized jargon of biology and computer science and bridge the gap between the two disciplines. “By the time you’re a junior or senior, you’ve learned so much, but you don’t realize how much you’ve learned is so specialized and jargoned that people who haven’t been through that path don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Congdon.
The research produced by this team explores the pros and cons of computational tools which can be used to easily target special genetic molecules called microRNA and help scientists better understand how they work. “The tools are not new, they’re other people’s research, what’s new is the way that we’ve managed to present this information. So, we’ve reviewed these tools in a way that’s much more accessible than anything that’s been done previously,” said Thompson. Congdon then added, “This paper is largely written for biologists to understand the available computational tools.”
The article focuses on microRNA, the small genetic molecules that regulate the expression of genes. Understanding where the microRNA bind to a gene is an important part of learning how our genetic machinery works. The students learned everything they could through reviews about computational tools previously developed by other scientists in order to help predict the locations of microRNA, saving both time and money. These three students set out to explore all these computational tools used by molecular biologists and bioinformaticians and break them down for the researchers to understand and choose the best one for their research needs.
Congdon observed that this publication isn’t just an interdisciplinary effort, but also inter-institution effort within the community with researchers from USM, UMO and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute working together on the research and sharing credit for the work. “There’s been a big push between research institutions to figure out ways to start working together on problems because then they can pull in people with specific knowledge that might help out,” said Thompson on the achievement. “There’s now a greater understanding that to solve the big problems we need to work in interdisciplinary teams,” said Congdon.
“Given that I am pursuing research as a career, the chance to help author a journal publication as an undergrad was a great opportunity,” said Thompson, but this isn’t his first time being published. Thompson has been the leading author on conference publications in the past pertaining to a system called Genetic Algorithms for Motif Inference, which is being developed in Dr. Congdon’s lab.
The paper is currently available online in its draft form and is expected to likely be posted in its final form on the open-access journal by the end of next week.
When you love someone, you don’t literally give them your heart (we hope), so what is this feeling that is as important to our emotional lives as the blood pumping through our bodies? What is love?
In a highly informal poll taken in the Woodbury Campus Center cafeteria at lunch time, not a single student volunteered a personal definition of love when asked. “I don’t like Valentine’s Day,” said Sunjung Kim, a sophomore nursing major. Iyann Mohamed, who she was having lunch with, agreed. “Next week I have too many exams on Valentine’s Day.”
One student with a defined notion of love, though, is junior women and gender studies and sociology double major Jules Purnell, who drew upon their experiences with kink to explain aspects of their own personal experiences with romantic and erotic love.
“In my own life, kink and love are very closely tied. My partner and I married back in March, and our love life, sex life and interest in kink are very much overlapping. My partner is in service to me, and that plays out in interesting ways. For them, providing service is a means of expressing their love and devotion.” Purnell explained, concluding, “All of us who are into [kink] are into it for different reasons, but many of us find that gently pushing each other’s limits or serving one another can be acts of love.”
Personal definitions of love are necessarily subjective, but science can give a more general explanation.
Psychology provides explanations for much of why people act the way they do in contemporary society, but the USM psychology department were as reticent as the student body. “Not an area I feel competent in discussing,” said psychology Professor Bill Gayton when asked for a psychological perspective on love. Associate professor of psychology and department chair John Broida was equally direct. “I know nothing about this topic,” Broida said.
Biology Professor Jeff Walker’s answer, however, did have a psychological basis. “From a neurophysiological perspective, love is an emergent, subjective set of conscious and unconscious behaviors and/or feelings that arise from a set of active neural circuits that have been created and strengthened by signaling mechanisms activated by our personal history,” Walker told the Free Press.
That is, in perhaps simpler terms, that love is the way each individual person feels, when a set of circuits are set off in their brain, interacting with their experiences.
Walker explained, “This is a circular and maybe not very satisfying definition, boiling down to ‘Love is the set of circuits that are activated that give us the feeling of love.’”
He warned that it would be a mistake to try to reduce the feeling of love down to nothing more than cell–cell signaling, but said that love is not alone in being activated in the brain by various means.
“This isn’t too different than, say, a definition of red. Red is the color that we perceive when circuits in our brain that give us the sensation of red are activated. These circuits can be activated by certain wavelengths of light hitting our retinas but can also be activated by input from other areas of the brain (imagine the phantom of the opera walking down the staircase with his red suit),” Walker wrote in an email to the Free Press.
Philosophy Professor Derek Michaud echoed Walker’s sentiment about the different forces behind love. “I’m sure that you’d get as many answers to this question as there are philosophers,” Michaud said, going on to explain his own answer, which is concerned with the various situations and explanations that the word “love” is applied to.
“Well, love is highly complex, as anyone who has ever felt this most celebrated of emotions already knows. Or as the underrated philosopher Ronny Cammareri says in the film Moonstruck, ‘it ruins everything!’” Michaud began, before exploring the differences between the love people feel for family members, for lovers, and even for food, and the fact that these three arguably very different sentiments fall under the same word, a fact that he traces back to the way the ancient Greeks talked about love.
“What makes all these things ‘love?’” Michaud asked, and answered himself that the thing that connects these different types of love is that they all involve a union of the lover and the beloved, in whatever form that takes.
“In erotic love that takes a rather straightforward form. After all we regularly speak of the physical union of sexual intercourse as ‘making love.’ But in other cases too when we love we are united in some sense with another. Love forms the emotional bonds between us and thus forms a central part of our subjective experience as social beings,” Michaud said.
Allison VanderLinden, the Christian Inter-Varsity Chaplain to USM’s graduate students, also traced her conception of love to ancient Greek roots, citing the four different Greek words for love in the ancient world, and the four different types of love they represented, as well as citing a series of Bible verses on the subject of love, notably from John 4:16 b,
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Rebecca Wohl-Pollack of Southern Maine Hillel gave a different religious perspective. “I would say that love, from a Jewish lens, is an action,” Wohl-Pollack wrote in an email to the Free Press.
“The word for love in Hebrew is ‘ahavah,’ with the root built upon the consonants ‘h-v’ meaning ‘to give.’ Therefore, you can translate the word ‘love’ as an act, the act of giving.”
So there it is.
This Valentine’s Day, remember that love is strange, hard to define and analogous to the process of seeing the color red. It is a concept that has been an evolving part of human society for thousands of years, might be divine and might ruin everything, and is probably best expressed through actions.
