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USM officials announced Wednesday that Glenn Cummings will be the new president of the University of Southern Maine, replacing Harvey Kesselman, who was set to take the position on July 1.
Kesselman has agreed to a request by the Stockton University board of trustees that he remain as acting president of Stockton, after the president of that college resigned suddenly for medical reasons. Officials were in the middle of a plan to transform a closed Atlantic City casino into a satellite campus for the suburban college.
Dr. Cummings was selected as a finalist for the presidency following an eight month national search process that resulted in an applicant pool of 80 candidates and campus visits in February where hundreds of students, staff, faculty and community members engaged in discussions with three presidential finalists.
“While I eagerly anticipated being part of USM’s resurgence, the tremendous sense of obligation I have to Stockton University means I must forgo the opportunity to lead the University of Southern Maine,” said Kesselman in a prepared statement released on Wednesday morning.
“Maine is a special place and I remain absolutely convinced the University of Southern Maine has an important role in the state’s future. I will forever be grateful for the acceptance and grace I have received from every Mainer I have met and forever a fan of the USM Huskies,” he said.
Earlier this week Madeleine Deininger, Chair of the Stockton University Board of Trustees, wrote to University of Maine System Chancellor James Page formally requesting that Dr. Kesselman be permitted to withdraw from his contract with the University of Southern Maine citing the seriousness of the issues that Dr. Kesselman must address at Stockton. That request was granted.
“Harvey Kesselman’s long, capable service and dedication to Stockton University were among the qualities that made him such an appealing choice to join our leadership team in Maine,” said University of Maine System Chancellor James Page at a press conference on the Portland campus. “While we sincerely enjoyed getting to know Dr. Kesselman and looked forward to working together, we respect his decision and admire his devotion to Stockton. We wish Dr. Kesselman and the entire Stockton University community all the best.”
Cummings was selected as a finalist for the presidency following an eight month national search process that resulted in an applicant pool of 80 candidates and campus visits in February where hundreds of students, staff, faculty and community members engaged in discussions with three presidential finalists.
“Maine must have a vital, committed and successful University of Southern Maine,” said Page. “I know that USM’s future is bright and I have every confidence that President Glenn Cummings will be the leader to build on USM’s existing strengths and to realize the enormous potential and promise that is the University of Southern Maine.”
“Like a Maine spring USM is slowly and beautifully emerging from a dark winter,” said incoming President Glenn Cummings. “I am honored to be asked to serve at one of New England’s best universities during this powerful transition.”
The 45th annual observance of Earth Day was last week, and all around campus there were events to celebrate our relation to the Earth and how we can work to try and make it a sustainable place to live by preserving its natural resources.
Kappa Alpha Omicron, or KAO, the USM Environmental Science Student Honors Society invited Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine to speak on behalf of USM’s environmental student honor society about “The State of Maine’s Environment: A Status Report.”
Pohlmann laid out the current threats to Maine’s environment, most notably the government under Governor Paul LePage repealing environmental protections that have been in place for years. Several bills are before the legislature right now including a bill that would repeal the deposit on bottles larger than 32 oz.
According to Pohlmann, it will save companies such as Coca Cola billions of dollars because they now have to pay for that nickel deposit. If the bill passes, more two liters will end up in landfills instead of being recycled for the economic incentive.
Dr. Travis Wagner, environmental policy, teaches his students to come up with better policies and laws for protection so commercial development can continue, but do so in a sustainable way for the Earth and economics. He teaches consensus building at the grassroots level. Wagner agreed that the greatest threat to Maine’s environment is the “potential rollbacks” of laws.
“Proposal to take the parks and make that part of the department of forestry and to maximize timber harvesting on public lands,” said Wagner. “There seems to be no plan, other than just doing it. There’s no sustainability.”
