USM Free Press News Feed
In anticipation of Earth Week, nearly 300 students from all over the state came together on Saturday, April 11 on the steps of the capitol building to protest climate change and government’s apathy towards it. The students were organized under Maine Students for Climate Justice along with the environmental group 350 Maine. Nearly every college in the state was represented and students from USM, UMO, UNE, Bates, Bowdoin, Unity, Colby, College of the Atlantic and UNH all made the trip to Augusta.
The students called their protest “Maine Rising.”
“We are Generation Climate, because our generation will inherit the burden of the climate crisis, and we are rising because now is the time to take collective action to change history,” the group organizers wrote in a press release.
“Action is needed. We can’t be complicit in the human rights abuses of the fossil fuel industry in order to meet our own energy needs,” said Iris SanGiovanni, a political science sophomore USM student who coordinated and spoke at the protest. “We, as Generation Climate, demand no new fossil fuel infrastructure. We need to put all state investments in clean-energy solutions.”
By starting with building no new infrastructure like the tar sands pipeline that was blocked in South Portland this past year, MSCJ says it’s a step in the right direction to think about alternative energy.
“A year ago we asked the board of trustees to divest from fossil fuels and put the eight million dollar endowment into sustainable, renewable stocks that are growing and they didn’t,” said George Belanger, Divest UMaine member and senior economics major at Orono.
According to Belanger, while the board of trustees did vote to divest from fossil fuels, they should be putting that money into solar power and emerging technologies that don’t harm the planet, because if they don’t they’re missing an opportunity.
The rally paused with fists in the air for a symbolic moment of silence at Governor LePage’s residence, the Blaine House, a stone’s throw from the capitol. After standing still and blocking traffic, the crowd chanted, “You sold us out, LePage!” and “LePuke!”
In addition to the college students, 11-year-old Luke Sekera-Flanders of Fryeburg spoke out against Nestle’s Poland Spring plants around the state pumping public water out of the ground and selling it back to the public at inflated prices.
“It’s devastating corporate greed.” said Sekera-Flanders. “We need to secure security for our future. Nestle takes that away and sells it in little plastic bottles.Only 25 percent of which are recycled.”
The students hoped their cries and chants wouldn’t fall on deaf ears. They see government inaction as inexcusable. Cat Fletcher, a member of Divest UMaine and a student at Orono, closed by saying, “We need politicians who put the planet over profits.”
In recent years, marijuana has become the most widely used illegal drug in the United States, with over 94 million people having admitted to using it at least once. According to the United Nations, nearly 159 million people have used marijuana worldwide, roughly 4 percent of Earth’s population.
The numbers of Americans who smoke tobacco are much higher. According to the CDC, 17.8 percent of adults in the United States use tobacco regularly, whereas only 6.7 percent of Americans claim to be a frequent marijuana user. Each day, 3,200 kids younger than 18 smoke their first cigarette.
Marijuana appears to be used far less than alcohol by Americans. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86.8 percent of Americans 18 or older have had a drink in their lifetime. Among full time college students, 59.4 percent drank alcohol in the past month, with 12.7 percent engaging in heavy drinking (having 5 or more drinks in a night on 5 or more nights in a month).
What are the mental and physical effects of using these drugs? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a person that smokes marijuana is likely to have altered sensory perception, changes in mood, impaired memory and difficulty with problem solving. Some studies show that if a person’s marijuana usage starts as a teenager and continues into adulthood, there is chance of it affecting brain development and the loss of, on average, eight IQ points.
Comparatively, numerous studies show the usage of tobacco causing conditions such as cancer, heart disease, strokes and many others. According to the CDC, 480,000 people die every year from smoking-related illnesses and 16 million Americans are currently living with a disease caused by smoking. Not to mention, 88,000 Americans die every year from alcohol related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death.
According to a recent survey taken here at USM, asking 300 students which of the three is more dangerous, over 250 responded that marijuana is the least harmful.
Unlike tobacco, there have been reports saying that there are some benefits to alcohol and marijuana use. Moderate consumption of red wine is shown to decrease the risk for heart disease and many states have started to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes because of studies that show marijuana can be used to treat illnesses such as AIDS and Alzheimer’s.
So which of these drugs is most harmful?
“People don’t overdose on marijuana. Kids don’t get wild and crazy smoking too much pot and get taken to the hospital for marijuana poisoning, or get in marijuana induced car crashes,” said Gwendolyn Randall, a student at USM. “It’s not as easy to slip a pill into a girl’s bowl of weed and then take advantage of her.”
Randall also believes that marijuana doesn’t change your mood or behavior as much as something like alcohol can.
“Marijuana doesn’t make people violent, or angry, or belligerent. Alcohol can be such a dangerous drug that it’s really ridiculous to place it on the same level of harm as marijuana,” said Randall.
However, when it came to comparing marijuana to tobacco, Randall was a little more hesitant, and said it’s a little more reasonable to believe cigarettes are far worse for you than marijuana.
“If you look at a habitual cigarette smoker compared to a marijuana smoker, the tobacco smoker looks more harrowed,” said Randall. “Their teeth are more yellowed and disgusting, their hair thinner, their skin less hydrated, their voice more hoarse and the smell of tobacco covers them like a cloud.”
Thomas Collier, a recent English graduate, also commented, and said that this question isn’t a matter of opinion but rather has a factual answer.
“Marijuana is chemically safer to consume than either tobacco or alcohol,” said Collier. “That’s just the way it is. People can and will believe what they want, but beliefs are not always founded in reason.”
Collier also believes that alcohol can drastically change a person’s demeanor and has seen some ridiculous behavior exhibited from individuals under the influence of alcohol, but never any crazy behavior from someone who has smoked marijuana.
“I’ve never seen stoners get into a fistfight over a spilled beer, but I’ve seen a bar fight start for just that reason. It was ridiculous,” said Collier. “You just don’t see that sort of stuff with marijuana. If anything, marijuana pacifies those who use it.”
The laws and regulations concerning marijuana are complex and have been for many years. Last fall, the city of Portland legalized marijuana for recreational use, but individuals caught for possession of can still be issued a citation because of state and federal laws.
According to Bobby Lewis, a membership assistant at the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C., which works on changing laws for adults to consume marijuana safely and legally, marijuana is currently legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – as well as the city of Portland.
“Nationwide, more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year than for all violent crimes combined,” said Lewis. “The statistics gathered indicate that a marijuana user is arrested every 48 seconds just for possessing marijuana.”
Statewide, the legality of marijuana changes depending on where you smoke it. In Maine, smoking marijuana anywhere except Portland is against the law. In Portland, adults can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but according to the Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, officers will continue to enforce state law that makes possession of up to 2.5 ounces a civil violation.
“I would simply suggest that people do not possess marijuana in Portland at all. I would suggest not to even take the risk,” said Sauschuck. “The state law says don’t possess marijuana and although it’s legal locally,federal law supersedes state law and state supersedes local ordinances. I would hate to see anyone confused because they don’t know the real case.”
Even though marijuana is legal in Portland, charges can vary depending on the situation. A USM student who preferred to stay anonymous explained that although marijuana was legalized in Portland, he doesn’t fully understand the legality because you can still get in trouble for smoking it.
“I know that technically it is illegal under federal law,” he said. “If you were caught smoking by police I think it would probably be up to the officer that caught you on whether or not you would get in trouble.”
Regardless of the change in city laws, the use and possession of marijuana is still illegal at USM. According to Dean of Students Joy Pufhal, the legal possession of marijuana (this includes the legal amount for Portland and medical marijuana) on campus could result in a civil summons. She explained that there is no change in marijuana use on campus since Portland changed its laws because the federal law has not changed. If USM violated the Drug Free Schools Act, the institution would be at risk of losing all federal financial aid dollars.
“A student held responsible for possession of a small usable amount of marijuana on campus would generally be placed on a housing contact probation,” said Pufhal. “Any future marijuana violation during their time at USM would be putting their housing and ability to continue as a student in jeopardy.”