The debate over tar sands landed on USM’s doorstep last Friday as hundreds gathered in the Hannaford Lecture Hall to discuss the transportation of the controversial resource.
The event was sponsored by 350 Maine in partnership with the Natural Resource Council of Maine. 350 Maine is a grassroots organization dedicated to solving the crisis of climate change. Speakers at the event were Garth Lenz, a photojournalist for National Geographic who has received international recognition based on his photographs of threatened environments and the impacts of industry, Eriel Deranger, activist and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Project Director of the NRCM.
One topic of conversation at the event was a pipeline leading from Montreal to South Portland that feeds crude oil north from South Portland for 60 years. Now oil companies want to reverse the direction and replace the crude oil with tar sands. Tar sands oil is thicker than crude oil and contains many more toxic chemicals, including large amounts of carbon. When asked why the oil companies would choose to switch to tar sands, Voorhees said “Why? Because Canada has it.”
Lenz claimed that he was not there to pick a side as much as “to share information so people can have an informed discussion about it.” He said that tar sands are one of the most carbon intensive energy forms. It is also the third largest proven oil reserve in the world. The mining of tar sands is occurring in Alberta, Canada, where they receive about 1.8 million barrels of tar sands oil every day. According to Lenz, oil companies plan to expand the mining in Alberta, and this number will increase to five to six million barrels a day. On the subject of the impact tar sands will have on North America’s fresh water, Lenz said, “Clean water will always be worth more than dirty oil.”
Deranger spoke of the effect of tar sands on the Athabasca Chipewyan tribe and many others in Alberta. She described chemicals leaking into their water and polluting the meat of their food sources, which has led to a dramatic rise in the people’s cancer rates. Her actions to stop the harm being done to these people had an especially profound impact on sophomore nursing major and Native American student Sam Nicholas. “What she’s doing is very inspiring, being a woman and a mother.”
The 350 in “350 Maine” stands for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere measured in parts per million that it takes to be associated with climate change. Currently the earth’s atmosphere is at 400 parts carbon per million, which is causing the climate to change.
The Portland Montreal Pipeline, in a Jan. 16, 2013 press release on protests over use of the pipeline, wrote: “Our commitment to public safety and the environment continues to be recognized by leading industry organizations in the U.S and Canada.” They recognized that there would be debate over the use of the pipeline and that they would “welcome opportunities for open discussion that are fact based and transparent.” They said they would be doing this work with the pipeline with as much caution towards the environment as possible.
Many students were at the event in support of 350 Maine. First year economics major Alanna Larrivee and first year political science major Iris Sanoiovanni both had comments to make about tar sands. “The environment is of utmost importance. You only get one, and if that gets tarnished, we don’t have a backup,” said Larrivee. Sanoiovanni had been involved with the debate over tar sands since a meeting she attended last year. “It doesn’t bring about just environmental injustice, but social injustice as well. We, as a society, can’t stand for it,” said Sanoiovanni.
Not everyone except the PMPL is against the use of tar sands, however. Many people can also see the benefits of using them. “Tar sands may cost a lot of money, but it’s not going to be our money, it’s going to be the company that is moving the tar sands,” said first year undeclared Stephen Colby. When asked about the debate over damage to the environment that tar sands would cause, he said “The environmental damages are going to happen. I would rather Portland benefit than lose out on an opportunity like this, if it can be called an opportunity at all. If it can bring in a bunch of revenue for Portland, it would be a beneficial outcome. Tar sands is not a good thing, but I would rather it be in our benefit,” said Colby.
“Tar sands is no doubt a controversial subject with reasons for support on both sides. When asked why we do not turn to the use of alternative energy sources,” Voorhees said, “in a lot of these forms of energy, they require a lot more money up front,” meaning that even though renewable resources pay off in the long run, they cost a lot of money to research and enact now, whereas oil is cheaper now, and we have it now.
USM announced the rollout of its new Direction Package in late September and the formation of the Direction Package Advisory Board in October, and as January draws to a close, the scheduled Advisory Board meetings are nearing an end.
The advisory board has met 12 times since its creation, and has five more scheduled meetings, with the last meeting scheduled for Feb. 28. However, as President Kalikow stressed during last Friday’s meeting, “I think it’s really important for everyone to know we’re not going to get there in a week.”
The end of the advisory board meetings will culminate in the synthesis of information the group has gathered and evaluated on enrollment patterns, state and national trends in higher education and different ideas about working with the university’s limited budget. The report will then be presented to the President’s Council for further consideration.
Since the advisory board set up sub-groups to focus on specific issues at the Nov. 22 meeting, a significant portion of the board’s meetings have been devoted to group work. Student Body President Kelsea Dunham told the Free Press that in upcoming meetings, the smaller groups will make reports out to the group at large so the Advisory Board can make its recommendations to the administration.
The sub-group Dunham has been working on is focused on the vision for the future of the university.
“The first subgroup is focusing on a distinct USM identity so that we can focus our resources and become widely recognized and appreciated as a truly integral part of the region and state,” said Direction Package Advisory Board co-chairs President Theo Kalikow and physics Professor Jerry LaSala in an email to faculty and staff about the future of the Direction Package on Jan. 28.
There are two other groups as well. “The second subgroup, C.O.R.E (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence), is looking at how USM can reduce costs and increase revenues in FY 15 [fiscal year 2015] and beyond, while adding value to the student experience. This group is also surveying USM constituencies on a number of topics to inform their work,” wrote Kalikow and LaSala.
The third, which Dunham said focuses on the university’s signature programing, is described in Kalikow and LaSala’s email as working on ways to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate academic programs at USM.
Before the small group work commenced in last Friday’s meeting, the advisory board held open conversations with two invited speakers; George Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Richard Dunfee, the director of the AASCU’s grant resource center.
Mehaffy and Dunfee were invited to USM as guests of the Faculty Commons. “They did a presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed across the nation on the light of serious fiscal and enrollment problems,” said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell. The members of the Direction Package Advisory Board were invited to attend the presentation, and then Mehaffy and Dunfee attended Friday’s Advisory Board meeting. The presentation to the Faculty Commons will be posted on the Faculty Commons website later in the week, Caswell said.
At the Direction Package Advisory Board meeting, Dunfee discussed a series of funding opportunities through the AASCU, and Mehaffy delved deeper into his own and the AASCU’s educational philosophies. According to Mehaffy, one of the problems with universities as they are traditionally organized, USM included, is that there is a division of leadership and a lack of unity. He cited strict departmental delineations as a source of weakness. “I do think if you’re really going to be serious about this stuff, if you think about what Rich was talking about, the funding opportunities, they’re all interdisciplinary.”
