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Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and other health organizations led an information session on Monday in an attempt to chip away at public misconceptions about the federal Affordable Care Act.
The session, which was also attended by representatives from Western Maine Opportunity Alliance, provided students and community members with assistance enrolling in the new health care plans. Few students were in attendance since, as event speaker Jake Grindle of Western Maine Community Action noted, most students are covered by either their parents’ or the school’s health insurance. Still, USM’s high non-traditional student population kept the discussion immediately relevant to USM.
Graduate biology student Jennifer Miller attended the event and praised it as “very helpful.” She did, however, admit reluctance to signing up for the program at this time, as she is planning on moving out of state following graduation in the spring.
Grindle believes that the biggest issue people have with the ACA is misinformation spread by the media. Grindle said that some people believed that they would be arrested if they didn’t purchase health insurance or forced into purchasing something they couldn’t afford.
“People have heard so many different things and conflicting things that the problem is more that they don’t know what is true and what isn’t true,” Grindle said, following a public presentation on the nuts and bolts of the ACA at Masterton Hall last Monday, at which he was the primary speaker. “[People] just kind of throw their hands up and say ‘I don’t know what this is…every different radio station and TV channel says something different than the last one,’”
For many people enrolling in the ACA, their health insurance premiums have gone down. According to Grindle, over 21,000 Mainers have signed up for ACA-sponsored insurance, and over 90 percent have seen a decrease in premiums or received tax breaks.
Coverage under the ACA is broken into three tiers: Bronze, Silver and Gold coverage, with differing premiums and protection levels in each. Even at the most basic levels of “Bronze” coverage, however, no person will spend more than $6,300 per year out of pocket.
Some people have heard about a potential fine for not signing up for provisions in the ACA. While this is true, the fine is only $95 and has many provisions to protect people from it, such as people whose religion disallows them from having insurance, or people who fall below the federal poverty line. People who would have been protected under a federal subsidy doubling Maine’s state health insurance provider, MaineCare, also will not be penalized.
Christie Hager, the regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services reminded the audience that Governor Paul LePage rejected federal doubling of Mainecare, which was offered to all 50 states under the Affordable Care Act. Maine and New Hampshire are the only New England states that did not accept the subsidy.
Hager then enumerated benefits which the ACA has already had for Maine’s population. “More than 400,000 Mainers [are] protected from lifetime limits, preventing people from losing their insurance coverage when they need it most,” Hager said.
She also said that over 300,000 people in Maine alone have received completely free preventative services, like vaccines, under the ACA.
One of the lesser-known ACA provisions is “catastrophic coverage,” available for people under 30, to protect them in case of a major injury or disease diagnosis.
Open enrollment for ACA provisions ends on March 31.
The Direction Package Advisory Board met for the last time last Friday to present its final recommendations to the President’s Council. While the work of the board is officially finished, what will actually be done with the work has yet to be determined.
The board sub-groups came together for a cohesive presentation and gave plenty of recommendations, both short and long-term, to fill the $14 million budget shortfall. The task of turning these recommendations into action falls to University President Theodora Kalikow and the President’s Council.
“I don’t particularly envy Theo’s next two weeks,” said Direction Package advisory board co-chair Jerry LaSala. “I feel like we’ve got a promising vision, some great suggestions and [a] nice framework for trying to make academic judgements as well. Time is money, they say, and we have not much of either.”
The academic review committee spoke at length about the evaluation of programs and departments at the university, citing enrollment numbers and program costs, but the data gathered doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration.
“It’s not that cut and dry,” said Munger. “We need to learn a lot more about what each other does.”
At the previous board meeting, Munger stressed that evaluation of programs should include input from the programs themselves and that decisions could not be made solely on the numbers. The academic review committee stated that the qualitative information about each program was worth as much as the raw, quantitative data, which is another problem area for analysis.
“We’ve been talking about programs a lot, but when it came down to down to crunching the numbers, we could not look at programs,” said Carlos Lück, an associate professor of electrical engineering.
According to Lück, they couldn’t look at programs because they do not have the means with the data available in the current structure of any university environment to look at the cost to deliver a program in isolation. The analysis has to stop at a departmental level because of the way the data is recorded. Because certain programs require students to take credits in other programs, it’s difficult to measure them accurately.
What the committee was able to do was look at departments, their enrollment and costs. A graph identifying programs having trouble with enrollment and costs over the past four years was a staple of the presentation. Major programs that were in the red in both categories included, art, theater, geology and anthropology.
“If anything, this picture will highlight areas that may need closer attention,” said Lück. Programs in the red may need to reinvent themselves, while well-off programs can share their success stories, said Lück.
“There’s a story behind each one [department],” said Munger, adding that this is the reason cuts cannot be made strictly on a numbers basis.
This issue of information gathering and analysis will now fall on the President’s Council to sort out.
“I know and I think President’s Council members know that this is not fully cooked by anybody or anybody’s group, and that as we move from these really great ideas to implementation, we’re going to have a lot of questions,” said Kalikow
A lot of the questions will have to be answered quickly so progress can be made before the next fiscal year. The President’s Council will be taking advisory recommendations to use to make their decision on how USM should move forward within the next two weeks.This plan will be reported to the Faculty Senate on Friday, March 14, and in an all-campus open meeting scheduled for the following Wednesday. The timeline for these decisions was a topic discussed at length at during the board meeting last Friday.
“I would urge you to continue with the data analysis, but you have a very urgent problem at hand, and not all of it can wait for complete analysis,” said Rebecca Wyke, the vice chancellor for finance and administration for the University of Maine System. “You have quite a bit of information before you, and you need to use that to inform the decisions that you have to make pretty quickly.”
“I think there’s one thing that’s very important, and we all need to subscribe to,” said Laurenz Schmidt, a member of the Board of Visitors, an active group of volunteers that assists the president of the university in various tasks. “It is that there will be no time at which we will have all the necessary information to make a fully informed decision.”
The need for action on the work of the board was emphasized by Maine State Senate President Justin Alfond early on in the meeting, who shared an anecdote about his grandfather.
“He would say, ‘Justin, don’t tell me you’re going to do something, show me you’re going to do something.’ So, please, show this state and show this community that we can do this,” said Alfond. “This university is too important to fail. Failure is not an option.”
UMS Chancellor James Page brought Alfond’s words up again as the meeting closed, agreeing and adding that getting by was not an option either.
“The people, the businesses and the community leaders of this region want this institution to shine,” said Page.
Over the next two weeks, the President’s Council will review the advisory board’s final recommendations and draw up plans for action.
“I think one of the challenges of the next two weeks will be to digest some of this information enough to put forward the plan and the vision,” said Kalikow. “What I hope to do is give us enough of a way forward and a picture as to what this institution can be that we will be able to unite behind it and have civilized conversations about how to work out the details.”
An audio recording of last Friday’s meeting and the slideshow that was presented can be found on the Direction Package website through USM.
As the annual Maine Restaurant Week progresses, you may notice that among the old faces, there are a slew of brand new eateries, and a handful of others that you remember from just last year have disappeared.
According to Professor Charles Colgan of public policy and management and the Muskie School of Public Service and long-time former chair of the State of Maine Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, there’s nothing unusual about that. “Restaurants are the same pretty much everywhere. They are the business most frequently started and most frequently closed.”
Greg Dugal, executive director and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association and Maine Innkeepers Association, had a few ideas about why that is. “Primarily, in this day and age, food is not the question,” Dugal said. “Most everybody knows how to cook.”
A common problem, he said, is that often chefs open restaurants, and they come into the business with more knowledge about the kitchen than the front of the house. Poorly trained servers, managers, bartenders and other front-of-the-house staff who don’t know the menu or don’t treat guests courteously, Dugal said, can break a fledgling restaurant, no matter how good the food is.