With all of these laws that have been put into place, many students have differing opinions on the legalization of marijuana. A survey conducted by the Free Press asked 300 students their opinions on the legality of marijuana. 42.3 percent of students wrote that they smoke marijuana, and 34 percent had done so on campus. Data from USM’s police logs show that out of the 97 marijuana odors that were reported on campus, 39 of those were for Upton Hasting.
Another anonymous USM student explained that the use of marijuana should be legal, but only for adults 18 and older. She explained that with the legalization of marijuana, individuals would have the opportunity to see what it actually does for the body and mind.
“I am currently on medications for a major depressive disorder, but the side effects of them leave me with no appetite and no sexual drive,” she said. “These side effects get better with my smoking of marijuana. I completely, 100 percent support the legalization of this drug.”
A senior mathematics major, who would prefer to stay anonymous, said that although it’s possible to get addicted to marijuana, the relaxing effects of the drug make for a much safer experience than someone who indulges in heavy drinking or smokes cigarettes for a long time.
“The World Health Organization has estimated that over 100 million deaths in the 20th century were attributed to tobacco smoking,” he said.. “Zero deaths have been attributed to marijuana smoking alone in the 20th century. So I believe it should be legalized.”
Despite an outlaw image and often confusing legal status, marijuana is becoming widely accepted as having many medicinal benefits. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 77 percent of Americans approve of marijuana for medical purposes. Patients across the country are choosing cannabis over traditional opiates to treat the symptoms of conditions like cancer, alzheimer’s and glaucoma.
In Maine, the medical marijuana industry is thriving, as doctors like James Li in Damariscotta are writing prescriptions for approved patients to stop in at one of the state’s eight dispensaries to pick up a bag, vial or edible of marijuana product. But according to Dr. Li, there are people that try to abuse the system by exaggerating their self diagnoses, in hopes of acquiring a means to a legal high.
“From screening people, I’ve seen people looking around for something that will give them legal standing to use it [marijuana] recreationally,” said Li. “I make very certain to only prescribe it to the people that really need it.”
According to Dr. Li, Maine has a fairly conservative list of 14 conditions that qualify for a prescription of marijuana, including cancer, AIDs, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Maine has purposely excluded the clinically ambiguous anxiety and depression from the list, but one subjective condition remains that provides the avenue for the most rule-bending: pain.
“Anyone can walk into the office and say ‘hey doctor, I’ve got pain,’ and a less scrupulous doctor might hand them a prescription,” said Li. “It’s like an open reason for someone who wants to use marijuana recreationally.”
Like many marijuana doctors, Dr. Li follows strict guidelines to make sure this doesn’t happen, including asking for proof that the patient has been in pain for at least 6 months and that they’ve unsuccessfully tried other forms of treatment.
“If somebody comes in under the age of 30, they have to have a pretty compelling reason for wanting marijuana, because we want to make sure we’re doing more good than harm,” said Li referring to the negative effects marijuana has on cognitive function in adolescents. “It’s pretty obvious to tell which people are serious.”
“People will find loopholes and ways to exploit the program, it’s inevitable, said Rachel Gates, a junior communications major. “But I think by legalizing marijuana, there would no longer be any need to abuse the program.”
On top of having to show a tremendous need to use marijuana and its 400 individual chemicals as a pain reliever, potential patients also need to have a record free of criminal drug offenses.
Out of 300 USM students surveyed, 265 said they’re aware that marijuana has positive, medicinal qualities. Jordan Leathers, a former biochemistry major, has a marijuana prescription and uses it to ease chronic pain he still feels after an injury he sustained a year ago.
“It alleviates my back pain tremendously,” said Leathers. “I take about an eyedropper of CBD oil and it numbs the pain to the point where I can’t even feel it. You can get wicked medicated.”
Leathers is legally able to carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana on his person and cannot be denied employment, housing or education because he smokes marijuana.
Gates has a friend that also suffers from a bad back.
“She sees a chiropractor, which definitely helps her alignment, but ultimately she finds that smoking medical marijuana enables her body, mind and spirit to relax,” said Gates. “And relaxation is absolutely everything.”
Portlander Erin (who wishes to keep her last name anonymous) supports the legalization of marijuana both medically and recreationally, occasionally smoking it herself. Erin said she enjoys seeing the positive effects that marijuana has on her close friend who is fighting throat cancer.
“I think that pot gets a bad rep,” said Erin. “Many people use it to effectively help with many health problems. Considering the opiate epidemic going on in our state, I think that marijuana is pretty tame in comparison.”
“It has amazing health benefits, especially for seizure disorders. I hate the stigma surrounding pot,” wrote an anonymous student on the Free Press marijuana survey.
One of the 34 students who wrote on the survey that marijuana has no medicinal benefits was Isabelle Alenus-Crosby. According to Crosby, marijuana is harmful to both kids and adolescents and can lead to both psychosis and schizophrenia. She also believes that the medical industry is vulnerable to people looking to score some legal bud.
“I know a lot of people who make up pain in order to get legal marijuana,” said Crosby. “They think it makes them cool and popular. However, when I suffered from melanomas I was given regular painkillers which did the trick.”
Dr. Li spoke out against the use of traditional painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, saying that nowadays we’ve been marketed to use them too much and they can often have fatal side effects.
Li said that he works primarily in the ER and that he’s seen so much death and dying from inadvertent overdoses on opiates. After prescribing patients marijuana, the positive transformation on their health, demeanor and well being was described by him as amazing.
“After they were off their opiates and all their prescription pain medications, I didn’t recognize them; it was remarkable,” said Li. “They began to look and function normally again. I used to be a big skeptic, but then I saw a good proportion of those people found so much relief from medical marijuana that it changed their life.”
With marijuana legal for medical use in 23 states and legal recreationally in four, it’s clear that the mind-altering plant is gaining support across the country. Out of 300 students polled at USM, 249 said that they think marijuana should be legalized nationwide. However, a lack of reliable knowledge surrounding the substance and its illegal status in some states contribute to a lingering social stigma. Anonymous survey takers cited everything from a bad odor, addictive qualities and facilitating a culture of laziness as reasons why they’ve never sparked up some ganja.
There are many common stereotypes that plague the average marijuana user. Pot tokers are often labelled as “stoners” who have trouble holding a job, sport a five-word vocabulary and are absolute slaves to the munchies, ingesting junk food at a nausea-inducing pace. Other stereotypes group smokers as long-haired hippies that wear tie dye shirts, listen to reggae and are in a constant state of confusion. Perhaps most detrimental to marijuana’s image, and most untrue, is the notion that it can be fatal to those who smoke, vape or ingest it.
But for Jordan Leathers, a former biochemistry major and medical marijuana patient, smoking pot is more than just a way to relax; it alleviates his chronic back pain. He said pot stereotypes are annoying, because the plant has so many benefits and misinformation deteriorates its reputation.
“I know it’s still being taught in some places down south that it’s like meth or something, like it can kill you,” said Leathers.“I wouldn’t call it a drug, it’s just a plant.”
As marijuana becomes more socially acceptable, these stereotypes are becoming further and further from the truth. Plenty of hardworking Americans enjoy a joint every once in a while, so Leathers doesn’t think it’s fair to label all “stoners” as lazy.
Outside of the medical marijuana community, opinions differ.
“People I’ve known in high school and college who smoked regularly didn’t care as much about their studies or getting a step ahead in life,” wrote one survey respondent. “It was tough to see intelligent, driven friends have their grades drop or drop out completely because they just didn’t care anymore. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, but it can have a similar level of impact on a person’s life.”
Opponents of marijuana and the culture it fosters often point to studies that show that long-term use has a negative effect on memory, motivation and cognitive function. Other people shy away from cannabis for the same reasons they do cigarettes: no matter what you’re smoking, it’s harmful to inhale the effects of combustion into your lungs.
Isabelle Crosby, an undeclared sophomore, is of this opinion and prefers relaxing with the occasional alcoholic drink instead. Crosby considers marijuana to be a “gateway drug,” or one that sparks curiosity within some to try harder and more dangerous substances.
“I have seen people go rapidly from marijuana to class A drugs,” said Crosby. “Friends of mine dropped out as a result and probably ruined their lives.”