Another of the events for Earth Week was the screening of the documentary “Cowspiracy – The Sustainable Secret.” According to the film, missing from the talk of climate change is the impact of agriculture, namely, raising animals for meat as the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
A report from the United Nations found that animal agriculture contributes more methane and other toxins than all transportation in America. That’s more than all cars, trucks, planes and trains combined.
The filmmakers found the big environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club unwilling to talk about the ecological impact of commercial agriculture. Their stance being that Americans are unwilling to change their eating habits to more of a plant-based diet, even in the face of California’s drought, and rising temperatures and seas worldwide.
“Often people don’t realize the environmental impacts associated with the food they eat. Massive amounts of natural resources, namely fossil fuels, are used in commercial agriculture,” said Tyler James Cyr, president of KAO.
It takes between 442 and 8000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Cutting down on your meat consumption could cut your carbon footprint in half.
“You’ve got some pretty high environmental costs associated with that sandwich you’re eating,” said Cyr. “Rethinking how our food is produced and where we source it from is going to be a key consideration for our generation.”
Wagner said that the most important action for students is to be informed, because if you’re not informed then you don’t become active and concerned.
Heather McIntosh, environmental science policy & planning sophomore, echoed Wagner’s idea, saying that the most important thing to stopping climate change is to, “Get involved. Volunteer. It feels really good to give back and connect with your community’”
For students interested in taking action to keep our Earth a sustainable and clean place to live, there are certainly environmental groups on campus to join in order to become more involved: The community garden has plots available and teaches students about sustainable practices, or you could join The Eco Reps or DivestUMaine.
At the state level are groups like Pohlmann’s NRCM. She finished her presentation by saying “The bottom line is, are we going to fight or give up?”
A very important question to anyone who lives and works in Maine may be put on the ballot for 2016: Should the state increase the minimum wage?
The current minimum wage of $7.50 an hour hasn’t changed since 2009 and is absolutely due for an increase, according to Andrew Francis, the communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance, an organization representing labor unions.
A team of 32,000 members and volunteers has spearheaded a referendum campaign that hopes to raise the current minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2017. After that initial boost up, the Maine People’s Alliance wants to see the wage increase by $1 a year until 2020 where then the wage would be tied to the cost of living. This statewide citizen’s initiative is currently fundraising and gathering 80,000 signatures which will soon be sent to the secretary of state for approval.
Francis, along with many Mainers, believes that the minimum wage is a poverty wage and should be something a person can comfortably support themselves on; a idea that seems optimistic for the thousands that struggle to pay their bills with a low wage income.
“Each year we release what’s called a job gap report, which basically breaks down what a living wage should in the state and compares it to what jobs actually pay,” said Francis. “A living wage in the state of Maine, according to the report, should be around $15.85.”
After taxes, a full time minimum wage earner would bring home $12,300 in income, a figure members at the Maine People’s Alliance is “just not right.”
According to Francis, raising the minimum wage to even $9 an hour would do a lot of good for our communities and small businesses because it would provide a greater incentive to work and spend, which would pump more money into the local economy. Apart from that, a wage increase would satisfy certain moral obligations, because Francis believes that a lot of Mainers aren’t earning a fair wage for their labor.
“The reality is that a lot of Mainers are working full time and still struggling to pay their bills and rent. Then they have to choose between either putting food on the table, or medicine in their cabinet,” said Francis. “Raising the minimum wage is incredibly popular in Maine right now.”
Last year’s poll from the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center showed that 75 percent of Maine respondents supported raising the minimum wage federally, with 60 percent expressing strong support. Hyper locally, a poll of 203 USM students showed that 190 people don’t think minimum wage is a livable wage and 148 said that they struggle to pay the bills with their current job. 169 said the minimum wage should be raised to at least $8.75, while 49 people said it should be raised to $15 an hour.
Despite the support, there’s still some opposition to the community push for what they consider a “fair wage.” Greg Dugal, the president of the Maine Restaurant Association, said that if the minimum wage has to be raised, it should only be done so on the federal level.
