The debate over tar sands landed on USM’s doorstep last Friday as hundreds gathered in the Hannaford Lecture Hall to discuss the transportation of the controversial resource.
The event was sponsored by 350 Maine in partnership with the Natural Resource Council of Maine. 350 Maine is a grassroots organization dedicated to solving the crisis of climate change. Speakers at the event were Garth Lenz, a photojournalist for National Geographic who has received international recognition based on his photographs of threatened environments and the impacts of industry, Eriel Deranger, activist and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Project Director of the NRCM.
One topic of conversation at the event was a pipeline leading from Montreal to South Portland that feeds crude oil north from South Portland for 60 years. Now oil companies want to reverse the direction and replace the crude oil with tar sands. Tar sands oil is thicker than crude oil and contains many more toxic chemicals, including large amounts of carbon. When asked why the oil companies would choose to switch to tar sands, Voorhees said “Why? Because Canada has it.”
Lenz claimed that he was not there to pick a side as much as “to share information so people can have an informed discussion about it.” He said that tar sands are one of the most carbon intensive energy forms. It is also the third largest proven oil reserve in the world. The mining of tar sands is occurring in Alberta, Canada, where they receive about 1.8 million barrels of tar sands oil every day. According to Lenz, oil companies plan to expand the mining in Alberta, and this number will increase to five to six million barrels a day. On the subject of the impact tar sands will have on North America’s fresh water, Lenz said, “Clean water will always be worth more than dirty oil.”
Deranger spoke of the effect of tar sands on the Athabasca Chipewyan tribe and many others in Alberta. She described chemicals leaking into their water and polluting the meat of their food sources, which has led to a dramatic rise in the people’s cancer rates. Her actions to stop the harm being done to these people had an especially profound impact on sophomore nursing major and Native American student Sam Nicholas. “What she’s doing is very inspiring, being a woman and a mother.”
The 350 in “350 Maine” stands for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere measured in parts per million that it takes to be associated with climate change. Currently the earth’s atmosphere is at 400 parts carbon per million, which is causing the climate to change.
The Portland Montreal Pipeline, in a Jan. 16, 2013 press release on protests over use of the pipeline, wrote: “Our commitment to public safety and the environment continues to be recognized by leading industry organizations in the U.S and Canada.” They recognized that there would be debate over the use of the pipeline and that they would “welcome opportunities for open discussion that are fact based and transparent.” They said they would be doing this work with the pipeline with as much caution towards the environment as possible.
Many students were at the event in support of 350 Maine. First year economics major Alanna Larrivee and first year political science major Iris Sanoiovanni both had comments to make about tar sands. “The environment is of utmost importance. You only get one, and if that gets tarnished, we don’t have a backup,” said Larrivee. Sanoiovanni had been involved with the debate over tar sands since a meeting she attended last year. “It doesn’t bring about just environmental injustice, but social injustice as well. We, as a society, can’t stand for it,” said Sanoiovanni.
Not everyone except the PMPL is against the use of tar sands, however. Many people can also see the benefits of using them. “Tar sands may cost a lot of money, but it’s not going to be our money, it’s going to be the company that is moving the tar sands,” said first year undeclared Stephen Colby. When asked about the debate over damage to the environment that tar sands would cause, he said “The environmental damages are going to happen. I would rather Portland benefit than lose out on an opportunity like this, if it can be called an opportunity at all. If it can bring in a bunch of revenue for Portland, it would be a beneficial outcome. Tar sands is not a good thing, but I would rather it be in our benefit,” said Colby.
“Tar sands is no doubt a controversial subject with reasons for support on both sides. When asked why we do not turn to the use of alternative energy sources,” Voorhees said, “in a lot of these forms of energy, they require a lot more money up front,” meaning that even though renewable resources pay off in the long run, they cost a lot of money to research and enact now, whereas oil is cheaper now, and we have it now.
USM announced the rollout of its new Direction Package in late September and the formation of the Direction Package Advisory Board in October, and as January draws to a close, the scheduled Advisory Board meetings are nearing an end.
The advisory board has met 12 times since its creation, and has five more scheduled meetings, with the last meeting scheduled for Feb. 28. However, as President Kalikow stressed during last Friday’s meeting, “I think it’s really important for everyone to know we’re not going to get there in a week.”