This lack of unity, which, he said, comes as much from the diffusion of power created by unions as by departmental divisions, results in an unevenness of quality avoided by organizations that run on a more proscribed, corporate model, like the Cheesecake Factory or the University of Phoenix.
Kalikow objected to the comparison to the University of Phoenix, countering Mehaffy’s point about the lack of unions at Phoenix resulting in fewer conflicting voices.
“They don’t have any full-time faculty, either. They don’t have any anything, except they make a lot of money for their investors, and that’s not the model we want,” Kalikow said.
Mehaffy’s philosophy, which calls for an educational standard to be upheld across the board at a university, drew several objections from faculty and staff who argued that corporate comparisons were perhaps not entirely applicable to the university setting. Mehaffy asserted, “It’s easy to do an honors program; it’s not easy to do an honors program for everyone.”
Mehaffy concluded by stressing the need for the best thing for students and for the institution to be at the forefront of any educational innovation.
“What’s best for the students has to be a top priority, we’ve heard that from the Vision Committee,” Kalikow returned.
Mehaffy told the Free Press that he feels like he always learns something when he visits schools to speak. At USM, he said that he’d been asked a very thoughtful question by a student, which he was still considering the answer to. Mehaffy said the student had noted that the state is paying less of a percentage of the operating costs of public universities, and that students are paying a higher percentage in tuition. “The question was, does the source of funding for an institution change the way an institution operates, and I think the answer is that it does,” Mehaffy said.
“From my perspective, I thought it was a very interesting experience, we had very good conversations,” Mehaffy said.
Mehaffy said he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the work the university is doing to address the budget shortfall.
ing USM’s budget shortfall by Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell and as work that deserves the university community’s support by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page. Over the course of the meetings scheduled for the month of February, and the actions which will follow them, the result of that process will be revealed.
“We do not anticipate that the final product will have all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. This would be an unrealistic expectation. We do expect the recommendations will provide sufficient guidance upon which we can inform and guide decisions,” said Kalikow and LaSala in the Jan. 28 email.
The USM community has been thinking more about safety than usual in the aftermath of the armed standoff in Gorham on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The number of school shootings has been on the rise throughout the U.S., with approximately 10 incidents recorded in 2012 and 28 in 2013. A school shooting is an act of gun violence taking place on a high school or college campus on or near school grounds while students were present. In January alone, 2014 has already seen approximately 11 school shootings. While the recent incident at USM ended peacefully, it has more people at USM looking at how they can keep the community safe.
“I think Mainers sort of live in a bubble,” said undeclared freshman Christopher Wright. “A lot of people don’t think as much about dangerous situations, because they don’t happen as often up here.”
The number of school shootings in the U.S. this month has opened the doors for conversation about USM’s emergency response plans and whether the community would be prepared for similar or worst-case scenario situations.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where these things can happen anywhere and at any time,” said director of Public Affairs Robert Caswell. “We need to be as prepared as we possibly can be.”
Right now, USM uses e2Campus, a third-party emergency notification system, to send safety alerts when there is a dangerous situation on or near either campus. It also sends out emails to the university email accounts of students and staff.
“It’s a really great system,” said director of Public Safety Kevin Conger. “It literally takes just a few minutes to sign up, and students can choose what kind of alerts they want to receive.”
Through e2Campus, anyone can sign up for alerts on emergency situations or serious weather conditions, and there is a separate storm line for the Lewiston-Auburn campus. Because alerts are sent to personal phones, students are required to sign up to receive these alerts.
“I signed up for the alerts within the first week I was here at school,” said freshman psychology major Allison Tucker. “I totally forget about it until there’s a snowstorm and get that text that says no school, then it’s back to bed for me.”
Usually that’s how the service is used, to inform students of dangerous road conditions due to the weather and sometimes of cancellations. But on the night of the stand-off, three texts were sent over the course of the 5 hour event, telling students to avoid the downtown area. However, the text messages only informed students that there was an emergency situation and that they should avoid the downtown area.
“I didn’t really know what was happening from the university messages,” said Tucker, “but, obviously, I just jumped on the computer and looked up the local news coverage.”
“As dangerous as the situation was for the student inside the house and the law enforcement officers who responded, students in the surrounding area were safe, so we didn’t want to alarm anyone,” said Caswell.
“It wasn’t super concerning,” said sophomore pre-med major Joseph Walter.
Cogner noted that it is important to remember that in emergencies, like a situation in which there is an active shooter on campus, the person causing the scene will likely have access to the information law enforcement is releasing, so they need to be discreet with what information they make available to the public.
“Our goal is to make people aware of a situation and aware that they need to avoid it,” said Cogner. “Not being journalists, we don’t have the need to get the story out there, [we] just need to relay information to make sure people steer clear so law enforcement can do what they need to do.”
Similar messages were sent out via email to resident students on the Gorham campus and students who were involved with Greek Life. Residential life staff spanned across campus, making sure that all students in the resident halls and campus public buildings were aware as well.
“It felt like it was being very well contained,” said sophomore biochemistry major Chris Fitzgerald. “Residential staff went into overdrive to make sure people felt like they were protected.”
According to coordinator of Student Activities Dan Welter, communication went as well as it could have, and the only minor issue was that the university did not know how to contact non-resident students who live nearby in the town of Gorham who would have benefitted from the information. As the system is set up now, the university would have had to email the listserv for all students to contact that smaller selection.
“We’re currently looking into our mailing lists and how we can make them more efficient,” said Welter.
There is no way to contact just off-campus Gorham residents, and Caswell said they did not want to alert every USM student by sending out an alert to the all student listserv, so those students were left with local news coverage for information.
“I think there are always going to be circumstances where we might not be able to reach everybody,” said Caswell. “But if the situation had been different, and students outside the cordoned off area were in danger or might have been in danger, we would’ve contacted everyone.”
“The text messages [through e2Campus] are a good tool, but might be underutilized,” said Cogner.
In the situation in Gorham, no one was injured, but students have been asking what would’ve happened if the incident had occurred on-campus instead of in an off-campus location.
“Luckily everything ended up working out and no one was hurt,” said Wright. “It would have been terrible to have something like what happened at Purdue happen here.”