“We’re definitely opposed to the local initiatives,” said Dugal. “The state and the federal government need to come together and discuss the minimum wage issue. Currently that doesn’t seem possible.”
Dugal, along with members of the Republican party, like Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine GOP, believe that the minimum wage was never designed to be something that one can solely live off of.
“It’s exactly what it says it is,” said Dugal. “It’s for someone that is just starting at their job. Maybe a young kid that’s inexperienced, or someone that’s potentially working part time. One person making minimum wage will never support a family.”
Dugal’s method of success towards a person’s financial independence is what he called earning “a combination of wages.”
Anonymous responders to the Free Press survey seemed to agree with the sentiment of: if you want to earn more, work harder.
“Burger flipping was never intended to be anyone’s career path,” wrote one online responder. “It’s called motivation, people are motivated to fight for $15 but not to find a better paying job. They’re too afraid they might have to work or think harder. Better yourself.”
“Get a real job, slackers,” wrote another student.
“I started by working my ass off for free, working hard, and eventually earning everything that I have,” wrote another anonymous responder. “It’s really frustrating to see people complaining about minimum wage. Want more money? Become indispensable.”
Other opponents of the initiatives said that if if the minimum wage goes up to $12 an hour by 2020, it could affect the survival of small businesses like it’s doing now in Seattle.
“It would cause the economy to do a tail spin,” said Justin Tougas, a sophomore economics major. “What we need to do is to find some way to raise the real monetary value of the dollar, not increase pay just to cause unemployment and dollar value deflation.”
Just last week, Joel Baker, the owner of the Mr. Bagel on Forest Ave., wrote a letter to the Portland Phoenix saying that raising his payroll would doom his breakfast eatery.
“We here at Mister Bagel will probably have to close the doors if this new law comes into play. Saddened by today’s world,” wrote Baker.
Yet, according to Francis, 3,000 small businesses support their initiative, and will thrive once people that have more money in their pockets spend more at the local spots.
“A lot of small businesses already are paying well above $7.50 an hour,” said Francis. “And the ones we’ve talked to that actually are paying minimum wage have said that they can’t compete with the Walmarts, Targets and other chain stores. So raising the minimum wage actually puts them at a more even playing field with these big box companies.”
Shawn Chapla, a junior English major and sociology minor said you could raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars right now and the chain places like McDonalds would be financially fine.
“McDonalds and Amatos can afford it,” said Chapla. “They’re not going to leave. I’d like it if they did, but they won’t.”
Students like Chapla and Sarah Victor, an occupational therapy student, believe that minimum wage should be about providing people with an entry level job they can support themselves on, not one that exploits their labor.
“Just because somebody is gaining experience doesn’t mean they have to live in poverty,” said Victor. “The only way I’ve ever been able to cultivate a living wage and not be eligible for food stamps is through my self-employment as a massage therapist.”
Victor said that when she occasionally hires somebody to help out with work around the house, she pays them $15 an hour and that anything less would be unethical.
On top of the Maine People’s Alliance’s race to get the minimum wage question on the state ballot, Mayor Michael Brennan endorsed a separate plan to increase just Portland’s minimum wage to $8.75. Governor Paul LePage is attempting to squash these efforts by endorsing a bill, sponsored by Andre Cushing in the Senate, that would prohibit local municipalities from having this power.
“Of course he [LePage] is, he hates the people, clearly by his policies,” said Victor half-jokingly on the phone.
Earlier in the year, solar panels were installed on top of the Woodbury Campus center in Portland, sparking some questions. Where did they come from? Who paid for them?
Back in 2013, Dr. Fred Padula, professor emeritus of history, donated $50,000 to have solar panels installed in a visible location. Tyler Kidder, assistant director for sustainable programs, consulted Dr. Padula on where the panels should be placed.
“We wanted them in Portland, and wanted them to be very visible from around campus. Woodbury campus center was the best location,” said Kidder.