Leigh Kellis, owner of Portland’s The Holy Donut, has owned and operated her donut shop for almost two years, and this October, she opened up a second location on Exchange street. She came into the foodservice industry with more experience at the front of the house than in the kitchen. Kellis had worked as a bartender and a server before opening The Holy Donut when she started experimenting with donut recipes. “I was working at Otto’s Pizza, and that summer, I craved donuts, and Otto’s owner said ‘You should open a donut shop.’”
Kellis, who does $3,000 worth of business a day, can speak to what it means to run a successful Portland food establishment. She attributes the success of The Holy Donut to her staff, of whom there are now 24 between the two locations, as well as to having a product she is passionate about and sticking to her ideals of making healthy food with local ingredients.
“My philosophy is that I wouldn’t sell anything that I wouldn’t feed to my daughters,” Kellis said.
Another issue Dugal said many restaurants face is the relatively low profit margin for each individual plate of food. “Profit margins are pretty small, if you’re good you can make 10 percent,” Dugal said. There are a lot of people involved in keeping a restaurant running, which keeps the profit margin for restaurants low.
The best way to combat this issue, Dugal said, is to keep portions regular and keep costs down. Those with business experience rather than culinary experience, Dugal said, are more likely to have effective plans for how to keep costs low and profits high.
Shannon and Tom Bard, the husband and wife team who co-owner and operate Zapoteca, a high-end Mexican restaurant with a focus on Oaxacan recipes and ingredients located on 505 Fore Street, together balance managerial and culinary experience. Shannon Bard studied Oaxacan cooking at the Culinary Institute of America and recently filmed an episode of Bobby Flay’s Dinner Battle, which will air some time in March, while Tom Bard has been in the industry for 40 years and brings a strong managerial foundation.
Shannon Bard described her thoughts about the Portland restaurant scene during a recent trip to New York City. “There’s nothing they were doing there that we’re not already doing here [in Portland] … We’re all just competitive and want to be the best at what we do,” she said.
Colgan and Dugal agreed that simple lack of sufficient funding can bring a restaurant down. “Restaurants tend to be under-capitalized for the hyper-competitive market of food, especially in a foodie town like Portland,” Colgan said, while Dugal cited high rent, utilities, insurance and payments on loans to cover start-up costs, that could eat too far into profit margins for a restaurant to stay afloat.
Kellis expressed gratitude for The Holy Donut’s strong local following and said that she believes the affordable price at which she can both make and sell donuts is a strong contributing factor to her success. “It’s a cheap thrill, as I like to say,” Kellis said.
“Portland’s restaurant scene is often described as ‘vibrant,’ but that is just a more optimistic description of the tumult that is the native characteristic of most urban restaurants,” Colgan said, so this Restaurant Week, be sure to check out your favorites while they’re hot.
Kirsten Sylvain contributed to this story.
University officials will hold two community gatherings Thursday for students, faculty, and staff following the deaths of three USM students that occurred in the past two weeks.
The news of the death of Brandon Hodges, a freshman on track to study engineering, was sent to students in a campus-wide email on Feb. 21. Hodges was a resident of Anderson Hall as a part of the “Student Entering Science and Engineering” residential community. Officials report that Hodges died unexpectedly at his home on Feb. 19. He was born in Farmington and attended school in Livermore Falls.
Students were also notified that junior English major Jordan Maroon died in a one-car accident around 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 21 in Winslow when Maroon’s car collided with a utility pole. The accident, officials said, in part appeared to have been caused by the slippery conditions of the road. He was born in Waterville and attended school in Winslow.
The USM community was informed of a third student death via an email from Executive Director of Student Life and Dean of Students Joy Pufhal, though the USM officials have yet to release the student’s name and cause of death.
Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell said that the Gorham Police Department confirmed that a student had died and reported that it occurred off-campus in Gorham. Caswell did not have additional information at the time.
“We’ve been trying to make contact with his immediate family and have been unable to do so at this point. With a student death, particularly one that occurs off campus, our process is to talk with members of the immediate family.” Caswell explained that the university policy is that they cannot release information about a student death without permission from the immediate family.
“Our focus right now is just making sure that students and other members of the campus have the services they need to cope with the loss,” he said.
Pufhal invited members of the USM community to attend the events. “It is times like these, when tragedies strike, that it is important for us to come together,” she said.
Marpheen Chann is a popular name at USM lately. This fall he became the first ever student vice president at USM, and on top of that, he’s been hard at work on a number of other projects.
Chann first came to USM in 2010 after a year at Valley Forge College in Pennsylvania. He is now a senior political science major with concentrations in economics and philosophy. During the his first spring at USM, Chann became the president for the Queer Straight Alliance. “I had a lot of fun when I worked with the QSA. I got to plan events and meetings and helped set up the group as a whole,” Chann said.
The following year, Chann took a break to focus solely on school, and in the summer of 2012, Chann got back to work, helping state Rep. Christine Powers, D-Naples, on her campaign. Shortly after, Chann began an internship for the Maine Democratic Party in which he fundraised for the party and worked closely with its finance director.
Because of his involvement in state politics, school politics came easily to Chann. “I worked with former student body President Ashley Phaneuf on fundraising. In October of 2012 I got appointed to the Student Senate where I was able to help develop this year’s budget. I got to see where the money was going for student activities,” Chann explained.
The semester after working with Phaneuf, current student body President Kelsea Dunham approached Chann about becoming vice president. “We kept the idea of a vice president a secret for about a month and announced it at a Student Senate meeting. I was unanimously appointed,” Chann said. Chann explained that the idea of having a vice president had been on the minds of SGA members for awhile as a measure that would help lighten the load of the student body president and make things at USM run smoother and more effectively.
This semester, Chann has stepped up as the Student Government Association’s election commissioner, the student charged with organizing the SGA elections, recruiting candidates, establishing and enforcing election rules and marketing for the elections.
Chann stayed active outside of the Student Senate as chair of public relations for the fraternity Phi Mu Delta in the fall. He played a key role in re-establishing the fraternity’s chapter at USM in spring 2012. Since that time, the fraternity has added more than 20 members and has been involved in various public services and events for students and in the fall acted as security guards for the annual Royal Majesty Drag show in Portland.
Chann explained that despite the end of his term as chair in December of 2013, he is still active in the fraternity during his last semester. “It is a brotherhood and is for life,” Chann said.
After USM, Chann plans to go into law. he is currently looking at Maine Law, a few schools in Boston and Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Now in his final semester as a USM undergraduate, Chann sees how being involved at USM and in the community at large has helped him grow an individual and as a leader. “I’ve tested my strengths and weaknesses as a leader,” he said. “[I’ve learned] what is effective and what is not, what works and what doesn’t.”
As an involved student, Chann said that he’s had the benefit of establishing relationships with many people who have different backgrounds and different beliefs. The most important thing, he said, is learning how to get things done with so many interests involved.
“You come into contact with all sorts of people with a wide-range of personalities and the key is to learn to appreciate each person for who they are,” he said.
USM is still looking for ways to fill the $14 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year, and officials agreed, after a set of student survey results were released Friday, that students should always be the focus.
The CORE subgroup of the Direction Package Advisory Board was tasked with finding short-term solutions, trying to find reasonable and achievable ideas to increase retention, reverse enrollment erosion and reduce spending to balance the coming fiscal year.
When the Direction Package Advisory Board met last Friday for a preliminary rollout of the subgroup work, the board members considered a collection of money-saving ideas, some coming from staff and student surveys.
“We were quite pleased with the engagement with our surveys,” said Joy Pufhal, the dean of students and executive director of Student Life. “The respondent rate wasn’t anything to brag about, but the end result was significant enough to give us some real data to chew on.”
There were 173 respondents to the staff survey and 346 student responses. Top staff suggestions to cut costs included cutting administrative costs, consolidating mid-level positions and management and eliminating top leadership. There was also discussion surrounding under-enrolled programs.
Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration and member of the academic review committee said that she didn’t include handouts with the presentation, because people tend to get nervous when numbers are put on paper with programs attached.
“We’re not there yet,” said Munger.