USM Public Safety officers participate in annual training with other local law enforcement for active shooter situations. Over the summer, the department held drills in Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus along with officers from the Gorham, Scarborough and Windham police departments.
“We have a lot of resources to draw from for a small agency,” said Cogner. “Personnel-wise and networking-wise, we’re in a good place to respond to any situation. We’re all in this together.”
Local law enforcement trains to deal with various emergency situations using the National Incident Management System, a comprehensive, national approach to emergency situations.
“Basically, NIMS sets the standard guidelines and how to respond to emergencies. It’s very structured,” said Cogner. “Each situation is going to be different, but we know how to react as an agency.”
Cogner said that tactical information is sensitive and cannot be released, as law enforcement cannot risk anyone planning a crime being aware of law enforcement’s protocol for responses. There is a document on the Public Safety website listing what students should expect from them, as well as what a student should do in case an active shooter situation arises.
“It’s a lot of stuff that you’re going to read and go, ‘oh, that’s so basic,’ but it’s worth taking the time to read,” said Cogner.
Cogner also said that the department hopes to work with other departments at the university to include this information more regularly, specifically at student orientations, and are working to develop and release a short video to inform students of how to remain safe.
“We’re in a good place,” said Cogner, “and we’re working to be in an even better position.”
Students have come together with the help of the Office of Sustainability at USM and support from the Student Senate to bring the issue of Divestment to the floor at the Board of Trustees meeting on February 27.
In March of 2013, the Student Senate approved a resolution to express the student body’s desire to divest the University of Maine System endowment from any of the top two hundred publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The measure was passed by a10 to two margin.
Divestment is the direct opposite of investment. In this case, it’s a call, by the students of USM, for the immediate freezing of all new assets invested in top 200 fossil fuel companies and their remaining endowments with fossil fuel companies within the next five years. “We, as the students of UMaine school system, are demanding that the future which we our investing in be protected and that our universities take an active role in doing so,” said Iris SanGiovanni, a freshman political science major and one of the organizers of the small team of USM and Orono students heading this movement.
“Climate change is a political problem, that we need to address on a political level,” said junior women and gender studies and environmental science double major Meaghan LaSala. LaSala is one of the active members with the campaign to Divest USM.
The group has a simple game plan: bring the facts, support from faculty, staff and organizations on campus and throughout the UMS, and ask that the UMS divest. “We will be addressing the impacts divesting will have on our futures and the environment as well as the financial and enrollment benefits of divesting,” said SanGiovanni.
“Right now, the fossil fuel industry is planning to extract more than five times the amount of carbon that scientists predict we can safely extract,” said LaSala “It is unacceptable that USM is profiting off of a system that is about to drive us over the climate cliff.”
“If the University of Maine System is an institution investment for our future, why are they simultaneously investing in companies that will make this a hard future to live in?” asked Shaun Carland, a junior math and computer science double major and the director-founder of the Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability.
“From an economic viewpoint it’s smart to divest,” he said. But there is still more research to be done on how economically feasible it will be to divest in the long run, but according to Carland there’s a lot already that says a fossil fuel free energy system can have perform just as well as one with fossil fuels.
“Six universities have already divested, including two in Maine: Unity College and College of the Atlantic,” said Carland. A number of institutions, communities and even full cities across the country are on the list of those currently divesting from fossil fuel companies. The group hopes to be able to add USM and the other University of Maine schools to that list of those committed to divest.
The group is hopeful, though. The movement has been gathering support from both the USM and Orono campuses via petitions, personal statement and a photo campaign with students and faculty. Last year the group proposed divestment, so this will not be the first time the Board of Trustees has heard mention of the movement. On her own hopes for the outcome of this meeting, LaSala said, “I hope that the investment committee will make the right decision and vote to divest our endowment, and re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives.”
“Even if they say no, we demand that they create a panel and working group to put together a plan for how we’re going to divest,” said Carland.
When contacted for comment, University of Maine System Public Relations Manager Peggy Leonard was unable to discuss the subject in time for publication.
The meeting with the Board of Trustees will be held on February 27, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. in Bangor. There will be a room at USM reserved where people may observe the meeting via video conference.
Katie Belgard hadn’t planned on being the president of the Board of Student Organizations when she first joined.
She’s one of those students everyone seems to know. Spending a lot of time in the Woodbury Campus Center, she can often be found calling to and greeting passersby with a smile. A women and gender studies major and media studies minor and active student in the campus community, Belgard is all for meeting new people.
When she nominated herself for president of the BSO, she hadn’t expected to be elected by her peers.
Prior to her election, Belgard was a representative for one of the many student groups on campus and thus a frequent face at the BSO meetings, but nominated herself on a whim. To her surprise, others thought she was the right person for the job. So, with no prior experience, and no real idea what she was getting into, she took the position.
Belgard is now in charge of the funding for more than 60 student groups on campus. The parliamentary process that the board uses enables the most unbiased decisions to be made on proposals for fund for trips, projects or anything else a student group might need. Belgard herself doesn’t vote on the proposals, but she is in charge of overseeing all meetings, making sure they run smoothly and ensuring that all university policies are followed
“The learning curve is pretty steep, but it’s been exciting,” Belgard said about her experience so far. With the changes that came with rebuilding the student executive board—her vice president had stepped down, prompting the promotion of her treasurer to vice president and the need for an election of a new treasurer —she’s had to learn quickly, but she’s enjoying every minute of it. “You learn in the moment,” she said.
It’s clear that Belgard enjoys her job, no matter how challenging it might be. “I’m not a detail person, to be honest,” she said about the demands of the job. “I’m more of a broad, visionary person –– where you start here, and you’ll eventually end up there, but the details don’t matter. There’s a lot of walking people through things.” And it turns out that those details are an important part of being president. Belgard gets countless emails a day from student organizations with questions and requests to schedule meetings with her. She admitted that it was a lot more than she expected and has been quite adjustment, but that challenge has only proven to be a learning experience.
“I want to be able to help students find their potential,” she said when asked what her mission is now that she’s been in the position of president for a full semester. “I work closely with student groups to get the most out of their USM experience, and I think getting involved in a student group really helps you create a sense of self.” She’s also learned a bit about her own abilities. “I surprise myself. It’s challenging, but I get surprised when things come together. I’m like ‘Oh, I did this on my own, what?’ I don’t think I realize I have the potential to do something like that.”
