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.
In the weeks between the initial presentation of USM’s budget on Nov. 15 and Dec. 9, when the estimate was revised, the structural gap between the funds available and the funds required to keep the university running for the coming year has grown from $11.9 million to $13.9 million.
Dick Campbell, USM’s chief financial officer, attributes the majority of this budget shortfall to declining enrollment. When Campbell presented the increased estimate for the budget gap to the Direction Package advisory board, he said that the increased estimate is based on higher costs in the employment contracts for USM faculty and professional and classified staff.
A certain amount of increase in compensation for faculty and staff was factored into the first budget projections, Campbell said, but the contract for the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, which was approved provisionally in November and finally ratified in early January, was higher than anticipated. The full-time faculty of the universities of Maine have been working under the terms of an expired contract while negotiating with the university system since 2011, and the projections for what that contract would entail have fluctuated over the course of negotiations
These higher than anticipated costs enumerated in the new AFUM contract had further effects as well. “Based on the settlement of the AFUM contract, the costs of settling contracts with other bargaining units and the increases to non-represented employees were revised,” Campbell said.
Another reason for the change in estimated shortfall, which grew by approximately $2 million per fiscal year for the next five years in the three and a half week period, Campbell said, is “the expectation that the campus will invest more in maintaining the physical plant.”Ellen Spahn
To kick off the spring semester, several students donned bright blue and yellow scarves to signal to new students that they were welcome ambassadors for USM.
These 50 volunteers, primarily from the Board of Student Organizations and Student Senate, wore the scarves as an indicator that they were available to answer questions about the school.
Chris O’Connor, the director of Portland student life, and Bryn Gallagher, a junior sociology major and president of the sociology student association, felt that it was important to welcome the approximately 220 new transfer students to USM this semester. In particular, O’Connor wanted to “engage current students in the welcome week experience” with this brand new program that involved current students helping new students acclimate to the school.
“I think it’s important to relate student to student. To have that peer-ambassador relation, I think it can add a great sense of comfort, and it can open the door to new friendships,” Gallagher said.
On the Portland campus, a table was set up Monday through Thursday with free coffee and informational pamphlets. The table moved to a different part of the school each day, starting in Abromson and ending in the library. A table was also set up on the Gorham campus on Monday and Tuesday. Current students were also free to help themselves to coffee and information.
“Our major goal is to have welcome week each year. [To have] a warm atmosphere when people come to campus. It’s nice to start the year on a positive tone,” said O’Connor.
The volunteers have committed to wearing the scarves and buttons that say, “Ask Me” for up to two weeks. They are there to answer questions such as, “Where is my classroom?” or “How do I access my schedule?” or “What is the bus schedule?”
“Even if there aren’t a huge number of people asking for help, it is still nice to have a visible reminder that there are students there, standing ready to help,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
“Having there be a friendly face and a warm welcome is essential to having people feel welcome on their own campus,” said Gallagher.
O’Connor made it his goal to show the scarves to new students at orientation so that they would know who to approach if they should need help. “Whether or not they’ve used it, they knew it was there,” he said.
Gattis explained his interest in becoming a welcome ambassador, “I have been trying to volunteer more with the university. Even though I’m paid to do what I can to help make USM better as the Vice-Chair of the Student Senate, volunteering to do what I can with a school I care about has been rewarding even if I haven’t had many people approach me for help.”
Another welcome ambassador, Stephanie Brown, a junior elementary education major, explained that she wanted to give back to the USM community. “I feel really great about it. I’m so glad people are willing to help each other out here,” she said.
O’Connor hopes to continue using the scarves as a way to welcome and assist new students in coming years. He also plans to follow up with the welcome ambassadors about their experience. “It will be interesting to see if they’ve been approached. We don’t know if new students are actually using the scarves.”
In setting up the program, O’Connor felt that it was important to have a welcoming presence on campus. Overall, he felt overwhelmed by the amount of support the program received from the student volunteers. “It was kind of a phenomenon of the scarves,” he said.