The end of the advisory board meetings will culminate in the synthesis of information the group has gathered and evaluated on enrollment patterns, state and national trends in higher education and different ideas about working with the university’s limited budget. The report will then be presented to the President’s Council for further consideration.
Since the advisory board set up sub-groups to focus on specific issues at the Nov. 22 meeting, a significant portion of the board’s meetings have been devoted to group work. Student Body President Kelsea Dunham told the Free Press that in upcoming meetings, the smaller groups will make reports out to the group at large so the Advisory Board can make its recommendations to the administration.
The sub-group Dunham has been working on is focused on the vision for the future of the university.
“The first subgroup is focusing on a distinct USM identity so that we can focus our resources and become widely recognized and appreciated as a truly integral part of the region and state,” said Direction Package Advisory Board co-chairs President Theo Kalikow and physics Professor Jerry LaSala in an email to faculty and staff about the future of the Direction Package on Jan. 28.
There are two other groups as well. “The second subgroup, C.O.R.E (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence), is looking at how USM can reduce costs and increase revenues in FY 15 [fiscal year 2015] and beyond, while adding value to the student experience. This group is also surveying USM constituencies on a number of topics to inform their work,” wrote Kalikow and LaSala.
The third, which Dunham said focuses on the university’s signature programing, is described in Kalikow and LaSala’s email as working on ways to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate academic programs at USM.
Before the small group work commenced in last Friday’s meeting, the advisory board held open conversations with two invited speakers; George Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Richard Dunfee, the director of the AASCU’s grant resource center.
Mehaffy and Dunfee were invited to USM as guests of the Faculty Commons. “They did a presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed across the nation on the light of serious fiscal and enrollment problems,” said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell. The members of the Direction Package Advisory Board were invited to attend the presentation, and then Mehaffy and Dunfee attended Friday’s Advisory Board meeting. The presentation to the Faculty Commons will be posted on the Faculty Commons website later in the week, Caswell said.
At the Direction Package Advisory Board meeting, Dunfee discussed a series of funding opportunities through the AASCU, and Mehaffy delved deeper into his own and the AASCU’s educational philosophies. According to Mehaffy, one of the problems with universities as they are traditionally organized, USM included, is that there is a division of leadership and a lack of unity. He cited strict departmental delineations as a source of weakness. “I do think if you’re really going to be serious about this stuff, if you think about what Rich was talking about, the funding opportunities, they’re all interdisciplinary.”
This lack of unity, which, he said, comes as much from the diffusion of power created by unions as by departmental divisions, results in an unevenness of quality avoided by organizations that run on a more proscribed, corporate model, like the Cheesecake Factory or the University of Phoenix.
Kalikow objected to the comparison to the University of Phoenix, countering Mehaffy’s point about the lack of unions at Phoenix resulting in fewer conflicting voices.
“They don’t have any full-time faculty, either. They don’t have any anything, except they make a lot of money for their investors, and that’s not the model we want,” Kalikow said.
Mehaffy’s philosophy, which calls for an educational standard to be upheld across the board at a university, drew several objections from faculty and staff who argued that corporate comparisons were perhaps not entirely applicable to the university setting. Mehaffy asserted, “It’s easy to do an honors program; it’s not easy to do an honors program for everyone.”
Mehaffy concluded by stressing the need for the best thing for students and for the institution to be at the forefront of any educational innovation.
“What’s best for the students has to be a top priority, we’ve heard that from the Vision Committee,” Kalikow returned.
Mehaffy told the Free Press that he feels like he always learns something when he visits schools to speak. At USM, he said that he’d been asked a very thoughtful question by a student, which he was still considering the answer to. Mehaffy said the student had noted that the state is paying less of a percentage of the operating costs of public universities, and that students are paying a higher percentage in tuition. “The question was, does the source of funding for an institution change the way an institution operates, and I think the answer is that it does,” Mehaffy said.
“From my perspective, I thought it was a very interesting experience, we had very good conversations,” Mehaffy said.
Mehaffy said he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the work the university is doing to address the budget shortfall.
ing USM’s budget shortfall by Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell and as work that deserves the university community’s support by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page. Over the course of the meetings scheduled for the month of February, and the actions which will follow them, the result of that process will be revealed.