Belgard doesn’t seem to think she’ll be looking for re-election once her term as president is over at the end of this semester. “It’s a 12 hour commitment a week, but I do so much more,” she said, proving that it is very much a job. But she’s more than okay with that. “It’s definitely been a good experience overall.”
Bryn Gallagher does it all–well, practically.
She’s involved in a number of on and off-campus activities and organizations. A junior sociology major and criminology minor at USM, Gallagher became the new president of the Sociology Club in the fall of 2013. “It has been a transitional semester,” Gallagher said. “It’s been hard to figure out what to do, but next semester will have weekly meetings and more events.”
Gallagher helped plan two blood drives for the Sociology club in the fall, one on Sept. 11 and the other on Dec. 9. Gallagher hopes to have more events on and off campus for the club to draw in more interest. “I would like to have a couple events in downtown Portland. Maybe have a silent auction or a local musicians night at Local Sprouts,” Gallagher said of her hopes for the spring semester.
Gallagher is also the co-chair for the Day of Service planning committee at USM for the annual event that will take place this spring. Gallagher said that last year there were seven spots around the Portland area that USM students went to, such as going to Back Bay to clean. “I live off campus, and I realized how easy it is to lose involvement with USM because of it. I think the Day of Service is important to do something through USM and to help the community,” Gallagher said. Gallagher stated that this year will be the fifth annual Day of Service.
Gallagher remains active outside of USM as well by canvassing for recently elected Pious Ali, who became the first African born Muslim on the Portland school board. Working with Ali had a personal impact on Gallagher. “Before helping with Ali’s campaign, I had never had an interest in education. I’ve never taken any education courses, but after working with Ali I realized my interest in it,” Gallagher said. Gallagher says that she still doesn’t know exactly what she plans on doing after college, but plans on graduate school at some point and cited UMASS Boston’s new Sociology program and Chicago schools as points of interest.
Gallagher works at USM’s office of internships and career placements which has helped her think of some options for the future, even if it is still indefinite. “I’ve made some great connections with faculty and staff through my job. I get to see all the options there are available and that has been an awesome resource,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher still has many interests she plans to pursue while she is still at USM such as education, political science and international relations. Gallagher plans on keeping herself busy both in and out of USM to help better the community.
TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline is drawing objections from a range of USM students, staff and faculty, perhaps most dramatically when a handful of students were involved in a protest recently that culminated in two arrests.
Last Wednesday, a group of between 12 and 24 people, at different points in time, stood at the entrance to the 481 Congress St. branch of TD Bank to protest the bank’s investment in the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which is intended to carry tar sands oil between Canada and Texas. A press release was sent out 40 minutes after the protest began by the Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team, the group that organized the event. The group, according to member Meaghan LaSala, a junior women and gender studies major, is organized around a shared political vision on a range of issues including decolonization, environmental justice and gender equality. LaSala said the group’s intention was to stand in solidarity with communities living along the southern leg of the KXL Pipeline, which runs through the southwestern United States.
A second press release sent out by the Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team at 2:47 p.m. reported the arrest of two protesters who had chained themselves to the doors of the bank. LaSala later identified the protesters as Betsey Catlin and Sylvia Stormwalker, both of whom, she said, were from Maine but had strong ties to the areas affected by the southern section of the pipeline. Catlin and Stormwalker were both later released.
“We support everyone’s right to safely and respectfully protest. TD is committed to providing a safe environment for our employees and customers,” TD Bank Media Relations Associate Lauren Moyer said when the Free Press approached TD for comment. When emailed a question about Catlin and Stormwalker’s arrest, Moyer did not respond.
The group targeted TD Bank as one of the top two investors in the pipeline through investment in TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline. “TD Bank supports responsible energy development. We employ rigorous due diligence in our financing and investing activities relating to energy production,” Moyer said. “At TD, we carry out environmental initiatives where we can drive the greatest results — they are energy efficiency, and growing and protecting forests,” she said.
“Many people know and are talking about the northern leg of the pipeline,” said LaSala. She went on to explain that while objections to the northern section of the pipeline have stayed its opening for now, that delay was contingent on the opening of the southern part, which was set to begin operation on Wednesday. The northern section of the pipeline would stretch from Alberta, Canada through Nebraska before merging with the existing Keystone pipeline. The Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team, LaSala explained, organized the protest in a show of solidarity with the Oklahoma and Texas communities, which have called for action against the pipeline’s presence in their areas, and the health and environmental hazards it causes.
The call for solidarity by NacSTOP, an East Texas group, cited safety risks as a main concern. “A toxic product will flow through our communities in a pipeline which has been identified as having major flaws.”
The protest, which LaSala attended with USM freshman Iris SanGiovanni, is just one of several actions against the pipeline taken by the USM community. “We’re going to be stronger if we remember that we’re part of a larger community,” LaSala said. The sentiment was echoed by junior math and computer science major Shaun Carland, who has been active in the USM branch of the Divestment movement, and who said he was sorry to have missed Wednesday’s protest because he was in class.
Carland described the opening of the southern leg of the pipeline as a wakeup call and alluded to further national action to be taken against the pipeline which would involve USM students.
More immediately, USM will host a presentation called “Tar Sands Exposed” in Hannaford Hall on Jan. 31, which will feature Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation activist Eriel Deranger and National Geographic photographer Garth Lenz.
Even with the multitude students coming in and out of the Science building during the school week, the most explosive thing to happen in the building last Friday took place in an empty classroom.
A little after 1:00 on Friday, in the bottom corner of a shelving unit in the unused combination lab and classroom 303, something caught on fire. By Saturday, the Portland Fire Department had determined the cause of the fire. “There was container with some potting soil,” said USM Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, “And mixed in with it was some fertilizer, and it was covered, and for whatever reason, it resulted in some spontaneous combustion and caught fire.”
Caswell said it was so far unknown what the covered soil and fertilizer was being used for. “I guess we’ll find out Monday,” Caswell said.
Another thing which is expected to be clearer Monday is what the cost of the cleanup from the water damage will be. The sprinkler system was triggered by the smoke before any significant fire damage could be done, but the sprinklers ran for ten minutes, soaking from the third floor and overflowing down to the basement.
According to an email sent by Executive Director of Facilities Management Robert Bertram Friday at 2:50 p.m., informing faculty and staff that the fire had happened but was over, cleanup had already begun, less than two hours after the alarm sounded, and fans were in place to dry out the most significant water damage.
There were no classes in progress in that area of the building at the time of the fire, and according to Executive Director of Student Life Joy Pufhal, laboratory classes taking place shortly afterwards were relocated.