Some complications arose during the installation process of the panels.
“Unfortunately, Woodbury’s roof was in need of replacement before the solar panels could be installed,” said Kidd. “Much of the building has an old curved wooden roof, making solar installation nearly impossible on much of the surface.”
Because of these complications, the installation process was delayed a whole year while they waited for USM to replace the roof above the book store. This made it so more of the donated amount had to go to installation than originally planned.
“To this end, the solar array is smaller than it would have been if installed elsewhere, but also much more visible to passersby,” Kidder said.
Solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect, which is the creation of an electrical current in a material due to the exposure of light. This is considered to be a chemical physical phenomena.
As of now, there are no data on how much money is being saved in energy costs, but Kidder states that the panels are rated to generate 8.5 kW of power, meaning that in perfect sunny conditions, the panels could be generating as much as 11,400 kWh of electricity in a year.
Kidder did state that those are in perfect conditions and the panels will generally generate less due to conditions such as the angle of the sun or cloud coverage.
The panels themselves require very little maintenance unless something happens to them, like a fallen branch striking it, or there is a roof leak.
“In general, solar panels have an expected lifespan of 20 years. After that time, they tend to lose generation capacity and create less power,” said Kidder.
Kidder expressed that she was interested in seeing more panels installed around campus. “If we can get more solar panels installed, especially with affordable installations, we can make a dent in our energy consumption.”
At this point, there are four solar installations on campus: Woodbury, Abromson, which has 52 panels that were also donated by Dr. Padula, Sullivan Gym Solar Thermal, which was installed in 1982, and on the childcare/police station in Gorham.
“We are always interested in more partnerships,” said Kidder. “As solar becomes more and more affordable, it is definitely on our list of ways to lighten USM’s carbon footprint and reduce our energy costs.”
Last week, a bone marrow drive was held at the Woodbury Campus Center so volunteers could sign up to become a potential match for someone in dire need of a transplant.
Bone marrow cancer is a form of leukemia, a cancer of the bloodstream. According to the Maine Medical Center Developmental Department, individuals diagnosed with bone marrow cancer will eventually need a transplant. However, only 30 percent of patients are able to find a compatible donor within their family. This leaves the other 70 percent reliant on marrow donations from strangers in order to survive.
Micaela Manganello, a sophomore nursing major at USM, sat at one of three tables set up to greet and process interested students in the campus center. Manganello explained that there are a lot of misconceptions about donating, but the process overall is an easy one.
“The first table students approached was where I sat and helped them fill out the appropriate paperwork with their information,” said Manganello. “The second table was for cheek swabbing to sample if you were a possible match for someone, and the third to get your donor card with all your information.”
For individuals who donated, their information was put into the national registry where any patient searching for a donor can match with them. Swabs done on cheeks were immediately sent to a laboratory for testing. This process allows doctors to look for similar protein markers on their cells to match a patient with a donor. If a match is found, you get another call and go in for some final testing before the actual donation process occurs.
“The paperwork is honestly the hardest part,” said Manganello. “If it takes a minute or two out of your day and it helps someone else in the long run, then I promise it will be worth your time.”
Donors may only be asked to give their blood, which will then be transferred into the veins of a patient with incurable leukemia to keep them comfortable as the disease progresses. For most patients, especially young children, a bone marrow transplant is their best chance for survival.
There is the common misconception that donating bone marrow entails high risk and painful surgery to drill into your bone. Arlene O-Rourke, a nurse practitioner at the New England Cancer Specialist Center, said that marrow isn’t the only form of donation and the biggest risk with surgery is one that’s taken in most medical procedures.
“When someone donates their marrow, they go through a procedure where it is removed from inside the bone,” said O-Rourke. “A long needle extracts this liquid marrow from the hipbone and it is then put aside to be transferred into the patient with the disease. When you wake up, you’re sore for a few days but it doesn’t affect you in the long run.”