“We do not anticipate that the final product will have all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. This would be an unrealistic expectation. We do expect the recommendations will provide sufficient guidance upon which we can inform and guide decisions,” said Kalikow and LaSala in the Jan. 28 email.
The USM community has been thinking more about safety than usual in the aftermath of the armed standoff in Gorham on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The number of school shootings has been on the rise throughout the U.S., with approximately 10 incidents recorded in 2012 and 28 in 2013. A school shooting is an act of gun violence taking place on a high school or college campus on or near school grounds while students were present. In January alone, 2014 has already seen approximately 11 school shootings. While the recent incident at USM ended peacefully, it has more people at USM looking at how they can keep the community safe.
“I think Mainers sort of live in a bubble,” said undeclared freshman Christopher Wright. “A lot of people don’t think as much about dangerous situations, because they don’t happen as often up here.”
The number of school shootings in the U.S. this month has opened the doors for conversation about USM’s emergency response plans and whether the community would be prepared for similar or worst-case scenario situations.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where these things can happen anywhere and at any time,” said director of Public Affairs Robert Caswell. “We need to be as prepared as we possibly can be.”
Right now, USM uses e2Campus, a third-party emergency notification system, to send safety alerts when there is a dangerous situation on or near either campus. It also sends out emails to the university email accounts of students and staff.
“It’s a really great system,” said director of Public Safety Kevin Conger. “It literally takes just a few minutes to sign up, and students can choose what kind of alerts they want to receive.”
Through e2Campus, anyone can sign up for alerts on emergency situations or serious weather conditions, and there is a separate storm line for the Lewiston-Auburn campus. Because alerts are sent to personal phones, students are required to sign up to receive these alerts.
“I signed up for the alerts within the first week I was here at school,” said freshman psychology major Allison Tucker. “I totally forget about it until there’s a snowstorm and get that text that says no school, then it’s back to bed for me.”
Usually that’s how the service is used, to inform students of dangerous road conditions due to the weather and sometimes of cancellations. But on the night of the stand-off, three texts were sent over the course of the 5 hour event, telling students to avoid the downtown area. However, the text messages only informed students that there was an emergency situation and that they should avoid the downtown area.
“I didn’t really know what was happening from the university messages,” said Tucker, “but, obviously, I just jumped on the computer and looked up the local news coverage.”
“As dangerous as the situation was for the student inside the house and the law enforcement officers who responded, students in the surrounding area were safe, so we didn’t want to alarm anyone,” said Caswell.
“It wasn’t super concerning,” said sophomore pre-med major Joseph Walter.
Cogner noted that it is important to remember that in emergencies, like a situation in which there is an active shooter on campus, the person causing the scene will likely have access to the information law enforcement is releasing, so they need to be discreet with what information they make available to the public.
“Our goal is to make people aware of a situation and aware that they need to avoid it,” said Cogner. “Not being journalists, we don’t have the need to get the story out there, [we] just need to relay information to make sure people steer clear so law enforcement can do what they need to do.”
Similar messages were sent out via email to resident students on the Gorham campus and students who were involved with Greek Life. Residential life staff spanned across campus, making sure that all students in the resident halls and campus public buildings were aware as well.
“It felt like it was being very well contained,” said sophomore biochemistry major Chris Fitzgerald. “Residential staff went into overdrive to make sure people felt like they were protected.”
According to coordinator of Student Activities Dan Welter, communication went as well as it could have, and the only minor issue was that the university did not know how to contact non-resident students who live nearby in the town of Gorham who would have benefitted from the information. As the system is set up now, the university would have had to email the listserv for all students to contact that smaller selection.
“We’re currently looking into our mailing lists and how we can make them more efficient,” said Welter.
There is no way to contact just off-campus Gorham residents, and Caswell said they did not want to alert every USM student by sending out an alert to the all student listserv, so those students were left with local news coverage for information.
“I think there are always going to be circumstances where we might not be able to reach everybody,” said Caswell. “But if the situation had been different, and students outside the cordoned off area were in danger or might have been in danger, we would’ve contacted everyone.”
“The text messages [through e2Campus] are a good tool, but might be underutilized,” said Cogner.
In the situation in Gorham, no one was injured, but students have been asking what would’ve happened if the incident had occurred on-campus instead of in an off-campus location.