Friday evening, staff from the IT department checked the affected rooms for technological damage. “It doesn’t appear that there will be any permanent damage to the floor,” Caswell said. The ceiling tiles, on the other hand, will need to be replaced.
Caswell expects an estimate on costs and how long repairs will take by the end of the day Monday, as well as the reason for the sealed container of soil and fertilizer.
Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh, who is no stranger to USM, has recently been appointed as the associate provost for graduate studies and research, scholarship and creative activity.
Her role in this position entails overseeing research for the university as well as graduate admissions and programs, with a special emphasis on connections to and within the local community.
Langley-Turnbaugh, who has been with USM since 1996, began as a faculty member in environmental science. With a University of Maine bachelor’s degree in forest engineering, a University of New Hampshire master’s in soil science and a Ph.D. in forest soils from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she brings with her a keen eye for environmental issues and sustainability, though the scope of her position as provost will certainly reach further.
On the faculty side, she will be involved in connecting like-minded professors for research or related projects. On the graduate side, she will be overseeing programs of interest or relation to acquired degrees. Most importantly, she said her aim is in “trying to find a way to connect with the community,” essentially, and pushing to understand how those who come to university and use its resources give back to the Maine community at large.
“Robust graduate programs relevant to the needs of our students and their communities are absolutely critical,” said USM Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Stevenson in a university press release regarding the hiring of Langley-Turnbaugh.
“The same holds true for research, broadly defined, that allows our faculty to stay current in their fields and enrich the learning experiences of our students. Dr. Langley-Turnbaugh has the skills and experiences to promote and advance both.”
“USM’s research and our graduate programs share a special relationship in that both further strengthen competencies, expand perspectives and, ultimately, improve lives,” said Langley –Turnbaugh in the same press release.
Currently, Langley-Turnbaugh has been attending what she calls “listening tours” at all of the University campuses, in an attempt to gather information about aspirations and gain a general idea of the directions in which faculty and graduates alike may be leaning.
Having grown up in Kittery, Langley-Turnbaugh’s connection to the community of Maine and its unique attachment to the environment runs deep, and her understanding of both environmental sciences and the community at large is a welcome thread in the fabric of the University of Maine system.
A report released January 9th by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at USM on the impact of poverty on student achievement in Maine shows a clear correlation between poverty rates and how well students perform in the classroom.
One key finding was that as poverty levels increase, student performance decreases. Although this research didn’t include student performance in college, Amy Johnson, the assistant director for the Maine Center for Education Policy and a contributor to the report, believes that the data also applies to the University of Maine System.
In another study to which Johnson contributed from September of 2013, poverty was also shown to affect the performance of college students. Of the students who were economically disadvantaged, 53 percent were characterized as “not persisting or not success[ful],” as opposed to the 40 percent who were not economically disadvantaged. According to the report, a student qualifying as “persisting or success[ful]” was defined as one who earned 24 credit hours in the first year of college with at least a 2.0 grade point average and who also returned full-time for the first semester of the second year.
There are plenty of exceptions to the findings of the report. “The fact that students were economically disadvantaged was by no means deterministic. It’s not one deciding factor that overshadows everything else in a student’s life. Poverty alone does not determine whether any student will be successful,” Johnson said.
“This was a numerical measure that does not provide much direction for next steps. While it is clear that students who are economically disadvantaged are not as successful as their peers, it does not provide a clear roadmap for solutions,” Johnson said. Johnson believes that more research needs to be done to determine what it is about poverty that leads some students to fail. Without such research she believes it is difficult to determine how best to help these students.
“USM is trying to really increase its role in making college more affordable,” said Keith DuBois, director of financial aid at USM. He acknowledged that poverty is an issue in Maine and that USM has been trying to compensate for this fact by freezing tuition and investing $4 million in financial aid programs for students.
He cited that currently, 85 percent of first-time full-time students at USM receive financial aid. He added that 42 percent of undergraduate students receive the Pell Grant, a government grant that is awarded to the students who are in most need of assistance. Dubois said the financial aid office is trying to get the most grant money to the neediest of students.
However, the financial aid office does not consider the student’s official poverty level when awarding aid. “Not that we don’t see students that exhibits signs of poverty, but the way the system is set up we don’t look at poverty. We look at financial need and family contribution,” DuBois said.
Mike Havlin, a senior economics and business major, is grateful to have his tuition covered by the GI bill due to his father’s service in the Marines. Without the pressure of needing to pay tuition he felt that he could concentrate on his education. “I was able to focus on the academics. I think if all students had that option people would be more engaged with their learning. If we want society to be the best that it can be, we should provide education for everyone,” he said.
Johnson hopes that more research will determine additional ways to help Maine students get the aid that they need. Her goal is to find the “best way to provide additional funding that will actually make a difference.”
Last Wednesday’s Gorham standoff between local police and an armed USM student, Alan-Michael Santos, has raised a lot of questions about the university’s policies and procedures during emergency situations.
Santos, 23, of Winchester, Mass., a junior business marketing major, surrendered to authorities after a four-hour standoff with police, in which he barricaded himself in the Sigma Nu fraternity house on School Street in Gorham. Members of the fraternity called police after they evacuated the building when Santos, who was intoxicated, became belligerent while carrying a firearm. Authorities report that he will be charged with terrorizing and criminal threatening with a firearm.
No injuries were reported, but the university is taking a look at the situation and how prepared it was for it.
The Gorham incident has not only prompted community members to ask about emergency procedures, but also about the university’s control and administration over its two off-campus fraternities. Further investigation into university policy for its fraternities shows that the university does not prohibit students from carrying firearms or weapons in its fraternity houses.
According to the Dean of Students office, any dangerous weapons, from firearms to slingshots, “are not permitted on property owned by or under the control of the University of Southern Maine and off-campus activities sponsored by the University of Southern Maine.” But this policy does not apply to the residents of the Sigma Nu house, according to Executive Director of Student Life Joy Pufhal.
“We don’t own or control that property,” said Pufhal. “The current university policy does not prohibit the possession of weapons in off-campus housing. The way the weapons policy is written, they are not in violation.”
The Sigma Nu and Delta Chi fraternity houses are not owned by USM, but by a housing corporation that takes care of the property specifically for use by Greek life, so USM does not have complete control over these properties. The only point at which the university intervenes in activities at these locations is when the fraternities plan events at the houses.