“Marijuana doesn’t cause a physical addiction like other drugs do,” explained James Li, a medical marijuana doctor based in Damariscotta. “From a doctor’s standpoint, it doesn’t even come close, danger-wise to the substances we’ve already legalized. People are prone to judge others that seek mind altering experiences.”
Rowan Watson, a junior biology major, has never tried marijuana and has no interest in ever trying it, but doesn’t demonize its users or legalization efforts. Watson said that the main reasons he avoids the substance is because it’s illegal and it smells bad, but beyond that, he’s got no problem with it.
“The fact that it is already illegal influences people’s opinions on legalizing it,” said Watson. “Instead of seeing it as a potential to do great amounts of good, people remain willfully ignorant of its potential and even its effects because they see it only as an illegal substance.
“I don’t smoke pot simply because it’s still illegal federally,” said Jasmine Miller, a junior women and gender studies major. “If I got caught smoking pot it would negatively affect my career.”
Rachel Gates, a junior communications major, said that the illegality has greatly influenced the public perception of marijuana. According to Gates, smoking weed has been the “cool thing to do” for some because it’s illegal and taboo. She said that there are also people who adamantly oppose everything to do with marijuana simply because it involves breaking the law.
“That further contributes to the plant’s misconstrued reputation,” said Gates. “For some people, it’s just simply enjoyable. I think that, like with most things in life, perspective is everything; just because some have had bad experiences with the plant, as I have, does not mean that their encounter should speak for all marijuana users.”
Gates used to occasionally smoke pot with her friends in high school, but it took her a while to truly feel high. When the high hit her, she decided to stop smoking altogether. Gates said her early marijuana smoking days were tainted by an overwhelming sense of paranoia, where all her anxieties became magnified, a feeling which she disliked immensely.
“Two years after high school, I tried smoking again and the same situation happened, so I’m completely done now,” said Gates. “I think I react this way to pot because I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. In a weird way, it’s almost like the plant holds up a mirror where you look into your reflection. Someone who is naturally calm will probably have a good time, whereas someone who is paranoid may struggle and try to fight the high.”
Seasoned smokers like Leathers offered this advice to people thinking about smoking marijuana for the first time: don’t overdo it, and moderation is key.
Natasha Bezbradica, a senior communications major, has tried smoking marijuana many times, but, like Gates, has also never enjoyed the effects.
“That’s really the only reason why,” said Bezbradica. “From my personal experiences with friends who are regular smokers, regular use of marijuana alters people’s personalities. I’ve noticed a drastic change in those who’ve stopped smoking for certain periods of time.”
Despite their negative reactions to the high, Bezbradica and Gates still support people who decide to smoke a bowl instead of drink a beer.
“Everyone is and will always be different,” said Gates. “I believe it’s hugely important to keep an open mind about [marijuana] for the rest of the community.”
#BlackLivesMatter started out on Facebook as only just a hashtag but grew into a national organizing project within days.
On March 27th Alicia Garza, Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter gave a lecture on “building a world where black lives matter.”
In July 2013 the night George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Travyon Martin, Alicia Garza added the hastag #blacklivesmatter to a Facebook post in response to people that were blaming Travyon Martin for his own death, blaming his parents, blaming black folks. “I saw responses from other people about how if we want to change things we need to do things like vote, or we need to pull up our pants, or not wear hoodies,” said Garza. “When really we know that there are systems in structure that devalue black lives in this country.
Within days Garza teamed up with organizers and close friends including, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi and built an organizing project that could bring people together online, to take action together offline.
In August 2014 after Mike Brown was killed #BlackLivesMatter organized a “Freedom Ride” to Ferguson, Missouri where people came from all over the country to support the work that was happening on the ground there. From that chapters were built, and now Black Lives Matter is organized in 23 cities across the world including Ontario, Canada, and Accra, Ghana.
Garza’s address that night touched on the history of and continued importance of the #blacklivesmatter movement, it provided context, and called students/audience members to action to make a difference in their communities. Audience members at the end of the presentation got a chance to ask any burning questions they had for Garza. What made the event so important was bringing Alicia Garza to campus was a student generated idea.
Lauren Webster LaFrance, Assistant to the Director of Women and Gender Studies said, “The Women & Gender Studies Program always blends theory and practice in our curriculum and our co curricular events, this case, the theory of structuralized racism in the US and the practice of what’s being done to combat it. Ms. Garza’s keynote address lecture spoke to the experiences of our students here at USM both on campus and in the community—and our students’ experiences are important.”
“USM is the most diverse institution in the UMaine System and we have a responsibility to our students to provide a safe and welcoming space for their education,” said Webster. “Black lives matter—they are the lives of our students, faculty & staff members and their families.”
Some students like Hamdi Hassan, a freshman political science major doesn’t believe that USM is trying to provide the safe and welcoming environment that Webster talks about; due to the growing number of incidents surrounding race occurring on campus. “USM has failed to foster a safe environment for people of color on campus. We have reached out to them [administrators] numerous times on what’s been happening to us on campus and we feel as though everything is falling on deaf ears,” said Hassan. “After every racist incident we have approached them and all they do is tell us lies that they will take action but give it two weeks, and they sweep it under the rug.”
Overall there was a great turnout. There was a variety of people who showed up, not only USM students and faculty but other students and professors from the USM Lewiston/Auburn campus, there were also many students from Bates College in attendance, and a couple organizations from neighboring cities. Aisha Geerings who works for Tree Street Youth Center located in Lewiston, is one of people involved in bringing a full bus of middle school and high school students to the event. “Its more than just the shooting of Mike Brown its everyone that was after him and before him, this cycle keeps happening and happening and it finally needs to stop, none of us want to worry about going out and getting shot just because of the color of our skin, I don’t want any of the children I work with to have to deal with that,” said Geerings. “Black lives never mattered in this country and its important that we’re finally saying this is enough. Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag but a movement which involves all of us”
Human rights matter and the #blacklivesmatter movement has brought the daily injustices faced by black people in the US into widespread public conversation. This is just as important here in Portland, Maine as it is in Sanford, Florida or Ferguson, Missouri.
This event was co-sponsored by the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity, Multicultural Student Affairs, Gender Studies Student Organization, Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, NAACP Portland Branch, Black Education & Cultural History, and the King Fellows.
A recent study by financial data and technology company, SmartAsset, explored which Maine colleges provide students with the best deal financially and USM was ranked fourth.
USM finished below Colby College, UMO and Husson University, and just above the University of New England. SmartAsset considered five factors in their study: tuition, student living costs, average scholarships and grant offerings, retention rate and starting salaries of graduates.
According to the study, USM generally provides $5,337 in scholarships or grants to cover its $7,776 tuition and that the average starting salary of a graduate is $41,500 annually.
“With rising college costs and reliance on student loans, many people wonder if higher education is still worth it,” wrote AJ Smith, vice president of content strategy and managing editor at Smart Asset, in an email to the Free Press. “We wanted to look at a more complete picture of the costs (not just the sticker price) and also consider what graduates get in return. We’re looking at the bang students get for their buck in our study on the best value schools.”
Smith said the company only took financial data into account when researching the universities, so qualitative data such as the quality of education, campus living or classroom environment was not a factor.
“It’s important to get a full picture of what a particular university will cost to attend. This includes tuition, room and board, books, transportation and other personal expenses,” wrote Smith. “But some schools also have more generous aid in the form of scholarships and grants, so it’s also a good idea to factor that into your decision.”
On Wednesday night, the Criminology Student Association hosted a panel of five professors who gave a talk titled “Deforming the System: The Loss of Liberal Arts as a Blow to Student Success.” About 40 students attended along with a few faculty members. The professors laid out their vision of a potential future where education becomes a commodity that only the middle and upper class students can afford, thus leaving most USM students with a deformed education.
The first person to speak was professor James Messerschmidt, chair of criminology, who said the tide has turned for public funding, “It’s a user-pay system, [students] are now expected to pay the lions-share of tuition. There’s been a dramatic shift in the funding of public universities like USM.”
“Public universities are now defined, I believe, as a business. Education is understood as a product and students are increasingly recognized simply as customers,” he said.
In 1986 students paid 35 percent of the total tuition. The state paid 62 percent and 3 percent came from “other revenue”. Today, it’s the exact opposite: Students are expected to pay 59 percent of the total tuition cost, state appropriations represent 35 percent and “other revenue” make up the last 6 percent.