“Luckily everything ended up working out and no one was hurt,” said Wright. “It would have been terrible to have something like what happened at Purdue happen here.”
USM Public Safety officers participate in annual training with other local law enforcement for active shooter situations. Over the summer, the department held drills in Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus along with officers from the Gorham, Scarborough and Windham police departments.
“We have a lot of resources to draw from for a small agency,” said Cogner. “Personnel-wise and networking-wise, we’re in a good place to respond to any situation. We’re all in this together.”
Local law enforcement trains to deal with various emergency situations using the National Incident Management System, a comprehensive, national approach to emergency situations.
“Basically, NIMS sets the standard guidelines and how to respond to emergencies. It’s very structured,” said Cogner. “Each situation is going to be different, but we know how to react as an agency.”
Cogner said that tactical information is sensitive and cannot be released, as law enforcement cannot risk anyone planning a crime being aware of law enforcement’s protocol for responses. There is a document on the Public Safety website listing what students should expect from them, as well as what a student should do in case an active shooter situation arises.
“It’s a lot of stuff that you’re going to read and go, ‘oh, that’s so basic,’ but it’s worth taking the time to read,” said Cogner.
Cogner also said that the department hopes to work with other departments at the university to include this information more regularly, specifically at student orientations, and are working to develop and release a short video to inform students of how to remain safe.
“We’re in a good place,” said Cogner, “and we’re working to be in an even better position.”
Students have come together with the help of the Office of Sustainability at USM and support from the Student Senate to bring the issue of Divestment to the floor at the Board of Trustees meeting on February 27.
In March of 2013, the Student Senate approved a resolution to express the student body’s desire to divest the University of Maine System endowment from any of the top two hundred publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The measure was passed by a10 to two margin.
Divestment is the direct opposite of investment. In this case, it’s a call, by the students of USM, for the immediate freezing of all new assets invested in top 200 fossil fuel companies and their remaining endowments with fossil fuel companies within the next five years. “We, as the students of UMaine school system, are demanding that the future which we our investing in be protected and that our universities take an active role in doing so,” said Iris SanGiovanni, a freshman political science major and one of the organizers of the small team of USM and Orono students heading this movement.
“Climate change is a political problem, that we need to address on a political level,” said junior women and gender studies and environmental science double major Meaghan LaSala. LaSala is one of the active members with the campaign to Divest USM.
The group has a simple game plan: bring the facts, support from faculty, staff and organizations on campus and throughout the UMS, and ask that the UMS divest. “We will be addressing the impacts divesting will have on our futures and the environment as well as the financial and enrollment benefits of divesting,” said SanGiovanni.
“Right now, the fossil fuel industry is planning to extract more than five times the amount of carbon that scientists predict we can safely extract,” said LaSala “It is unacceptable that USM is profiting off of a system that is about to drive us over the climate cliff.”
“If the University of Maine System is an institution investment for our future, why are they simultaneously investing in companies that will make this a hard future to live in?” asked Shaun Carland, a junior math and computer science double major and the director-founder of the Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability.
“From an economic viewpoint it’s smart to divest,” he said. But there is still more research to be done on how economically feasible it will be to divest in the long run, but according to Carland there’s a lot already that says a fossil fuel free energy system can have perform just as well as one with fossil fuels.
“Six universities have already divested, including two in Maine: Unity College and College of the Atlantic,” said Carland. A number of institutions, communities and even full cities across the country are on the list of those currently divesting from fossil fuel companies. The group hopes to be able to add USM and the other University of Maine schools to that list of those committed to divest.
The group is hopeful, though. The movement has been gathering support from both the USM and Orono campuses via petitions, personal statement and a photo campaign with students and faculty. Last year the group proposed divestment, so this will not be the first time the Board of Trustees has heard mention of the movement. On her own hopes for the outcome of this meeting, LaSala said, “I hope that the investment committee will make the right decision and vote to divest our endowment, and re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives.”
“Even if they say no, we demand that they create a panel and working group to put together a plan for how we’re going to divest,” said Carland.
When contacted for comment, University of Maine System Public Relations Manager Peggy Leonard was unable to discuss the subject in time for publication.
The meeting with the Board of Trustees will be held on February 27, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. in Bangor. There will be a room at USM reserved where people may observe the meeting via video conference.