When fraternities are planning any event at the residence that will be attended by more than 15 guests, they are required to register the event with Coordinator of Student Activities & Greek Life Dan Welter. Welter then visits the house to go over risk management and underage drinking policies with the house residents.
“I go down, usually an hour or so before their event is scheduled, and speak with designated brothers about the event,” said Welter. “We check in to make sure they’re checking IDs and that that person is certified to do so. Guests need to be signed in. There need to be designated sober brothers to help escort students back to campus. Things like that.”
Other than these meetings, the houses are only ever checked on for an annual security and fire safety inspection, which mainly deals with town of Gorham ordinances and building codes, or if there are criminal situations on the premises. While these are off-campus residences, they are recognized in USM’s “Annual Security Report and Annual Fire Safety Report” as living facilities of student organizations. The report states that, “through an interagency agreement between the Gorham Police Departments and Public Safety, information related to crime activity associated with these student organization, off-campus facilities is reported to USM Public Safety.”
According to authorities, during a search of the fraternity on Thursday morning, investigators found two handguns.
Since the fraternity houses are officially recognized in the annual safety report as student organization facilities, one would think that they would fall under the USM weapons policy that covers ““off-campus activities sponsored by the University of Southern Maine.” However, this is not the case.
When asked to explain the confusion in semantics between the safety report and the USM weapon policy, Welter explained that there is, according to the University of Maine System’s interpretation, an ambiguity of phrasing that means that fraternity houses cannot be held to on-campus policies.
“That [the weapons policy] was one of the first pieces of policy that we looked through, and went, yeah, that’s a violation,” said Welter. But, he said, according to the system, what students do primarily in frat houses, that is “living,” is not a student activity. Therefore, they’re not covered under the umbrella of “off-campus student activities” that are controlled by the university.
When asked if the off-campus fraternities were controlled by the university and if they should be, Welter said no, he didn’t think the university should be in control because of amount of responsibility it would put on the university.
“It’d be tough,” said Welter. “With on-campus students, we have the resources to handle those responsibilities. We have a great team of resident assistants and staff to supervise all sorts of issues that come up.”
There are approximately 109 students involved with Greek life at USM. According to residency reports, there are 12 members of Sigma Nu living in their fraternity house and eight Delta Chi members in another.
Currently, residents of the fraternity houses are required to follow a set of rules outlined in a document titled “Behavioral Guidelines for Recognized Student Organizations Living in Off Campus Houses.” This document primarily focuses on noise, property and alcohol violations.
“The issues covered are those we have experienced before,” said Welter. “We’ve dealt with noise and alcohol before, so we know how to handle it. The institution has never had to deal with a situation like this before.”
Welter also said that he feels good policies are drafted in response to events like the standoff incident. The national chapter of Sigma Nu informed Welter that, in their investigation so far, they believe this is an isolated incident.
The morning of the standoff, Executive Director of Public Affairs at USM Bob Caswell spoke with Portland-based news source WMTW 8 regarding active shooters on campus. He assured the station that USM had a plan in place, but he hadn’t expected to have to see it in action later that day.
“Given what happened at Purdue [University] yesterday and other recent shootings, they wanted to just ask me about our basic communication [structures] and procedures that we have in place,” he said in an interview with the Free Press. “They [WMTW reporters] were asking me, ‘Have you ever had a situation with an active shooter?’ and I said, ‘No, thank God. Let’s hope it stays that way.” He commented that it was a strange coincidence. “Just goes to show that nobody’s immune from this kind of thing.”
While the campus didn’t go into complete lock-down, residential life staff was dispersed around campus to keep students in their residence halls and inform anyone in public buildings, like Bailey Hall and the Costello Sports Complex about the ongoing stand-off.
“The scene was contained [by local authorities]. Students were encouraged to stay on campus, but give those circumstances we didn’t see a need to lock down,” said Caswell. He went on to say that if the situation had been different and the event had occurred on campus, there would’ve been an entirely different response.
“As a student we all received a notice to stay safe and inside, and ResLife worked really well, effectively communicating with everyone to make sure all the residents were doing okay,” said junior elementary education major and resident assistant of Robie Andrews Hall Stephanie Brown. “Everyone was a little stressed, but there were no problems or anything.”
The university sent out emergency messages through the USM Alert Emergency Warning System, which sends out text messages and emails, and through university mailing lists. Resident students and members of the Greek Life mailing list were contacted, as they were recognized as students who would be directly affected by the stand-off. To receive messages through USM Alert, which is provided by a third-party company called e2Campus, students must sign-up with their contact information beforehand.
“We’re currently looking into our mailing lists and how we can make them more efficient,” said Welter. “One of the things we’re really focusing on is how we can communicate with other off-campus students in the immediate area during situations like this.”
Identifying who needs to be informed about emergency situations on campus is up to the USM Critical Incident Response Team, a group of USM staff members whose goal is to “generate accurate and timely information that helps ensure the safety of the campus community.” CIRT has the same communication plan in place for essentially all possible campus emergencies, including natural disaster, fire, active shooter and other violent crimes in progress, as well as some non-emergency situations such as notice of a deceased student, faculty members and off-campus crime that might be relevant to students.
CIRT is responsible for the communication aspect of emergency situations though. According to Executive Director of Student Life Pufhal, the protocol for dealing with the situations when and if they occur is the responsibility of USM Public Safety.
When the Free Press attempted to contact Public Safety regarding protocol for situations involving active shooters on campus, there was no one available who was able to discuss it at any length.
An armed USM student has barricaded himself inside the Sigma Nu fraternity house at 24 School St. and threatened to hurt himself, authorities say.
As of right now there have been no injuries and the house has been evacuated. The student, whose name is not being released, was intoxicated when he entered the house and confronted other fraternity brothers. He is armed.
This story will be updated.
Former USM student body president, resident assistant and fraternity member TJ Williams was arrested at the home of his parents in Mexico, ME on Monday on two counts of arson.
According to a statement released by Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, the fire was set in a recycling closet on the third floor of Upton-Hastings Hall in Gorham where Williams was an RA at the time. Willaims was also Student Body President at the time.
The fire was reported at 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2012 and quickly extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system. Two-hundred students were evacuated from the building and allowed to return between five and six a.m. that day, and an investigation into the fire that began later that day quickly determined that it was arson.
No one was injured by the fire, according to Bob Caswell, executive director of Public Affairs at USM, and no fire damage was done beyond the closet, but parts of the building, primarily on the third floor, sustained water damage. The total cost of the damage, Caswell said, was $2,100, for which Williams was billed and has paid as restitution to the university.