“The legislators view USM not as a necessary social service for the common good but as a discretionary for optional investment,” Messerschmidt said. “If we are a business, then we simply can’t compete.”
Ronald Schmidt, professor of political science said, “The state has made a choice about what higher education is, it’s a private choice. You can choose to buy it or not to buy it. I don’t agree with it, but that’s the decision they’ve made.”
According to Messerschmidt, retrenchments like the ones last year at USM, which saw 51 faculty, five academic programs and 100 staff expunged from the university, aren’t happening at private colleges. Retrenchments also often don’t happen outside liberal arts departments.
“Given that the vast majority of students at USM are working class, while their peers attending private colleges are middle and upper class, what we have happening is an aggravation or worsening of social class inequality of higher education,” said Messerschmidt.
Among the attendees of the lecture speaking on the importance of liberal art degrees was Katie Grenier, a sophomore criminology major who likes USM but is uncertain of its future. She’s looking to transfer out of state because she doesn’t know if her program will be around much longer.
“I’m kind of nervous about the future of the criminology program at USM so I don’t really have a whole lot of choice but to transfer in the fall,” said Grenier, a Winslow native.
USM’s criminology program is the only one north of Massachusetts.
Grenier is attempting to transfer to George Mason University in Virginia. It will be more expensive, but for Grenier, it’s worth it.
The criminology department has been halved from a peak of six full time professors ten years ago to three today. Students have struggled to find enough classes to work towards their major.
Grenier is taking a research methods class online with “a random professor from California,” and said she’s missing out big time on the classic classroom experience.
Jillian Harrington, a senior criminology major felt relieved she was graduating in May, as she was able to finish her degree largely without being affected by the cuts. However, Harrington still expressed curiosity concerning the value of her degree, in a market of employers that have read the bad press surrounding USM.
“I wonder what my degree is going to mean in the next ten years,” said Harrington. “If I’m going to a job interview, I wonder whether I’ll get it over someone who was at a private school.”
English professor Lorrayne Carroll chided students to read the university’s constitution and get involved.
“The conversation has to be informed, not deformed,” said Carroll.
Her long-winded and passionate diatribe complaining of “transient administrators that haven’t been here long enough to make informed decisions,” was aimed largely at a man sitting three seats to her left, president David Flanagan.
Flanagan interrupted the presentation, coming in ten minutes late, and asked if he could take a place on the panel as defender of the recent cuts to liberal arts at USM.
“I am transient, I’m only here for a year but I am familiar with the issues of USM,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan served for 10 years on the board of trustees, two of which he held the title of chairman.
“We do have a problem in this country of not supporting universities enough, and that’s not a successful society,” Flanagan said. “Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, the elite, continue to be very high quality but for everyone else the quality is at risk of moving to a lower level. I think that’s a legitimate concern.”
“I think more money in public higher education should be a higher priority for our society,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan then outlined his vision of how a metropolitan university looks, operates and functions through partnerships with people and businesses in the community. Flanagan said he doesn’t think we should just stick out our hands and ask for money, but instead show the legislature real results.
A student who’s already putting his forthcoming bachelor’s degree to work is political science major, Joshua Dodge. For the past semester he’s been working in Manhattan for the State Department as a liaison to the United Nations. According to Dodge, he helps diplomats live in NYC by, for example, taking care of their parking tickets or getting them safely from the airport.
Dodge credits USM hugely for his success and Professor Francesca Vassallo of the political science department for getting him into this internship.
Dodge doesn’t think USM is ‘under attack’ but does wonder about the value of his degree.
“I would be lying if I said that I never worried about my program being on the chopping block. We all have,” said Dodge. “It’s no longer guaranteed anymore that we will have a job when we graduate from college, especially one in our chosen field of study.”
Kathy Bouchard, a senior criminology major is just glad to be graduating this May before nothing is left of her program. Both Bouchard and Harrington plan to return to their native Massachusetts to look for work and attend graduate school.
Bouchard thought the cuts were unfounded and said, “Is that the goal of USM to make this an efficient education? If you cut liberal arts you cut programs that cause us to think.”
Professor of criminology Dušan I. Bjelić who’s been at USM for 25 years and is a native of Serbia thought it was ridiculous that he went to university for free in a “much, much, much poorer country,” while in America we get burdened with debt for our education.
“I don’t understand how we have so much wealth [in America] and productivity yet so little money to share,” said Bjelić. “I just don’t buy it.”
Former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler was recently appointed by the University of Maine System to develop the blueprints and take the reigns of leadership in the establishment of a new graduate business and law school in Portland.
The center will be located in Portland and is planned to combine the graduate business programs at the University of Maine in Orono and USM with the University of Maine School of Law to better develop programs for students in the community.
Cutler, who ran for governor in Maine as an independent candidate in 2014, explained that the investment for this project is funded through the Harold Alfond Foundation. According to Dan Demeritt, the UMaine system director of public affairs, the program has given an estimated $1.75 million toward the initiative.
“This new graduate school is about finding ways to leverage the programs we have at USM and UMaine through collaboration,” said Demeritt. “This is an exciting example of the type of investment we can draw to the university when we have innovative ideas in plan for our future.”
Cutler explained that because there is no model or plan that has already been put in place, he is the one who will have to develop a plan with the dean and the president over the course of the next year and a half. Assuming the board of trustees approve his plans, he explained that the program will become a collaborative project to give students the chance to obtain more skills for today’s job market.
With courses set to start in the fall, Cutler said that this will give students the opportunity to try things out and give him the opportunity to see how the program initiative works out. He believes that what will measure the school’s success will be the number of student participants.
When asked about whether or not the decision to begin a financially dependant project in a time when USM has been faced with financial crisis, Cutler said the effort being made to develop this new approach for graduate education is entirely funded, and therefore no money is being taken out of the system. He also explained that USM is simply going through a turnaround that requires big changes to occur.
“I’ve done a lot of turnarounds before. You need to remember that at the same time you’re eliminating costs that you can no longer afford to occur, you also need to make investments in the future,” said Cutler. “You are trying to build something better that is more responsive to what the market wants.”
James Suleiman, an associate professor of management information systems said that all of this can become a reality if as a community we can work together to seek out funding for this effort and build a top notch program to accomplish it.
“If it’s adequately funded I think this graduate school will be a success,” said Suleiman. “There are a lot of different measurements of whether or not it will fully succeed, such as whether or not it will get adequate enrollment.”
A one million dollar ad campaign was launched in February encouraging prospective students to “find themselves at USM,” but the effectiveness it’s had on boosting enrollment is unclear at this time.
Two weeks ago the Portland Press Herald reported that despite the numerous television and radio ads, undergraduate applications are down ten percent from last year and new enrollment for 2015 is down 41 percent. So far the admissions office has seen 3,809 applications compared to 4,249 from last year. But according to Christopher Quint, it’s too early for a final headcount for the fall and the 41 percent decline in enrollment reported by the Press Herald, is completely irrelevant.
“It’s not even close to being true,” said Quint. “There was no context, it was a snapshot in time, when there’s so much upward trajectory happening at USM.”
USM has seen a 13 percent drop in enrollment since fall 2010. Enrollment for last fall was down 5.5 percent with 8,428 students.
Last month at a board of trustees meeting, president David Flanagan said that in reality he expects enrollment to be down despite new advertising and scholarship money.
But according to Quint some of the positive momentum he’s seen includes increased traffic on USM’s website and more applications coming in from transfer and undergraduate students.
“People are clicking on our ads and inquiring about our programs,” said Quint. “We’re seeing upticks in applications across the board. It hasn’t fixed everything, but the ad campaign is having a positive impact.”
Quint said that the one million dollars used to pay for the ads came from savings in the budget that were a result of last fall’s faculty and staff retrenchments.
“We generated savings from having staff and some faculty, off the books if you will,” said Quint. “We were able to use those savings and put it towards something positive; getting more students here, so we don’t have to do this again. If you lay off someone, and don’t fill that position, that money is still in your budget. You can use it for something else. We made the decision to turn our enrollment around.”