She went on to stress the need for input from departments and programs.
“There’s a lot of innovation, a lot of good minds and a lot of passion. If you ask some people in different programs how do we do it differently, they can probably come up with some pretty great ideas,” said Munger.
The student survey responses revealed that students at USM are aware of the tension in the air around budget cuts.
“Students reported things like, ‘Faculty and staff are disgruntled and it shows,’” said Pufhal. “It’s impacting the student experience and affecting our ability to recruit new students.”
Student responses also showed that most students believed the university could be more fiscally responsible, citing recent cosmetic renovations on the Portland campus.
“At the end of the day, the major payer for the system is the student, not the state,” said Laurenz Schmidt, a member of the Board of Visitors, an active group of volunteers that assists the president of the university in various tasks. “Anything we do as a university needs to be focused on that. With the state, you can argue, with the legislature, with the governor, or the board of trustees, you can argue. With the students you cannot argue. You cannot win an argument with your customer. Your customer will just go somewhere else.”
“One of the elephants in the room is that we are a university that is declining in enrollment, and we need a growth strategy,” said Joseph McDonnell, dean of the College of Management and Human Service and a professor of public policy and management.
Toward the end of Munger’s presentation, she put a quote up on the projector that read “Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of strategic planning, but we haven’t moved,” said Munger.
This week, the advisory board is working on bringing all of their presentations together and making them more cohesive for their cumulative presentation to the President’s Council for further consideration this Friday, with UMS Chancellor James Page and Senate President Justin Alfond in attendance. From there, the cost cutting ideas will be presented to the Faculty Senate and other groups before a larger open meeting on March 14.
“Mostly we’ve [UMS colleges] spent the time fighting each other for resources. That is totally unproductive and we cannot do that anymore,” said Kalikow. “I think, the presidents of all the seven campuses have understood that we don’t have the resources available to fight those fights anymore. So we have to do it a different way, and we have to invent that different way because we don’t know how to do it.”
The advisory board’s three sub-groups reported to each other last Friday, putting all of their work together for the first time. Each group was able to receive feedback from the other members of the advisory board in order to align their goals in preparation for a cumulative presentation to President’s Council for further consideration this Friday, with UMS Chancellor James Page and Senate President Justin Alfond in attendance.
“Our feet are definitely to the fire,” said Kalikow,” and we wish that fire wasn’t there, but on one hand, it’s forcing us to actually make decisions.”
The dissolution of the former department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures occurred at around the same time that the college it was a part of, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, embarked on a path towards larger organizational change.
“This is my final year as dean,” explained Lynn Kuzma, dean of the CAHS. She said that when the year began, she’d asked the faculty of the college what they would like to work on for the rest of her time at USM. Kuzma said the faculty expressed interest in pursuing a large-scale reorganization of the college.
“I admire her for taking this on at the end of her tenure,” said Professor Alan Kaschub, director of the school of music and member of the ad hoc committee which is working on plans to reorganize the department.
The committee is scheduled to meet seven times throughout the remainder of the spring semester, and to present the plan they have developed to the rest of the college on May 16, where it will be voted on by the college faculty and either approved for implementation or not.
“I’m not going to force the faculty to do anything. The provost might,” Kuzma said, explaining that within the process she is supervising, the faculty can approve or deny reorganization plans, but the provost has the authority to make the ultimate decision.
When asked whether he would choose to reorganize the department if the CAHS faculty chose to reject the reorganization plan in May, Provost Michael Stevenson told the Free Press, “I remain hopeful that the college will propose a good plan. I understand they are having productive discussions. I await news from the Dean about these deliberations before considering whether other options should be explored.”
“I think any plans this committee makes now, either definite or vague, are going to be enormously useful,” Kaschub said.
The driving force behind plans to reorganize the CAHS is part of the same motivation which drove the dissolving of the department of modern and classical languages and literatures earlier in the year, an excess of administration for a shrinking faculty population.
“We have too many [department] chairs for the number of faculty members,” Kuzma explained. She said that there are 15 department heads in the CAHS, and approximately 100 faculty members and that approximately 40 percent of the departments comprised of four faculty members or less.
“I think it’s for the health of the college,” Kuzma said.
The Student Senate will be forced to turn away student proposals for funding soon, with funds running low and proposals running high.
Student Senate vice-chair and senior economics major Will Gattis explained that when he was reviewing proposals for fund requests, he realized that the senate would not have enough funds to approve spending for all of the proposals. When the Friday Feb. 14 senate meeting was cancelled, the senate called what was listed in the meeting’s minutes as an emergency session for Feb 20.
“Emergency is a strong word,” said Gattis. “We needed to meet, yes, because there was stuff we needed to talk about, but the word ‘emergency’ makes it sound sort of dire compared to what it was.”
At the meeting, coordinator of the Student Government Business Office Ray Dumont addressed the senate to remind them that there are only $12,648.73 left in unallocated funds available to the senate for the rest of the year and that these funds cannot be exceeded. Minutes for the meeting note that with enrollment down at USM for the 2013 to 2014 school year, there are not as many funds coming in to the student activity fund.
In contrast, USM is seeing an unprecedented year of high student involvement, with approximately 30 new student groups recognized by the university in the fall semester alone, according to Director of Gorham Student Life Jason Saucier.
Student groups submit proposals to request funding from the Student Senate, and with student groups growing faster than the student body, funding has grown more limited. “We’ve had a lot more proposals than usual this year,” said Student Senate Chair Stephanie Brown.
Some of the proposals, including the Senior Week Cruise, an annual event that the Student Senate has always funded in the past, were time-sensitive, which made waiting for the next scheduled meeting next Friday less than ideal.
According to Brown, Student Body President Kelsea Dunham and the Student Government Business Office were informed of the meeting, but unlike other Student Senate meetings, which are open to the USM community, no one further was informed.
Brown said that the meeting was planned no more than 36 hours in advance. “Everyone was on vacation, we didn’t get the chance,” she said.
Gattis said that further motivation not to inform the groups whose proposals would be discussed at the emergency session was a question of fairness. He said that if some of the groups’ members were unable to make it to the impromptu meeting, the groups that did have representatives present to argue for their proposals would have an unfair advantage. “We very much didn’t want that,” Gattis said.
The senate elected to consider proposals in the order in which they came in, approving three, denying one and tabling two others until the next meeting. “We passed or failed anything we already had strong opinions about,” Gattis said, but he stressed that the purpose of the meeting was more to prepare for the upcoming senate meeting where proposals would be approved or denied than to resolve the list of proposals at the time.
“The most important heart of the meeting was to prepare the senate for the fact that they were going to have to turn down proposals that are more important to people than other proposals we’ve seen this year,” Gattis said.
The remaining proposals will be considered at the upcoming Student Senate meeting Friday at 1:00 p.m. in the Glickman Family library.
Money won’t be the only topic of conversation that’s green at the upcoming University of Maine System’s Investment Committee meeting of the UMS Board of Trustees this Friday.
For the second February in a row, the question of financial divestment of fossil fuels is on the agenda for the BoT meeting. This time, a group of students from USM and the University of Maine at Orono have been given a half hour time slot to make a presentation to the Investment Committee at the Friday meeting, which will take place in Bangor, but will be videocast to the Portland Campus.
The minutes for the Board of Trustees meeting of Feb. 27, 2013, when the issue of divestment from fossil fuels was first discussed before the board exactly one year ago, noted, “Student groups nationally are bringing awareness regarding fossil fuels and related environmental concerns and encouraging divestment of related investments.”
At the time, the USM branch of Divest UMaine, a series of student groups arguing in favor of divestment throughout the UMS, was only two months old. “We weren’t there,” said Divest UMaine member and junior math and computer science major Shaun Carland. “It was something that they [the board] noticed people talking about.”
“They talked about it, but there was no further conversation after last February,” said Meaghan LaSala, a junior women and gender studies major and Divest UMaine member, who will be among the student presenters at the upcoming meeting.