Williams, who was elected student body president in the spring of 2012, disappeared from campus in the fall of 2012 due to what were termed “personal circumstances.” After five weeks of absence from campus and his duties as president, the senate voted during an executive session to remove him from his post (covered in an October article).
Williams was indicted earlier this month by the Cumberland County Grand Jury and is scheduled to appear in court this week in the Cumberland County Superior Court.
According to the Maine criminal code, arson is a Class A crime punishable by up to 30 years incarceration and a fine of $50,000.
Students who regularly find themselves having to grab a quick bite to eat in the Woodbury Campus Center between classes or before they catch the bus will have quite a few new options this semester, as ARAMARK has spent the winter break renovating the dining area and rethinking their service.
Last Monday, ARAMARK opened for business and unveiled some new business partners. A Portland Pie Co. mini-location has opened up in the dining area, serving signature pizzas from the company’s menu, as well as breadsticks and salads. They will also be featuring a rotating selection of soups from Kamasouptra, another Portland-based company.
“What we wanted to do was bring in another local brand that would really stand out in the dining area and would compliment the already established relationship we have with Coffee by Design,” said Chris Kinney, the general manager of ARAMARK operations with USM. “We’re very excited for this new semester. Already people are smelling the pizza and gravitating toward the dining area.”
“This is such an awesome upgrade,” said freshman communications major Martin Braley. “I essentially live off pizza during the week, and Portland Pie Co. is so much better than the pizza they’ve had in the past.”
Right now, ARAMARK is putting out four pizzas at a time and selling by the slice.
“We’ll always have a cheese and pepperoni option and then rotate a collection of specialty pizzas,” said Kinney. “In the future, probably within the next month or so, we’re going to expand the counter and have six pizzas going at a time. What we’re really aiming for is more variety for the students.”
Along with more pizza, ARAMARK also plans to start offering some of Portland Pie Co.’s signature subs and sandwiches.
Throughout the first week of service, ARAMARK employees distributed samples to students, letting everyone know that they are in business and getting some feedback on specific kinds of pizza they’re choosing to serve.
“I think the HarborMaster is my favorite so far,” said sophomore psychology major Jenna Boyden. “I mean, barbeque chicken and bacon? How am I supposed to stay away from that?”
The only students that appear to be upset about the change are those who won’t have as much time to enjoy it.
“I’ve always had bad luck with things like this,” said senior history major Jacob Barnes. “Of course ARAMARK would decide to start serving the best food the year I plan to graduate.”
The only feedback Kinney noted receiving that wasn’t positive was students asking if ARAMARK was going to include a gluten-free option in their rotation, which they plan on starting next week.
As soon as it was decided that the mini-location would be built, Kinney and other ARAMARK managers have visited Portland Pie Co.’s restaurants to get to know the business and product. Since then, various ARAMARK employees have worked at the restaurant and others have been trained by Portland Pie Co. employees on how to replicate their specialty pies.
“It’s really been a great relationship to establish and they’ve been super business partners,” said Kinney.
According to Kinney, not only have pizza sales increased significantly, but the sale of their sandwiches has increased as well.
“We’ve had a lot of people this past week saying, ‘Oh, I had no idea they sold sandwiches,’ because Sandwich City was out in the dining area and didn’t stick out as much,” said Kinney.
This increase in sales means there have been more students in the food court, which means more lines and longer waits in some situations.
“Sometimes I’ve stopped in for lunch, but it’s just been crazy,” said undeclared freshman Jonathan Wilks. “I might be hungry, but I don’t have time to wait around when I have to get to class.”
With the increased business, ARAMARK has taken steps to reduce wait time, but they’re still in the process of implementing those ideas and solving new problems.
“We’re definitely experimenting as time goes on,” said Kinney. “It’s always something we’ve been thinking about, but it takes time to get these ideas into practice. We have to be fluid and be able to flow to wherever the students are.”
One of the ways ARAMARK has worked to reduce wait time is rethinking the stir-fry station in the food court.
“Stir-fry has always been popular with the students, but our time studies have shown us that it was taking 7 to twelve minutes for them to be served,” said Kinney.
Dishes at this station are now being made throughout the day so students are able to grab it and go, combining fried items with vegetables from the salad bar to create their own meals. This station is going to have rotating themes so each week has a new concept and completely different foods. Upcoming selections will include barbecued items and a celebration of Greek foods.
“We’ve got a lot of new ideas for this year and hope that we can continue to upgrade our service,” said Kinney.
After experimenting with the upgrades to the Woodbury food court, Kinney says it’s in the works to make changes to Gorham food services in the fall of 2014.
“We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet, but we’re going to start figuring things out,” said Kinney.
USM’s libraries don’t normally close for long weekends, but over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, Gorham’s Bailey Hall Library took advantage of the lack of classes to make some much needed repairs.
On the morning of Jan. 4 during a routine walkthrough of the building, a member of the USM facilities management department discovered that a pipe in the wall of the library had burst. The burst pipe was attributed to the extreme cold. “Since then, we’ve been cleaning up,” said Edward Moore, a circulation associate at the library who has been involved in the cleanup.
Facilities’ initial estimate, in the email released last Monday, was that repairs of the library would cost approximately $100,000, a price which would be covered by USM’s insurance deductible. Bertram later revised this estimate to over $100,000, and said that the difference would be paid from USM’s budgeted capital maintenance fund.
Last Monday, Robert Bertram, executive director of Facilities Management, sent out an email to all students, telling them that the leak had occurred and been resolved enough that the library would be opening as normal as classes resumed. “We’ve been providing the same service we always have,” Moore said on Friday, at the end of a week of classes following the flooding.
However, Moore said that there is still work to be done, including repairs, painting, furniture replacement and work on the floors. Last Thursday, Adam Thibodeau, Director of Engineering and Architecture services with Facilities Management, who is overseeing the repairs, sent out an email to the campus community providing notification that the Bailey Hall library would be closed for repairs over the long weekend, through Monday. The particular repairs to be done that weekend, wrote Thibodeau, were asbestos abatement, which would be undertaken under th`e guidelines set out by Maine DES and EPA procedure regulations, with the goal of abating several of the library’s study areas and the 223D Polycom Room, which is where the leak began.
Further work is intended to be undertaken over February break, with the timing for any more work to be determined later.