In a comment written on social media, Susan Feiner a professor of economics and women and gender studies, criticized the money spent on the ad campaign and wrote that the savings won’t kick in until next year because the faculty that were fired are still paid their salary for 18 months.
However Quint explained that the severance pay is a cost being borne by the UMaine system.
Both Quint and the new president Harvey Kesselman said that boosting enrollment is the key to USM’s success.
“It’s our number one priority right now,” said Quint. “If we don’t boost enrollment, we’re going to continue to see a slide.”
The recent campaign ran advertisements on television, radio, Hulu and various websites promoting new scholarship money and USM’s new metropolitan vision. The ads themselves did not have any live action shots of people or footage from campuses, but instead featured blue and gold typography with a voiceover saying that USM is a “game changer.”
“Whenever I hear, ‘there’s never been a time like now to attend USM,’ in the ads I laugh because that is so true, but not in a good way,” said Annie Stevens, 2013 USM graduate, now Maine Law student. “There has never been a time when USM was doing so terrible and no one wanted to be there.”
Kate Ginn, a political science alumnus said that she lives 10 minutes away from USM, but will be attending another school for her master’s degree because she’s lost confidence in USM.
“I feel confident that the university I’ll be attending intends to preserve its academic programs and continue to grow as needed,” said Ginn. “Maybe the new ads will attract students and parents who don’t realize what has changed.”
Criticism swirls around on social media, with local Portlanders who have been following the situation at USM closely like Cecile Thornton poising the question: “how can you expect students to come to your institution when they’ve seen the rug pulled out from under so many enrollees.” The general opinion of critics, like Nancy Young a graduate at the University of Maine at Farmington, is that high school students will be leery to apply to USM because they can’t be sure that their major will survive the time it takes for them to graduate.
Some community members such as Portlander and Rutgers graduate Mark Usinger are more lenient and said that even Rome wasn’t built in a day and to cut the new guy some slack.
Martin Conte, a senior English major, said that it’s a fallacy to tell people to not go to USM if you care about the school’s future.
“Boosting enrollment won’t solve our severe issues with mismanagement but they will help with heaps of other things, and there’s no reason to oppose these attempts to do so,” said Conte.
For now, USM’s administration under Kesselman remains as optimistic as ever and is, will be and has been focusing on boosting enrollment in other ways besides targeted advertising.
“The ad campaign is done, but we’re not done,” said Quint. “We’ve been aggressively recruiting and placing phone calls to prospective students encouraging them to enroll.”
Last Friday, Kesselman drove nine hours from New Jersey to welcome 357 students and their families at Gorham’s accepted student day, and ultimately inspire them to take the final step toward enrolling. Kesselman said that he wants to be as visible as possible during his time as USM’s president.
“I think that many of the moves that we are making are helping to generate more excitement about our university; it plays a role in people choosing to come here,” said Kesselman. “Our university has experienced some difficulties, but now it’s rejuvenating and it’s incredibly satisfying to be a part of that process.”
Late Monday afternoon, the results from this years student government elections were sent out by email, naming Rebecca Tanous for student body president and Matthew Creisher as vice president, winning by a margin of just 26 votes.
The newly elected Tanous expressed how excited and eager she was to get started.
“I’m really passionate about actually seeing changes and actually seeing action happen,” she said.
Tanous has been involved with student government for two and a half years and is currently serving as vice president until she is sworn in as president later this month.
“This is where I can have the most impact,” said Tanous. “It’s kind of just been a natural progression and this was my next step.”
Despite her leadership position at the SGA, Tanous said that she has no interest in pursuing politics after her college career.
“I’m not a politician,” said Tanous. “I’m really passionate about what I am involved in and right now I’m a USM student so I’m really passionate about what is happening.” According to Tanous her first order of business is to train other student leaders.
“First and foremost, we have these student leaders who are here to serve us and we need to use them more,” said Tanous.
According to the pamphlets laid out last week on the tables in the Brooks Center on the Gorham campus,Tanous wants to accomplish a lot. Tanous wants to look at the legislative side of the UMaine system and see what is most negatively affecting USM’s fiscal situation.
“We just had big cuts, we had a lot of student activism last year but that’s really tapered off,” said Tanous. “However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have the issue that UMO is getting around 50 percent of the funding equation and we’re only getting 20 percent. That still makes no sense in my mind.”
While Tanous believes that system level decisions played a key role in bringing USM’s budget to the state that it’s in, she also expressed that this was just part of the problem. The other negative factor is that system administrators might be siphoning too much money.
“There’s this other percent that is taken off the top and goes to people in offices that are working for our students but are already getting paid from other funds, so why are they taking some of our tuition dollars?” asked Tanous.
Tanous said she doesn’t agree with that mentality and thinks that it’s not indicative of an institution that put students first.
Tanous expressed that she would be very interested to see an audit to find out just how much is being taken out by the UMaine system.
“I think that is almost a bigger issue than the funding equation,” said Tanous.
In this year’s election there was a grand total of 345 ballots casted out of almost seven thousand students, so less than 5% of the student body participated in this year’s election. The voting numbers were even down from last year, when 452 students casted ballots.
Both Tanous and the director of student & university life Jason Saucier expressed their concern with how low voter turnout has been. “One of the biggest challenges is getting on student’s radar,” said Saucier.
There were some new strategies implemented this year to try and encourage students to get online and cast their vote. Email alerts were sent to all students, reminding them when the polls opened. A key factor in fostering student involvement was changing the day of the candidate debate from a Friday, when the Woodbury Campus center is virtually empty, to a Monday when it would be more busy. An increase in foot traffic and more convenient timing resulted in the candidates being exposed to more people.
“This year the voting process was not up to par,” said Tanous. “We had less people working on elections than usual, so we were really stretched thin.”
Tanous expressed desire not only to boost the voting numbers but to get students more interested and knowledgeable with all student government activities, projects and elections.
Toward the end of March, students from six of the UMaine system’s seven universities took a trip to Augusta to spend a day at the statehouse.
The visit was the pilot event for a new pilot program being developed at the system level. The goal of the program is to bring student advocates from all UMS campuses together in Augusta to meet government officials, sit in on meetings and talk about issues that college students in the state are facing.
“I think students have been asking for this kind of opportunity for a long time,” said Laura Cyr, a postgraduate fellow in finance and administration, in an interview last month. “Students have been looking to learn about the decision making process, not only at their university but in their state government as well.”
This time around, the hot topic issue is how Governor Paul LePage’s proposed state budget affects Maine’s public universities.
According to a summary of LePage’s 2016-2017 budget, his plan includes a 3.64 percent increase — roughly $14.2 million — for the University of Maine system.
“I think this year, we’re handed an issue on a plate,” said Cyr, “but we’re excited that, in future years, students will be able to bring their own issues to the table.”
Four students attended the trip on March 24, along with students from other campuses. The University of Maine at Machias was the only school that did not send representatives.
Overall, student attendees said the day was a success.
“We’re here to really get an idea of what happens at the statehouse, to be student advocates for the UMS system and to really get our bearings in Augusta,” said Rachel Cormier, a non-traditional student who served on the Metropolitan University Steering Group earlier this year.
Cormier says that spending a day watching legislators work and getting a chance to speak with some of them erased the ‘intimidation factor’ some students might face when it comes to state politics.
“They were very communicative with us on levels that I didn’t expect,” said Cormier. “We have to remember that they’re just people and that we shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to them.”
John Jackson, a student senator double majoring in political science and business administration, enjoyed his experience as well. Jackson said his interest in the program sparked because of the cuts to faculty and staff that occurred last fall.
“Getting a chance to meet legislatures is important in getting this budget passed,” he said.
Jackson said he has hoped to have more of an opportunity to speak with legislators, specifically those who might be on the fence with their vote on the budget.
“They’re going to be very busy on those days when they’re in sessions, so I know it’s difficult,” he said.
Jackson said he feels the state contribution to UMS funding is on the low-side and that it needs to be changed in order for the university to succeed financially.
“Hearing student voices is very important. Having students show up, especially from all campuses, is worth a lot more than an administrator or faculty member speaking out,” said Jackson.