The minutes from the 2013 meeting outlined the limited number of UMS funds already unconnected to fossil fuels, and concluded with the words, “The Committee acknowledged the importance of the issue and discussed in detail the above noted investment constraint.”
“We’re going to be bringing many reports to the table showing that fossil fuel divestment has negligible [financial] risk,” LaSala said. The reports she referred to include a letter published in the Huffington Post to the president of Harvard from the mayor of Seattle stressing the financial upsides to divestment, as well as studies on the environmental concerns associated with investment in fossil fuels, and a list of the companies that are the most culpable.
LaSala noted that Unity College and the College of the Atlantic have both divested already, and that Unity College’s endowment, rather than being compromised, has grown in the year and a half since divestment.
In a letter to members of the UMS community earlier this month, UMS Chancellor James Page said that a recent review of UMS investment portfolios revealed that divestment from fossil fuels at this time would limit investment opportunities and require wholesale changes to the portfolios. While the UMS has a responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint, Page said, citing examples of measures taken to do so system wide, it also has a responsibility to protect and wisely invest the funds in its charge.
“I welcome student, faculty and community engagement as to how we become better stewards of the environment. Further conversations are not only welcome, but crucial,” Page wrote.
“I just hope that the investment committee will recognize that divestment is the right thing to do,” said LaSala.
LaSala said that divestment, rather than compromising the university system, might actually help it. “This has the opportunity to make the University of Maine System a leader globally,” she said. If the University of Maine System voted to divest, it would be the first public university system in the nation to do so.
Iris SanGiovanni, a freshman political science major and Divest UMaine member, elaborated, “It’s really attractive to potential students to show that their school cares about what’s right.”
The UMS has a history with divestment as well, SanGiovanni said. “What’s really exciting and gives us a lot of energy is that in the ‘80s, UMaine was one of the first universities to divest from the apartheid in South Africa.”
Universities across the state have made moves toward divestment over the past few years, from the interest of environmental groups at the University of Maine at Orono, Farmington and USM to a proposal to divest at Bates College recently, which was not passed.
SanGiovanni, along with LaSala, was involved in the protest outside a Portland branch of TD Bank in January to protest the bank’s investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline and has worked with the group Save South Portland that works against the addition of a pipeline from Montreal to the South Portland waterfront landscape.
“It’s good to do something where you feel like it’s something that can really make a difference,” SanGiovanni said.
Despite some concerns, SanGiovanni is hopeful that the presentation to the board will yield results. “I think it’s hard for the Board of Trustees to look past the fact that we’re just students,” said SanGiovanni, but she also cited support from USM’s student body and from President Kalikow as reasons for her optimism.
The student body support she referred to was a referendum question in support of divestment that passed by a 10:2 margin in the 2013 USM student elections. The support from Kalikow has been present since the issue of divestment was raised by the board at this time last year and is evidenced by her intention to attend the presentation to the board and speak in support of divestment.
“I encourage the Investment Committee to consider this issue seriously — because climate change is a risk that we must respond to, and because when students get this organized, it is our job to listen to them,” Kalikow wrote in a statement to the Free Press last Friday.
“I don’t want to be too hopeful, but I really am,” SanGiovanni said.
Members of the Direction Package Advisory Board largely agreed that USM’s future should be as Maine’s metropolitan university, as the group’s meetings come to a close this Friday.
The board met for a preliminary roll-out of the work that had been done in the three sub-groups for the past two months last Friday. While each group had different tasks, they found a lot of overlap in their findings when they presented to each other for feedback. The board identified the student experience, location and community engagement as critical aspects of USM that will be important for the future of the institution.
These ideas were first presented by the vision group, which was tasked with finding and distinct identity for USM.
Student Body President Kelsea Dunham has been working with the group and making sure that students’ interests and goals align with the work the group has been doing. In November, Dunham organized a meeting in Gorham to field student responses and concerns on the university’s direction to be included at an early stage of the process. While the turnout wasn’t large, Dunham felt that a lot of great ideas resulted.
“We whined a lot for a minute, I’m not gonna lie,” said Dunham. “We talked a lot about the things that we don’t like, but when we got down to it, we talked about the things that we love and the things that we are doing well that we don’t talk about.”
According to Dunham, students want to be much more involved in the community than they are and that they’re looking for situations where their skills and knowledge can be applied.
“For many students, Portland stops at I-295. It doesn’t extend into this university, which is a sad reality at the moment,” said Dunham.
In a survey conducted by the CORE (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence) group, the location of USM was ranked as the most influential factor for students in their decision to attend, followed by cost and future career opportunities in the area.
“When I explained the work that we’ve been doing [in the vision group] in some of my classes and the groups that I’m involved with, students’ eyes lit up,” said Dunham. “When I said the city is going to be our lab, students got really excited in a way that I hadn’t seen happen in my four years here. [Students] do not want to feel like they are in a degree-mill.”
“If we are going to be the hub of a vibrant community, why are we looking at ourselves as just a student graduation machine?” said Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration.
“One of the things that has been clear is that the people of southern Maine love this university, and they want us to be successful. We need to capitalize on that. We need to do something about that,” said Monique LaRocque, executive director in the Office of Professional and Continuing Education and co-chair of Strategic Plan Implementation.
The group raised questions about how the university could take steps toward creating this identity. According to LaRocque, the group was instructed at the beginning of the process that they needed to think about USM’s identity within the context of the system –– with emphasis on differentiating USM from its seven sister universities.
“Our thinking has evolved over the past few months, but we have been exclusively focused in on this idea,” said LaRocque.
Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Lynn Kuzma stressed that the university needs to make community engagement a priority in its mission.
“We have so many connections with the community, we’re doing all this work, but none of it is intentional, none of it is directional or sustainable,” said Kuzma.
The group discussed the role of a metropolitan university, listing possibilities for internships, research projects, service learning opportunities and field experience that students could have access to if the university worked to make ties with local businesses.
The vision group has been focused on the long-term direction of the university, and while the ideas put forth by the group cannot be implemented immediately, the majority of the board agreed that the concept is moving in the right direction.
“We need to connect very closely with our schools, with our municipalities, with our businesses, with community services and with many cultural organizations,” said La Rocque. “Those interactions will be critical to us as we move forward. We need to interact with the community, because place matters.”
Attendance at Husky Career Week events last week at USM was limited. Student Success and Student Life on the Portland and Gorham campuses teamed up to plan this first-time week of events in anticipation of this Wednesday’s job fair.
Rodney Mondor, student success coordinator for the Portland campus, said Career Week is a response to employers at job fairs. Over the years, employers have said that USM students were under prepared for the job market. The intention of Career Week is to help college students prepare to start careers after school.
“It’s a great opportunity to explore,” said Stacy Stewart the USM Coordinator for STRIVE U, an organization that helps young adults with developmental disabilities to build career and academic skills, “For students looking to gain experience that they could earn in an internship.” Career Week offered an students the opportunity to learn from professional how to create a resume, how to act and dress in an interview and how to work a job fair.
Attendance averaged only about four people per event, but Mondor called this year a pilot for Career Week and said it was an opportunity to ask “What can we do better?”
Director of Portland Student Life Chris O’Connor was aware of the small attendance of Career Week and said a large part of the problem was in the promotion, which consisted of a mass student e-mail and a few posters around campus.
“We have to come back and revisit how to market it,” said O’Connor. The plan was to schedule workshops multiple times at different times of the day to accommodate students’ differing class schedules. Since the low attendance indicated that this strategy did not lead to high attendance, O’Connor said, “that wasn’t the most realistic way to program for it.”
O’Connor believes student involvement would have grown with more promotion, including getting into classrooms, getting more people talking about it and having more than a week to promote for it and put it together.
Another cause may have been that in previous years the job fair occurred in March rather than February, as it is this year. The job fair is scheduled for Wednesday at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex. The early date, Mondor said, is a response to employers’ requests to move it up, and to help students prepare for the fair, Student Success and Student Life wanted to hold Career Week in case the early date caught student off guard. The lack of attendance was especially surprising due to the massive attendance seen at the job fair in previous years according to O’Connor.