O-Rourke said that the biggest risk associated with donating is going under anesthesia, which is a risk that comes with any surgery. There is also a minimal risk of infection, but that shouldn’t deter someone from donating because donating can save a life.
“The cool thing about being a donor is if you do happen to match someone, they give you a progress report on how they’re doing,” said Manganello. “If both the participant and the recipient consent to it, you can meet the person you helped.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, every four minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. Out of all these patients, six out of 10 will not receive a bone marrow transplant because a match cannot be found. However, O-Rourke said this could be combated if more people would be willing to donate.
“Leukemia is more common in children because they’re growing and in elderly people because their bones are weak. If a child has rapidly growing cells, they can mutate into leukemia,” said O-Rourke. “It’s so important to donate because you donating marrow can save a child’s life and add fifty or more years to their existence.”
Lauren Durkin, a sophomore nursing major, encouraged people to donate marrow. For Durkin, the reality of needing a transplant hits close to home.
As children, her two older brothers were diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of childhood leukemia. Both of her brothers were able to find matches from strangers willing to donate to the cause. When Durkin turned fourteen, she was also diagnosed with myelodysplastic, but doctors were unable to find a matching donor for her.
“I actually had a cord blood transplant because they couldn’t find me a match,” said Durkin. “I had to go through chemotherapy and radiation, which basically destroyed my entire immune system.”
Durkin further explained that upon receiving the transplant, she basically was given a new immune system. She was in the hospital for six weeks after the transplant so doctors could keep an eye on her.
Durkin wants people to know that even though donating sounds scary, it’s actually pretty easy and can really save lives.
“When they told me I didn’t have a bone marrow match, it was a scary realization,” said Durkin. “I was lucky enough to have a cord blood match and my brothers were lucky to have bone marrow matches. I don’t know where we would be had it not been for the kindness of donors.”
Officials from the UMaine system will go into arbitration this week with representatives from the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine over alleged contract violations that may have taken place over the past year during administrative budget cuts.
The union alleges that 11 different contract violations took place that involved at least 26 faculty members, specifically when three academic programs were eliminated by the board of trustees in September, when tenured faculty members were retrenched in October, and when two other programs were eliminated in November.
AFUM’s 50-page contract with the university has specific guidelines regarding how complaints, or “grievances,” are dealt with. If a member has an issue regarding an item included in the contract, like workload obligations or scheduling specifics, that member speaks with the AFUM council and is advised on how to follow up. If a grievance is filed, it is taken up with the dean that member reports to, continuing on to the provost, president and system-officials if the problem persists.
Susan Feiner, professor and co-president of USM’s AFUM chapter, said that complaints about the alleged contract violations have been “blown off” during every procedural step.
Now that the union has exhausted contractual procedure, the statewide grievance board has agreed to fund the case being brought before an arbitrator.
“In this case, there were so many breaches of contract,” said Feiner. “This is crucial to our validity of our collective bargaining and it’s important to prove that tenure means something in our system.”
The arbitrator will decide whether or not the UMaine system violated faculty contracts and that decision will be legally binding. The retrenchments and program eliminations could be voided.
Feiner said she thinks that if that decision were made, the negotiation aspect of it might take longer than the actual arbitration. It wouldn’t be as simple as everyone getting their jobs and programs back.
“A lot of people who were fired are looking for other jobs, have found other jobs or have said, ‘I’m being forced to retire, I guess I’ll move to Florida,’” said Feiner.
Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, said that in his prior experience with unions, he has seen arbitration take a matter of hours to being spread out over weeks. Feiner said hearings are scheduled to take place this Tuesday and Wednesday, with the possibility of two additional days in May due to the number of witnesses.
“There’s no way of knowing how long this will take,” said Quint.
The hearings are closed to the public and most information will be kept confidential.
“We’re confident in our case,” said Quint of the UMaine system, saying they adhered to the AFUM contract. “It’s really going to come down to arbitration though.”
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.