“I don’t think students need to necessarily join the program with an agenda,” said Cormier, who didn’t mention any specific issues she was looking to address during her trip. “I think it’s better to just speak and get to know your local legislators.”
Cormier says that if students realize they have access to their government officials and learn to speak with them, it will be easier for them to recognize student voices.
“I feel like it’s easy for anyone who doesn’t have regular contact with students to assume we’re all just spoiled, young teens, but that isn’t true,” said Cormier. “A lot of people at USM are a little older and should reach out to legislators to say, I can be a resource, what do you need from me?”
Both Cormier and Jackson aspire to become legislators at some capacity in their future.
“I think this program is only going to open more doors for students,” said Cormier. “I hope that more students are able to go next year.
This Wednesday, the USM chapter of the Global Enactus organization will be holding their first annual “Grand Expo,” an event that hopes to spread awareness of the groups presence and highlight some of the work they’ve done to bring the community together and empower people.
“I want to show people the good work we’ve done within our community,” said Sarah Snowman, a senior sustainability business management major, and president of Enactus. “There’s been a kind of abstract vagueness when it comes to telling people what we do.”
Snowman decided to host an event that will ideally help close the gap between Enactus and the rest of the USM community, as well as attract new student members.
“We want to share our story and show the campus what we’ve been up to this past year,” said Snowman. “We’re also trying to increase the diversity of our members.”
So what does Enactus do exactly?
Well according to the official website, it’s part of a larger international organization that connects student, academic and business leaders through entrepreneurial based projects that empower people to transform opportunities into real sustainable progress for themselves and their communities. Apart from USM, the group has chapters in over 1,700 universities and claims to have impacted over 1,925,000 people through their projects.
“One of the things that I love about Enactus is that it lets its members actually make a difference in people’s lives,” said Snowman. “Students that join Enactus want to do something more than just being in classroom; they want to see the bigger picture.”
For Snowman, the bigger picture has been to focus on working with local groups and companies like The Open Bench Project, The Roots Cellar, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and several local high schools like Bonnie Eagle and Deering High. Along with other small businesses, Snowman and her Enactus members have worked on 25 projects this past year, ranging from marketing campaigns, to increasing environmental sustainability in a workspace, to helping “at risk” high school students learn in the classroom. Enactus has also organized an annual fundraiser run called the “Husky Dash,” which donates 20 percent of its proceeds, to leukemia research at Maine Medical Center.
Snowman encourages everyone to attend the Grand Expo as she other members celebrate some of the groups impact on the local community.
“One of the projects we worked on was teaching students from low-income households the components of a healthy meal,” said Snowman. “So we created our own cookbook, filled with recipes that are both cheap and healthy.”
According to the director of communications for Enactus and senior international and sustainable business management major, Frazier Johnson, Enactus began implementing the metropolitan model through its projects long before USM started calling itself, “Maine’s metropolitan university.”
“I just hope that we’re able to show faculty and students how well we fit into this new metropolitan model,” said Johnson. “Collaboration with local groups is extremely beneficial to the student body. USM’s students can really make change happen in our community.”
Johnson said that his choice to join Enactus lead to an incredibly rewarding experience for him because it required taking the education and skills he’s learned at USM and applying them to real world situations. Apart from that, Johnson also thinks that experience at Enactus will really help his resume shine when searching for jobs post graduation.
“Enactus has also taught me a lot about public speaking and interacting with people from different cultures,” said Johnson.
Snowman agreed and said that Enactus is definitely written on her resume.
“When I go for job interviews it’s one of the things they [employers] like the most,” said Snowman.
Jake Ryan, the founder of The Open Bench Project, a startup that provides a shared learn and work facility for builders and designers, works with Enactus and called their partnership a “win win” for both parties. Ryan plans to speak at the Grand Expo, alongside USM and Enactus alumni Matt Dechaine and Aimee Bermudez.
“It’s important for students to get access to real world situations to test their theories and ideas,” said Ryan. “Having accountability outside of school is a great segway for them into the working environment. From the business side of things it’s awesome to get a new perspective. Sometime they come with high in the sky thinking and that’s what’s needed sometimes.”
Snowman has invited all the college deans, president David Flanagan and the new president Harvey Kesselman to join the community at the Grand Expo. As of now, Flanagan has respectfully declined and Kesselman hasn’t sent word back.
The Enactus Grand Expo will be held on April 8th at the Talbot auditorium and the admission will be free of charge.
Activist Ruchira Gupta visited USM last week to speak on her experiences fighting to abolish sex trafficking. She started her career as a journalist and won an Emmy for her documentary The Selling of Innocents which explores the plight of young girls in India being taken from their homes and sold into prostitution to work in brothels.
“We urgently need a new law on trafficking, one which is not based on old British colonial laws,” said Gupta.
The laws created by Parliament such as the Contagious Disease Act are designed to provide disease free women to soldiers fighting in the British army.
Gupta believes that change needs to be made across the globe and not just within a certain country. Part of the problem is that with the advancement of technology, traffickers have become much more skilled at what they do, using websites to lure and auction off women.
There seems to be a trend on the class and gender of people that traffickers prey upon. In almost all cases it is generally women living in developing countries like India and poor, younger girls that were sought after by traffickers. The same holds true in the United States, where most of the women trafficked are poor minorities.
Traffickers would also try to make going to work in a brothel sound appealing by telling these young girls that they would get to go live in a big city and make some money for themselves.
Gupta recounted that the youngest girl she had met that was trafficked was only seven years old. The average ages of victims are between 13 and 15 in the United States and nine and 13 in India.
“The traffickers simply met whatever the demands were by these clients,” said Gupta. “They would actually find these girls and bring them to the brothel.”
Gupta believes that in order for there to be change, the laws have to be targeted towards the traffickers and to punish the clients, because a lot of the time the victim has no choice. She also believes that things need to be done so that the buyer has less power and less choices when he decides to go to the brothel.
In countries such as Norway and Sweden purchasing sex is illegal, not the selling of sex. This means that if a trafficker was to be caught or a brothel was searched, the women would not be punished for what they were being forced to do.
“Those governments understood and recognized that prostitution was an outcome of gender inequality, so the women should not be punished,” said Gupta.
Those laws have put the blame on the traffickers, resulting in a decrease in trafficking for those countries. Now many other countries are also starting to adopt a similar model when they craft laws against trafficking.
There has been some success in trying to bring change. Recently, new laws have been passed against trafficking through lobbying and putting pressure on government.
“It has created a new paradigm with how we deal with trafficking,” said Gupta. “We have shifted the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.”
Prostitution will still occur, Gupta said, as long as there is a buyer. Gupta believes that there needs to be partnerships between governments so that policies and laws can be passed to make a difference and to try and protect women against trafficking.
The University of Maine System board of trustees has voted once again to freeze in-state tuition for the fourth year in a row leaving students, faculty and staff wondering what this means for the future of USM.
According to Dan Demeritt, the UMaine system director of public affairs, students can expect Maine’s college tuition to be one of the most affordable in New England.
“It’s critical that the government is making an investment and that the board of trustees is using that to keep tuition flat so it doesn’t get harder for families to finance a college degree,” said Demeritt. “The hope is that as a public institution, it reduces financial barriers for students as well as potential students and reduces indebtedness once students graduate.”
Although other public institutions across the country have increased their tuition by 17 percent over the past four years, Demeritt explained that college competition is higher than ever and believes low tuition is an enticing factor for potential students.
“We’re seeing that the amount of high school students graduating has diminished by almost 20 percent over the past few years,” said Demeritt. “It’s a combination of that and competition between other universities – our customer pool has shrunk and we have more competition.”
Chris Quint, USM’s public affairs director, believes that affordability is a major problem across the country, similarly saying that this issue can be linked to the low high school graduate demographics and the competition between universities.
“We have to do everything we can to be affordable and accessible,” said Quint. “The action the board of trustees took was a positive one in that direction.”
By giving students the confidence that their tuition bill will not increase, Quint said that in-state students can be expected to spend only $8,000 for the school year and out of state students with room and board costs can expect to spend about $20,000.