However, Career Week was helpful to some students. When senior philosophy major Jamie Grindle was asked about her experience at Career Week, she said, “looking for a job can be very overwhelming.” She said that she feels that it is important that students attend these events because many people find it difficult to get started after college. She believes that it should seem even more pertinent to the upperclassmen. “There is guidance out there,” said Grindle.
Nominations for this spring’s student government elections opened up last Monday, and the Student Government Association is waiting for student nominations to come rolling in. This year, the SGA is making promotion of the elections a top priority and focusing on making the process easier for students.
“We want to get as many people nominated and as many people voting as we can,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
Along with senior political science major and student body Vice President Marpheen Chann, Gattis is a co-chair of the SGA election committee. Their goal is to make this year’s elections the most active elections in recent USM history.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by creating a specific, user-friendly website to make it easier for students to get involved. All information about SGA elections is now on USMVotes.com.
“It is a new external website which will allow us to enhance and improve the way we present information, candidates and voting in general,” said Chann. “Candidates will also have their own personal webpages that they will have the freedom to update. This will then lead them to directing students to the website for info about their candidacy…[and] theoretically will also get them to look at other candidates and general election information.”
“When all the nominations come in and it’s time to vote, students won’t just see the names of other students and choose one on a whim,” said Gattis. “We want these profiles to be personable and informative. If students can see the priorities of all of the candidates, they can align themselves with people who they align with.”
The new website was created using Weebly, a web-hosting service that features a “drag-and-drop” website builder, and solves a number of issues that have hampered SGA elections in the past.
In past years, the SGA website was not readily searchable through the main USM page and could only be accessed through another page or external link. Now it is one of the first that appears when searched on the USM website. The simple nature of the Weebly platform will also ensure that future SGA members will not have to worry about finding someone with the technical skills to build a website. According to Chann, the new website is already having an impact. “There has been decent traffic since Monday,” he said.
While voting has taken place online for several years, low voter turnout has always been an issue at USM. In spring of 2013, the elections only saw 609 counted votes out of the entire student body, an increase from the 146 votes cast the year before. Nominations for senate seats have been low as well, with senators frequently running in uncontested elections.
“[The seats on the senate] have been uncontested for the past few elections, and I really want to change that,” said Gattis.
At last Friday’s student senate meeting, Gattis encouraged other senators to nominate each other and to encourage leaders in the USM community to consider becoming members of the SGA.
“Every student pays a student activity fee, and the senators, they’re essential the guardians of that money,” said Gattis. “I love all of the people here [on the senate], but I would like to see all of the seats contested. It’s important that students get to choose who controls all of the money that they spend in student activity fees.”
The election committee has included information about how much students pay in activity fees per credit hour. A full-time student taking 12 or more credits spends $55 a year for their student activity fee, while part-time student pay less at different credit number intervals. All of these fees combined leave the SGA to oversee the distribution of over $500,000.
“For us to know what the students want, there need to be more students involved,” said Gattis.
SGA nominations will close on Friday, March 14 and voting begins just days later. Nomination forms can be picked up in the SGA office or via the elections website, USMVotes.com
At the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, faculty members expressed concern to President Theo Kalikow about the purpose and conclusions of the Direction Package committee. The committee is scheduled to present its findings to Kalikow on Feb. 28.
Many at the meeting were frustrated, saying that Kalikow wasn’t giving enough details pertaining to the initiatives of the committee. “There’s word on the street that the direction package has no direction,” one faculty member said to the president. Kalikow responded, “I think the direction package is moving along nicely. The soft rollout isn’t until next week. The details, I think, are still being worked out.”
“[The committee is] working very diligently and with great focus. I think the process is going to be very fruitful. The overall goal is to do the right thing for our students, the state and the communities where we find ourselves,” Kalikow said.
She went on to stress the scope of the undertaking and the amount of time that will need to be invested in it. “But I hope we will work in partnership with the Faculty Senate to do a good job and to set a reasonable direction for USM,” Kalikow said.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the physics department and the Faculty Senate and co-chair of the Direction Package Advisory Board, spoke to the difficulty of the committee’s task. He explained that it’s the committee’s job to create a vision for USM’s future and to save $14 million next year. “[They’re] trying to focus on both of those; it’s a challenge but they’re doing their best,” he said.
English professor Nancy Gish pressed Kalikow about how the committee was planning to serve the students of USM. Kalikow, who has not yet seen the advisory board’s full presentation, responded, “I don’t know what the hell these people are going to do. So I can’t be pinned down on this.”
Another faculty member expressed the concern that despite the committee’s findings, they would be unable to find a way to cut $14 million from next year’s budget. Kalikow said, “What I think is, we can come pretty close. It may be a combination of things. I don’t how it’s actually going to unfold.”
Some faculty expressed frustration at their inability to help brainstorm ideas to save the $14 million, when the preliminary 2015 budget is due only a month after Kalikow receives the recommendations from the Direction Package committee. One member said, “We could help with that if we knew what those ideas are.” Kalikow responded that she would not share her ideas until after Feb. 28.
Christy Hammer, president of the USM chapter of the University of Maine System full-time faculty union, told the Free Press later, “I was heartened to hear the president say that we will not let [the University of Maine, Orono] take all the resources from USM, because I think it was and has been a fear. And with USM being in the economic and cultural hub of Maine, I believe that political and community members will not be happy that we have to cut opportunities for students at USM.”
There was contention at the meeting about whether or not online classes are an acceptable substitute for live classes. University officials across the system have been discussing the possibility of working more collaboratively using online mediums due to system-wide shortfalls.
Hammer said, “What we’re afraid [of] is that UMO will take over the programs, and we don’t think that’s what the greater Portland community deserves. They deserve quality programs with real faculty and not just online access. I’m hoping they can figure out a different way to restructure the funding so that USM, that runs very efficiently, can still provide the programs to Maine students in the population center.”
Mark Lapping, distinguished university professor for the Muskie School of Public Service, stressed the economic importance of USM to the Portland community and argued that we were not properly funded to begin with. Eve Raimon, a USM English professor, agreed and added to the Free Press after the meeting, “It’s the administration’s job to keep reiterating that USM is in a death spiral.”
Kalikow will present the Direction Package Advisory Board’s findings to the Faculty Senate in a meeting on March 14.
The work of an bioinformatics class offered at USM in spring 2013 will be published in Frontiers in Genetics, an online science journal, with USM undergraduate Jeffrey Thompson leading the co-authorship of the peer-reviewed paper.
The article, entitled “Common features of microRNA target prediction tools” is in part the work of Thompson, a USM senior and computer science major who will be entering the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. graduate program at Dartmouth after his graduation in May, and University of Maine Ph.D. students Sarah Peterson and Melanie Ufkin. The students were mentored by computer science professor Dr. Clare Bates Congdon, who taught the class last spring whose own research and expertise is in Bioinformatics, and Dr. Lucy Liaw and Dr. Pradeep Sathyanarayana at at Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
The students began their work in a course called bioinformatics in spring 2013. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary class cross-listed in the applied medicine, biology and computer science departments and also University of Maine Graduate Studies in biomedical sciences and engineering program. They continued working over the summer and fall 2013 to refine the presentation of their work for Frontiers in Genetics.
Bioinformatics is the process of applying computational tools as a means of understand biological data. Essentially it’s using one form of science to understand the data of another. The class was developed to teach students how to work in this interdisciplinary field and how to overcome the specialized jargon of biology and computer science and bridge the gap between the two disciplines. “By the time you’re a junior or senior, you’ve learned so much, but you don’t realize how much you’ve learned is so specialized and jargoned that people who haven’t been through that path don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Congdon.
The research produced by this team explores the pros and cons of computational tools which can be used to easily target special genetic molecules called microRNA and help scientists better understand how they work. “The tools are not new, they’re other people’s research, what’s new is the way that we’ve managed to present this information. So, we’ve reviewed these tools in a way that’s much more accessible than anything that’s been done previously,” said Thompson. Congdon then added, “This paper is largely written for biologists to understand the available computational tools.”
The article focuses on microRNA, the small genetic molecules that regulate the expression of genes. Understanding where the microRNA bind to a gene is an important part of learning how our genetic machinery works. The students learned everything they could through reviews about computational tools previously developed by other scientists in order to help predict the locations of microRNA, saving both time and money. These three students set out to explore all these computational tools used by molecular biologists and bioinformaticians and break them down for the researchers to understand and choose the best one for their research needs.
Congdon observed that this publication isn’t just an interdisciplinary effort, but also inter-institution effort within the community with researchers from USM, UMO and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute working together on the research and sharing credit for the work. “There’s been a big push between research institutions to figure out ways to start working together on problems because then they can pull in people with specific knowledge that might help out,” said Thompson on the achievement. “There’s now a greater understanding that to solve the big problems we need to work in interdisciplinary teams,” said Congdon.
“Given that I am pursuing research as a career, the chance to help author a journal publication as an undergrad was a great opportunity,” said Thompson, but this isn’t his first time being published. Thompson has been the leading author on conference publications in the past pertaining to a system called Genetic Algorithms for Motif Inference, which is being developed in Dr. Congdon’s lab.
The paper is currently available online in its draft form and is expected to likely be posted in its final form on the open-access journal by the end of next week.
When you love someone, you don’t literally give them your heart (we hope), so what is this feeling that is as important to our emotional lives as the blood pumping through our bodies? What is love?
In a highly informal poll taken in the Woodbury Campus Center cafeteria at lunch time, not a single student volunteered a personal definition of love when asked. “I don’t like Valentine’s Day,” said Sunjung Kim, a sophomore nursing major. Iyann Mohamed, who she was having lunch with, agreed. “Next week I have too many exams on Valentine’s Day.”
One student with a defined notion of love, though, is junior women and gender studies and sociology double major Jules Purnell, who drew upon their experiences with kink to explain aspects of their own personal experiences with romantic and erotic love.
“In my own life, kink and love are very closely tied. My partner and I married back in March, and our love life, sex life and interest in kink are very much overlapping. My partner is in service to me, and that plays out in interesting ways. For them, providing service is a means of expressing their love and devotion.” Purnell explained, concluding, “All of us who are into [kink] are into it for different reasons, but many of us find that gently pushing each other’s limits or serving one another can be acts of love.”
Personal definitions of love are necessarily subjective, but science can give a more general explanation.
Psychology provides explanations for much of why people act the way they do in contemporary society, but the USM psychology department were as reticent as the student body. “Not an area I feel competent in discussing,” said psychology Professor Bill Gayton when asked for a psychological perspective on love. Associate professor of psychology and department chair John Broida was equally direct. “I know nothing about this topic,” Broida said.
Biology Professor Jeff Walker’s answer, however, did have a psychological basis. “From a neurophysiological perspective, love is an emergent, subjective set of conscious and unconscious behaviors and/or feelings that arise from a set of active neural circuits that have been created and strengthened by signaling mechanisms activated by our personal history,” Walker told the Free Press.
That is, in perhaps simpler terms, that love is the way each individual person feels, when a set of circuits are set off in their brain, interacting with their experiences.
Walker explained, “This is a circular and maybe not very satisfying definition, boiling down to ‘Love is the set of circuits that are activated that give us the feeling of love.’”
He warned that it would be a mistake to try to reduce the feeling of love down to nothing more than cell–cell signaling, but said that love is not alone in being activated in the brain by various means.
“This isn’t too different than, say, a definition of red. Red is the color that we perceive when circuits in our brain that give us the sensation of red are activated. These circuits can be activated by certain wavelengths of light hitting our retinas but can also be activated by input from other areas of the brain (imagine the phantom of the opera walking down the staircase with his red suit),” Walker wrote in an email to the Free Press.
Philosophy Professor Derek Michaud echoed Walker’s sentiment about the different forces behind love. “I’m sure that you’d get as many answers to this question as there are philosophers,” Michaud said, going on to explain his own answer, which is concerned with the various situations and explanations that the word “love” is applied to.
“Well, love is highly complex, as anyone who has ever felt this most celebrated of emotions already knows. Or as the underrated philosopher Ronny Cammareri says in the film Moonstruck, ‘it ruins everything!’” Michaud began, before exploring the differences between the love people feel for family members, for lovers, and even for food, and the fact that these three arguably very different sentiments fall under the same word, a fact that he traces back to the way the ancient Greeks talked about love.
“What makes all these things ‘love?’” Michaud asked, and answered himself that the thing that connects these different types of love is that they all involve a union of the lover and the beloved, in whatever form that takes.
“In erotic love that takes a rather straightforward form. After all we regularly speak of the physical union of sexual intercourse as ‘making love.’ But in other cases too when we love we are united in some sense with another. Love forms the emotional bonds between us and thus forms a central part of our subjective experience as social beings,” Michaud said.
Allison VanderLinden, the Christian Inter-Varsity Chaplain to USM’s graduate students, also traced her conception of love to ancient Greek roots, citing the four different Greek words for love in the ancient world, and the four different types of love they represented, as well as citing a series of Bible verses on the subject of love, notably from John 4:16 b,
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Rebecca Wohl-Pollack of Southern Maine Hillel gave a different religious perspective. “I would say that love, from a Jewish lens, is an action,” Wohl-Pollack wrote in an email to the Free Press.
“The word for love in Hebrew is ‘ahavah,’ with the root built upon the consonants ‘h-v’ meaning ‘to give.’ Therefore, you can translate the word ‘love’ as an act, the act of giving.”
So there it is.
This Valentine’s Day, remember that love is strange, hard to define and analogous to the process of seeing the color red. It is a concept that has been an evolving part of human society for thousands of years, might be divine and might ruin everything, and is probably best expressed through actions.
The debate over tar sands landed on USM’s doorstep last Friday as hundreds gathered in the Hannaford Lecture Hall to discuss the transportation of the controversial resource.
The event was sponsored by 350 Maine in partnership with the Natural Resource Council of Maine. 350 Maine is a grassroots organization dedicated to solving the crisis of climate change. Speakers at the event were Garth Lenz, a photojournalist for National Geographic who has received international recognition based on his photographs of threatened environments and the impacts of industry, Eriel Deranger, activist and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Project Director of the NRCM.
One topic of conversation at the event was a pipeline leading from Montreal to South Portland that feeds crude oil north from South Portland for 60 years. Now oil companies want to reverse the direction and replace the crude oil with tar sands. Tar sands oil is thicker than crude oil and contains many more toxic chemicals, including large amounts of carbon. When asked why the oil companies would choose to switch to tar sands, Voorhees said “Why? Because Canada has it.”
Lenz claimed that he was not there to pick a side as much as “to share information so people can have an informed discussion about it.” He said that tar sands are one of the most carbon intensive energy forms. It is also the third largest proven oil reserve in the world. The mining of tar sands is occurring in Alberta, Canada, where they receive about 1.8 million barrels of tar sands oil every day. According to Lenz, oil companies plan to expand the mining in Alberta, and this number will increase to five to six million barrels a day. On the subject of the impact tar sands will have on North America’s fresh water, Lenz said, “Clean water will always be worth more than dirty oil.”
Deranger spoke of the effect of tar sands on the Athabasca Chipewyan tribe and many others in Alberta. She described chemicals leaking into their water and polluting the meat of their food sources, which has led to a dramatic rise in the people’s cancer rates. Her actions to stop the harm being done to these people had an especially profound impact on sophomore nursing major and Native American student Sam Nicholas. “What she’s doing is very inspiring, being a woman and a mother.”
The 350 in “350 Maine” stands for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere measured in parts per million that it takes to be associated with climate change. Currently the earth’s atmosphere is at 400 parts carbon per million, which is causing the climate to change.