“We’re one of the better deals in the northeast here at USM,” explained Quint. “Portland is one of the most desirable cities in the northeast and we’re right in the heart of it. We have everything we need to be successful here, we just have to sell it to students.”
Junior finance major Amelia Worthing said that with all the faculty cuts that USM has seen over the past year, the tuition freeze will hopefully bring more students into the university and allow for our budget goals to be met so that more cuts can be avoided.
“The only reason that it’s hard to afford college is because we’re young and we don’t really know how to manage our money yet,” said Worthing. “I bet a lot of us would actually be able to afford our tuition a lot easier if we could manage our money more effectively.”
Worthing also believes that this scenario can also be applied to the university, saying that if USM could properly manage funds then perhaps they wouldn’t need to make the cuts.
To combat USM’s recent fiscal issues and bring more students through the door, Quint said that not only do they have to modernize recruitment strategies but they also want to improve how they market and talk about the university.
“It really comes down to recruiting more students,” said Quint. “We’re hoping that by being a metropolitan university, we will open up enticing opportunities for current and prospective students not only in the classroom but in the community.”
With the arrival of USM’s new president Dr. Harvey Kesselman, Quint also explained that the future of USM is in good hands because he has raised a university from the ashes of financial debt once before.
“When he started as Executive President at Stockton University, they were very much in the same situation as we are,” said Quint. “Along with their faculty and administration, Kesselman was able to turn it around to the point now where they are thriving. I know he can do that for USM.”
Demeritt said that as each university takes the proper action to combat financial issues and the University of Maine System promises to provide Maine’s strongest commitments to affordability. The individuals who voted for the tuition freeze recognize that.
“It really is all about the students,” said Demeritt. “We want to be an option for everyone and that’s why its so important to keep the tuition down.”
There was an event scheduled last Friday for students to meet and learn more about their peers running positions within student government, but no one attended, not even the candidates.
After an email was sent to the USM Events listings confirming the event on Tuesday, it was rescheduled for Monday, but no official notice of the change was posted on university or student government websites or social media accounts.
In an email on Friday evening, student senate vice chair Tom Bahun told the Free Press that an email was supposed to have been sent out by either Dean of Students Joy Pufhal or student life director Jason Saucier.
“The elections committee and the student body president asked to consolidate the Friday event with the Monday event to make a stronger one,” said Saucier in an email on Friday evening. “Unfortunately we did not get a correction out on the e-mail list.”
Within an hour after the event was sent to begin, not a single student wandered into the area where the event was supposed to take place. USM tech support employees had set-up equipment in preparation for the event, but packed up after an hour when no one arrived. They had not been notified of a cancellation.
Senate Chair Judson Cease and Parliamentarian Joshua Tharpe did not respond to emails asking for information sent Friday evening.
Nominations Closed, polls open
This year’s presidential race is between four candidates, including current members of the student government.
Rebecca Tanous, current student body vice president and senior chemistry and education major, is running with junior chemistry major Matthew Creisher.
“I truly believe that this position is where I can best serve the students,” wrote Tanous in her election bio. “Having been a member of the Student Government Association for two full years, I feel confident in my knowledge of how the SGA functions and am passionate on utilizing it to better aid the students.”
The pair list improving USM’s marketing efforts, improving connections between students, faculty and administrators and student organization groups as key issues they hope to focus on.
“Being a transfer student, I have a vested interest in how this University represents itself to those that are potentially interested in enrolling,” wrote Creisher. “As vice president I would be able to work closely with students and faculty members in order to bring about changes to the schools advertising system; in order to showcase a more welcoming and inviting front to those looking into the school.”
Senator John Jackson, a political science and business management major, is running for president with economics major Mackenzie McHatton as his vice president. Information on the candidates’ academic standing was not provided.
“As a Student Senator here at USM this past year, especially during the rollercoaster of an academic year we’ve had, I have not only established relationships with the people that are in the most influential of positions around the University thus allowing me to get tasks done, but I have also have first-hand experience with the requirements and commitments of the position of Student Body President,” wrote Jackson. “I believe that Mackenzie and I are the individuals that can help bring and be able to ensure that the voice of the student body is heard among the faculty, administration and the board of trustees on any subject that the student body wants its opinions voiced.”
Jackson noted that student involvement in university governance, parking problems on campus, university marketing and pushing the metropolitan university model as issues he would tackle.
The final runners for the president’s office are sophomore political science and criminology major Paul McGuire and junior leadership and organizational studies major Camden Ege.
“We are passionate about USM and it’s future,” reads their election bio page. “We recognize that this is an important time in shaping the University and we want the opportunity to do that responsibly.”
Their goals include improving communication across the board at USM and helping students better represent themselves in the surrounding community.
Junior psychology and criminology major Derrick Kennedy is running solo.
“ I want to be Student Body President because I have a voice,” wrote Kennedy,” and I, like many of the students of USM, recognize what the issues are, and believe that I have a powerful enough voice to be heard and to make a difference in bringing about a much needed change.”
Kennedy lists improving student resources on the path to graduation as his one presidential goal. His hobbies include hiking, mountain biking and weight lifting, according to his profile.
Only 13 candidates for the student senate are on the ballot and the senate has 21 seats to fill. It looks like the race for those positions will be completely uncontested this year.
This year’s referendum questions look for student input on adjusting the hours of the Gorham café and Woodbury café to better accommodate late classes, athletics. Another topic up for debate is expanding the Saturday mall bus run to also include stopping at places like Walmart and Target and increasing the frequency of the late-night bus to the Old Port.
The SGA has scheduled a ‘meet the candidates’ event for Monday at 1 p.m. in the Woodbury Campus Center. There will be a debate between the candidates for student body president.
Polls open at 1:30 p.m. and student can vote online through the SGA page on USM’s website.
During a press conference earlier today, USM’s administration excitedly announced that Dr. Harvey Kesselman will be the university’s next president, beginning July 1.
Kesselman expressed deep admiration for The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, his alma mater school and where he’s finishing up his final months as Provost and Executive Vice President, however he is enthusiastic to lead USM and has about 8 years of commitment in him.
“This is my home now,” said Kesselman. “I made a commitment here and this is the place I belong now.”
Kesselman’s plan is to ensure that USM doesn’t shrink under the potential pressure of budget problems as it did last year. He hopes to continue the focus that current situation president David Flanagan initiated: get more students in the door and find a way to keep them here.
“If we could retain even 400 more students, the fiscal problems diminish,” said Kesselman. “What we need to do as a community is to see what stops students from staying at USM. If we’re all working toward that goal I am convinced that the problems will take care of themselves.”
Kesselman believes the university is far too great of an institution to have a retention rate of 65 percent. Finding a solution to this issue will involve starting conversations with faculty, staff and students.
“I am going to spend a lot of time to meet every employee at the institution and immediately have relationships with the faculty senate,” said Kesselman. “I want their voice, it’s critical.”
Kesselman is optimistic that USM’s financial future is on a positive path because of the talents of people that he said are doing everything they can to ensure USM’s physical vitality.
“I’m comfortable in the matter in which we are moving forward will be one of the ways USM ensures long term vitality,” said Kesselman. “Fiscal decisions are critical to the success of any institution.”
Kesselman believes that there are a variety of factors that go into making USM a successful metropolitan university. From the friendly and respectful students, beautiful locations and qualified faculty, he has high hopes that the school will outlast not only his presidency but many more after that. Kesselman also placed faith in the school’s metropolitan vision.
Kesselman said that when metropolitan universities begin, they are often aren’t well received. However, he also said that out of this tension will eventually come progress.
“Had the model not been here, I would not have applied,” said Kesselman. “I thought it was very attractive that USM was going in that direction.”
Kesselman wants to help USM get classified as one of the top community engagement universities in the U.S. by earning the Carnegie Distinction by 2019. The Carnegie Distinction is a prestige given to about 300 schools who are committed to making a local impact and social embeddedness.
“It will open up avenues for USM and make your degree more valuable,” said Kesselman. “We are trying to put theory into practice and that is what I plan to implement. We want engaged students and engaged faculty here at the university.”
University of Maine system chancellor James Page endorsed Kesselman as USM’s next president and said that he’s someone who knows the opportunities and pitfalls of higher education. Kesselman’s priorities around students, enrollment and growing the metropolitan concept played a large part in how they evaluated his candidacy.