The Portland Montreal Pipeline, in a Jan. 16, 2013 press release on protests over use of the pipeline, wrote: “Our commitment to public safety and the environment continues to be recognized by leading industry organizations in the U.S and Canada.” They recognized that there would be debate over the use of the pipeline and that they would “welcome opportunities for open discussion that are fact based and transparent.” They said they would be doing this work with the pipeline with as much caution towards the environment as possible.
Many students were at the event in support of 350 Maine. First year economics major Alanna Larrivee and first year political science major Iris Sanoiovanni both had comments to make about tar sands. “The environment is of utmost importance. You only get one, and if that gets tarnished, we don’t have a backup,” said Larrivee. Sanoiovanni had been involved with the debate over tar sands since a meeting she attended last year. “It doesn’t bring about just environmental injustice, but social injustice as well. We, as a society, can’t stand for it,” said Sanoiovanni.
Not everyone except the PMPL is against the use of tar sands, however. Many people can also see the benefits of using them. “Tar sands may cost a lot of money, but it’s not going to be our money, it’s going to be the company that is moving the tar sands,” said first year undeclared Stephen Colby. When asked about the debate over damage to the environment that tar sands would cause, he said “The environmental damages are going to happen. I would rather Portland benefit than lose out on an opportunity like this, if it can be called an opportunity at all. If it can bring in a bunch of revenue for Portland, it would be a beneficial outcome. Tar sands is not a good thing, but I would rather it be in our benefit,” said Colby.
“Tar sands is no doubt a controversial subject with reasons for support on both sides. When asked why we do not turn to the use of alternative energy sources,” Voorhees said, “in a lot of these forms of energy, they require a lot more money up front,” meaning that even though renewable resources pay off in the long run, they cost a lot of money to research and enact now, whereas oil is cheaper now, and we have it now.
USM announced the rollout of its new Direction Package in late September and the formation of the Direction Package Advisory Board in October, and as January draws to a close, the scheduled Advisory Board meetings are nearing an end.
The advisory board has met 12 times since its creation, and has five more scheduled meetings, with the last meeting scheduled for Feb. 28. However, as President Kalikow stressed during last Friday’s meeting, “I think it’s really important for everyone to know we’re not going to get there in a week.”
The end of the advisory board meetings will culminate in the synthesis of information the group has gathered and evaluated on enrollment patterns, state and national trends in higher education and different ideas about working with the university’s limited budget. The report will then be presented to the President’s Council for further consideration.
Since the advisory board set up sub-groups to focus on specific issues at the Nov. 22 meeting, a significant portion of the board’s meetings have been devoted to group work. Student Body President Kelsea Dunham told the Free Press that in upcoming meetings, the smaller groups will make reports out to the group at large so the Advisory Board can make its recommendations to the administration.
The sub-group Dunham has been working on is focused on the vision for the future of the university.
“The first subgroup is focusing on a distinct USM identity so that we can focus our resources and become widely recognized and appreciated as a truly integral part of the region and state,” said Direction Package Advisory Board co-chairs President Theo Kalikow and physics Professor Jerry LaSala in an email to faculty and staff about the future of the Direction Package on Jan. 28.
There are two other groups as well. “The second subgroup, C.O.R.E (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence), is looking at how USM can reduce costs and increase revenues in FY 15 [fiscal year 2015] and beyond, while adding value to the student experience. This group is also surveying USM constituencies on a number of topics to inform their work,” wrote Kalikow and LaSala.
The third, which Dunham said focuses on the university’s signature programing, is described in Kalikow and LaSala’s email as working on ways to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate academic programs at USM.
Before the small group work commenced in last Friday’s meeting, the advisory board held open conversations with two invited speakers; George Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Richard Dunfee, the director of the AASCU’s grant resource center.
Mehaffy and Dunfee were invited to USM as guests of the Faculty Commons. “They did a presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed across the nation on the light of serious fiscal and enrollment problems,” said Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell. The members of the Direction Package Advisory Board were invited to attend the presentation, and then Mehaffy and Dunfee attended Friday’s Advisory Board meeting. The presentation to the Faculty Commons will be posted on the Faculty Commons website later in the week, Caswell said.
At the Direction Package Advisory Board meeting, Dunfee discussed a series of funding opportunities through the AASCU, and Mehaffy delved deeper into his own and the AASCU’s educational philosophies. According to Mehaffy, one of the problems with universities as they are traditionally organized, USM included, is that there is a division of leadership and a lack of unity. He cited strict departmental delineations as a source of weakness. “I do think if you’re really going to be serious about this stuff, if you think about what Rich was talking about, the funding opportunities, they’re all interdisciplinary.”
This lack of unity, which, he said, comes as much from the diffusion of power created by unions as by departmental divisions, results in an unevenness of quality avoided by organizations that run on a more proscribed, corporate model, like the Cheesecake Factory or the University of Phoenix.
Kalikow objected to the comparison to the University of Phoenix, countering Mehaffy’s point about the lack of unions at Phoenix resulting in fewer conflicting voices.
“They don’t have any full-time faculty, either. They don’t have any anything, except they make a lot of money for their investors, and that’s not the model we want,” Kalikow said.
Mehaffy’s philosophy, which calls for an educational standard to be upheld across the board at a university, drew several objections from faculty and staff who argued that corporate comparisons were perhaps not entirely applicable to the university setting. Mehaffy asserted, “It’s easy to do an honors program; it’s not easy to do an honors program for everyone.”
Mehaffy concluded by stressing the need for the best thing for students and for the institution to be at the forefront of any educational innovation.
“What’s best for the students has to be a top priority, we’ve heard that from the Vision Committee,” Kalikow returned.
Mehaffy told the Free Press that he feels like he always learns something when he visits schools to speak. At USM, he said that he’d been asked a very thoughtful question by a student, which he was still considering the answer to. Mehaffy said the student had noted that the state is paying less of a percentage of the operating costs of public universities, and that students are paying a higher percentage in tuition. “The question was, does the source of funding for an institution change the way an institution operates, and I think the answer is that it does,” Mehaffy said.
“From my perspective, I thought it was a very interesting experience, we had very good conversations,” Mehaffy said.
Mehaffy said he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the work the university is doing to address the budget shortfall.
ing USM’s budget shortfall by Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell and as work that deserves the university community’s support by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page. Over the course of the meetings scheduled for the month of February, and the actions which will follow them, the result of that process will be revealed.
“We do not anticipate that the final product will have all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. This would be an unrealistic expectation. We do expect the recommendations will provide sufficient guidance upon which we can inform and guide decisions,” said Kalikow and LaSala in the Jan. 28 email.
The USM community has been thinking more about safety than usual in the aftermath of the armed standoff in Gorham on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The number of school shootings has been on the rise throughout the U.S., with approximately 10 incidents recorded in 2012 and 28 in 2013. A school shooting is an act of gun violence taking place on a high school or college campus on or near school grounds while students were present. In January alone, 2014 has already seen approximately 11 school shootings. While the recent incident at USM ended peacefully, it has more people at USM looking at how they can keep the community safe.
“I think Mainers sort of live in a bubble,” said undeclared freshman Christopher Wright. “A lot of people don’t think as much about dangerous situations, because they don’t happen as often up here.”
The number of school shootings in the U.S. this month has opened the doors for conversation about USM’s emergency response plans and whether the community would be prepared for similar or worst-case scenario situations.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where these things can happen anywhere and at any time,” said director of Public Affairs Robert Caswell. “We need to be as prepared as we possibly can be.”
Right now, USM uses e2Campus, a third-party emergency notification system, to send safety alerts when there is a dangerous situation on or near either campus. It also sends out emails to the university email accounts of students and staff.
“It’s a really great system,” said director of Public Safety Kevin Conger. “It literally takes just a few minutes to sign up, and students can choose what kind of alerts they want to receive.”