“The metropolitan university is going to evolve in many ways that we don’t even see today as it unfolds and develops over the years,” said Page. “It will give the university strength and vision to move along and. Kesselman’s enthusiasm for the university and the state of Maine is high.”
President David Flanagan laid out what his three focuses will be during his final months in office at Friday’s faculty senate meeting: recruitment, retention and transition.
Flanagan said that recruiting new students has been an arduous task for those involved and that while marketing and advertising efforts are likely to help enrollment, faculty need to keep recruitment and retention on their minds as well.
“Trying to attract new students is very important work,” said Flanagan. “Important not only to the people of Maine and this university’s students, but to you [the faculty] as well. If we fall behind, we already know that you are not isolated from the consequences.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage students to enroll, but a lot of it is up to you, in being actively engaged in advising, supporting and counseling outside the classroom as well as in it,” he said.
The sentiment that faculty were responsible for enrollment and that their jobs may be at stake did not sit well with some members of the senate.
“It’s remarkable that your administration and Theo Kalikow’s administration has come in to this university and done as much as you can, much like Putin, turned us into junk bonds in terms of reputation and can take no responsibility for it, and actually come on to the floor of the senate and say that if we don’t do more, more of us will be fired,” said Shelton Waldrep, a professor of English and the Free Press faculty advisor.
“There is no way the reputation of this university can increase, which means attracting students, as long as the administration denigrates faculty and attacks tenure,” he said. “We are an international symbol for the battle over tenure in higher education. That is not a reputation created by the faculty, but one created by you, your predecessor, your chancellor and your board.”
Gary Johnson, an associate professor of history, noted that in his 26 years at USM, someone has presented a new retention plan nearly every year and that while advising and college structures plays a role, it’s young, new faculty and their course offerings that attract students.
“I have to say, we’re not attacking tenure, we’re attacking deficits,” said Flanagan. “And the truth of the matter is, we have been on an unsustainable financial course. You can sit in an ivory tower and say, well that’s not right, but it doesn’t generate any money.”
Bad publicity and the amount of bad press USM has seen recently was a topic of discussion throughout the entire senate meeting and Flanagan said, as he has his entire term as president, that internal conflicts have been the cause.
“You can criticize whatever we do in whatever form, and that’s great, but in a way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it discourages people from coming here and that starts the death spiral,” he said. “When you attack yourself, when you criticize the university, when somebody getting paid by the university steps up and says we’re vocational, we’re no good, we can’t deliver, go to UNE, that’s ten times more devastating than if a competitor says it.”
Flanagan said that he expects a setback in enrollment and reputation from the faculty cuts he’s made this academic year, but that they have been necessary.
“It is our responsibility as public servants to let people know what is happening here, because we want our students to feel good about USM and we want students to come here,” said Waldrep, defending faculty who have spoken out against administrative actions, “But that will never happen as long as the administration is attacking faculty and the sanctity of tenure.”
“The reality is: we’re not attracting students,” said Flanagan. “We have a lot of negative publicity and it would be in everyone’s best interest to try and turn that around.”
Upper-class engineering students must take professor Ivan Most’s engineering economics class if they want to graduate. Part of their course work is community-based projects, assisting area schools solve their engineering problems.
The class was the brainchild of STEM partnerships coordinator Emily Mitchell, who works in the community engagement office at USM. Her job is to act as a liaison to area schools and USM and foster relationships between the two.
About 40 students are now part of that class working on problems such as energy audits and how best to heat the eight campus Windham school which, as of now, has no centralized heating system.
“Teachers freeze at 68 degrees and boil at 72,” said Bill Hansen, Windham’s school facilities director.
The engineering students will perform a cost analysis on Windham’s HVAC system and also see if a centralized wood-fired heating plant makes sense.
“Can we become a greener campus? Does it make sense financially?” Hansen asked.
It is Hansen’s job to efficiently heat the buildings, but to do so with a public school budget. The USM students will help meet his goals as economically as possible.
“No engineering project goes forward without someone paying for it,” said Most.
“I like to have the teachers focus on teaching and forget about the building. That’s my nirvana,” said Hansen.
Another project the students are working on is building a greenhouse for Riverton Elementary here in Portland. According to Kathy Cole, the community coordinator at Riverton, the school grows a lot of its own food in a community garden and practices composting and recycling.
If it’s feasible, they might even build the greenhouse out of recycled plastic bottles. The students will need to keep in mind it has to be handicap accessible,be able to accommodate 24 students and have the durability to withstand possible vandalism. The idea of plastic bottles sounds promising but if there’s a cheaper material, or something that holds heat better, the students will use that.
“Riverton Elementary is a lower-income school where 75% of students receive free lunch, so money is a big concern,” Cole said. The school hopes to get a Lowe’s playground grant to pay for the project.
One of only four women in the class, Kenzie Sullivan, a junior mechanical engineer major, is working on the Riverton school project.
“It’s always been a male dominated profession,” she said.
Sullivan is excited to mentor little kids and hopefully get some more young women interested in engineering. She actually switched groups to work with the younger kids.
“It’s going to be a cool project for sure,” Sullivan said.
Also working on the Riverton project with her is Matt Araujo, a senior electrical engineering major who was also eager to get started on the project.
“The kids might not even know what engineering is,” Araujo said.
Araujo and others will work with the school kids teaching them what engineering entails by having them observe the projects happening in their schools.
“It’s a practice profession. You have to get out and practice,” said Most. People like Most look forward to teaching more students the economics engineering through real world experience and applications.
“I’m excited for the future of engineering at USM,” said Most.
Starting next fall USM will be streamlining academic advising by assigning every student both a professional and faculty advisor, each playing different roles in the process.
Professional advisors will guide students through the degree progress reports, making sure general education courses, required introductory courses and prerequisites for upper-level courses are met, while faculty advisors will assist students on a purely academic level, providing insight on course-specific issues students might have.
The division of work and goals within advising is meant to make the advising process more efficient and helpful for students, aiding the administration in fixing the university’s retention problem.
According to Joseph McDonnell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, USM loses nearly 37 percent of students between their first and second year at school.
“We’ve been looking into a new advising model for a while now,” McDonnell told the faculty senate in a meeting last Friday. “Through surveying students, we found that some were served by student success offices, some through their college and others had not been advised at all.”
Some faculty members questioned the reliance on staff to help students navigate specialized degree requirements and more complex programs and speculated on potential issues.
“I’d be concerned about the integrity of these professional advisors,” said Donald Sytsma, an associate professor of psychology. “If there’s a big push to fill seats in classrooms, how do you stay away from an ‘everything is possible’ mentality you might impart to prospective students?”
Sytsma said that he’s had students who were advised one way by student success, but that what they were told was misleading and that he suspects that convincing students to pay money for classes, even though they might not help toward a degree, has been the goal.
McDonnell explained that USM has regularly used professional advisors and that their aim has always been to move a student closer to graduating.
“They aren’t recruiters,” said McDonnell. “They aren’t talking to students they need to convince to take courses. They’re assisting students who are already here.”
McDonnell admitted that he had heard from students about poor advising situations, but said that the advising is generally successful and that poor advising needed to be dealt with on a case-by-case, one-on-one basis.
Lucille Benedict, an associate professor of chemistry, asked if, in the new system, professional advisors would now specialize in specific programs, noting that an advisors lack of knowledge in a program could lead to a student losing interest as well.
“One of my concerns is that chemistry is one of the more rigorous degrees and people have misconceptions about it,” she said. “Students might encounter an advisor that goes, I can remember my chemistry course, and that conversation usually goes south. Advising that isn’t degree specific isn’t going to help anyone.”
According to McDonnell, a select group of faculty have been working in a committee to explore what changes would have to made in order for the new advising system to work well, noting that having advisors with expertise is a point that has been discussed.
“I hope every one in the faculty and administration can agree that, in terms of addressing our retention issue, everyone needs to be building toward attracting the strongest students we can toward the university,” said Wayne Cowart, a professor of linguistics. “Giving bad, misleading advice is not in anyone’s best interest.”