Through e2Campus, anyone can sign up for alerts on emergency situations or serious weather conditions, and there is a separate storm line for the Lewiston-Auburn campus. Because alerts are sent to personal phones, students are required to sign up to receive these alerts.
“I signed up for the alerts within the first week I was here at school,” said freshman psychology major Allison Tucker. “I totally forget about it until there’s a snowstorm and get that text that says no school, then it’s back to bed for me.”
Usually that’s how the service is used, to inform students of dangerous road conditions due to the weather and sometimes of cancellations. But on the night of the stand-off, three texts were sent over the course of the 5 hour event, telling students to avoid the downtown area. However, the text messages only informed students that there was an emergency situation and that they should avoid the downtown area.
“I didn’t really know what was happening from the university messages,” said Tucker, “but, obviously, I just jumped on the computer and looked up the local news coverage.”
“As dangerous as the situation was for the student inside the house and the law enforcement officers who responded, students in the surrounding area were safe, so we didn’t want to alarm anyone,” said Caswell.
“It wasn’t super concerning,” said sophomore pre-med major Joseph Walter.
Cogner noted that it is important to remember that in emergencies, like a situation in which there is an active shooter on campus, the person causing the scene will likely have access to the information law enforcement is releasing, so they need to be discreet with what information they make available to the public.
“Our goal is to make people aware of a situation and aware that they need to avoid it,” said Cogner. “Not being journalists, we don’t have the need to get the story out there, [we] just need to relay information to make sure people steer clear so law enforcement can do what they need to do.”
Similar messages were sent out via email to resident students on the Gorham campus and students who were involved with Greek Life. Residential life staff spanned across campus, making sure that all students in the resident halls and campus public buildings were aware as well.
“It felt like it was being very well contained,” said sophomore biochemistry major Chris Fitzgerald. “Residential staff went into overdrive to make sure people felt like they were protected.”
According to coordinator of Student Activities Dan Welter, communication went as well as it could have, and the only minor issue was that the university did not know how to contact non-resident students who live nearby in the town of Gorham who would have benefitted from the information. As the system is set up now, the university would have had to email the listserv for all students to contact that smaller selection.
“We’re currently looking into our mailing lists and how we can make them more efficient,” said Welter.
There is no way to contact just off-campus Gorham residents, and Caswell said they did not want to alert every USM student by sending out an alert to the all student listserv, so those students were left with local news coverage for information.
“I think there are always going to be circumstances where we might not be able to reach everybody,” said Caswell. “But if the situation had been different, and students outside the cordoned off area were in danger or might have been in danger, we would’ve contacted everyone.”
“The text messages [through e2Campus] are a good tool, but might be underutilized,” said Cogner.
In the situation in Gorham, no one was injured, but students have been asking what would’ve happened if the incident had occurred on-campus instead of in an off-campus location.
“Luckily everything ended up working out and no one was hurt,” said Wright. “It would have been terrible to have something like what happened at Purdue happen here.”
USM Public Safety officers participate in annual training with other local law enforcement for active shooter situations. Over the summer, the department held drills in Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus along with officers from the Gorham, Scarborough and Windham police departments.
“We have a lot of resources to draw from for a small agency,” said Cogner. “Personnel-wise and networking-wise, we’re in a good place to respond to any situation. We’re all in this together.”
Local law enforcement trains to deal with various emergency situations using the National Incident Management System, a comprehensive, national approach to emergency situations.
“Basically, NIMS sets the standard guidelines and how to respond to emergencies. It’s very structured,” said Cogner. “Each situation is going to be different, but we know how to react as an agency.”
Cogner said that tactical information is sensitive and cannot be released, as law enforcement cannot risk anyone planning a crime being aware of law enforcement’s protocol for responses. There is a document on the Public Safety website listing what students should expect from them, as well as what a student should do in case an active shooter situation arises.
“It’s a lot of stuff that you’re going to read and go, ‘oh, that’s so basic,’ but it’s worth taking the time to read,” said Cogner.
Cogner also said that the department hopes to work with other departments at the university to include this information more regularly, specifically at student orientations, and are working to develop and release a short video to inform students of how to remain safe.
“We’re in a good place,” said Cogner, “and we’re working to be in an even better position.”
Students have come together with the help of the Office of Sustainability at USM and support from the Student Senate to bring the issue of Divestment to the floor at the Board of Trustees meeting on February 27.
In March of 2013, the Student Senate approved a resolution to express the student body’s desire to divest the University of Maine System endowment from any of the top two hundred publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The measure was passed by a10 to two margin.
Divestment is the direct opposite of investment. In this case, it’s a call, by the students of USM, for the immediate freezing of all new assets invested in top 200 fossil fuel companies and their remaining endowments with fossil fuel companies within the next five years. “We, as the students of UMaine school system, are demanding that the future which we our investing in be protected and that our universities take an active role in doing so,” said Iris SanGiovanni, a freshman political science major and one of the organizers of the small team of USM and Orono students heading this movement.
“Climate change is a political problem, that we need to address on a political level,” said junior women and gender studies and environmental science double major Meaghan LaSala. LaSala is one of the active members with the campaign to Divest USM.
The group has a simple game plan: bring the facts, support from faculty, staff and organizations on campus and throughout the UMS, and ask that the UMS divest. “We will be addressing the impacts divesting will have on our futures and the environment as well as the financial and enrollment benefits of divesting,” said SanGiovanni.
“Right now, the fossil fuel industry is planning to extract more than five times the amount of carbon that scientists predict we can safely extract,” said LaSala “It is unacceptable that USM is profiting off of a system that is about to drive us over the climate cliff.”
“If the University of Maine System is an institution investment for our future, why are they simultaneously investing in companies that will make this a hard future to live in?” asked Shaun Carland, a junior math and computer science double major and the director-founder of the Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability.
“From an economic viewpoint it’s smart to divest,” he said. But there is still more research to be done on how economically feasible it will be to divest in the long run, but according to Carland there’s a lot already that says a fossil fuel free energy system can have perform just as well as one with fossil fuels.
“Six universities have already divested, including two in Maine: Unity College and College of the Atlantic,” said Carland. A number of institutions, communities and even full cities across the country are on the list of those currently divesting from fossil fuel companies. The group hopes to be able to add USM and the other University of Maine schools to that list of those committed to divest.
The group is hopeful, though. The movement has been gathering support from both the USM and Orono campuses via petitions, personal statement and a photo campaign with students and faculty. Last year the group proposed divestment, so this will not be the first time the Board of Trustees has heard mention of the movement. On her own hopes for the outcome of this meeting, LaSala said, “I hope that the investment committee will make the right decision and vote to divest our endowment, and re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives.”
“Even if they say no, we demand that they create a panel and working group to put together a plan for how we’re going to divest,” said Carland.
When contacted for comment, University of Maine System Public Relations Manager Peggy Leonard was unable to discuss the subject in time for publication.
The meeting with the Board of Trustees will be held on February 27, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. in Bangor. There will be a room at USM reserved where people may observe the meeting via video conference.
Katie Belgard hadn’t planned on being the president of the Board of Student Organizations when she first joined.
She’s one of those students everyone seems to know. Spending a lot of time in the Woodbury Campus Center, she can often be found calling to and greeting passersby with a smile. A women and gender studies major and media studies minor and active student in the campus community, Belgard is all for meeting new people.
When she nominated herself for president of the BSO, she hadn’t expected to be elected by her peers.
Prior to her election, Belgard was a representative for one of the many student groups on campus and thus a frequent face at the BSO meetings, but nominated herself on a whim. To her surprise, others thought she was the right person for the job. So, with no prior experience, and no real idea what she was getting into, she took the position.
Belgard is now in charge of the funding for more than 60 student groups on campus. The parliamentary process that the board uses enables the most unbiased decisions to be made on proposals for fund for trips, projects or anything else a student group might need. Belgard herself doesn’t vote on the proposals, but she is in charge of overseeing all meetings, making sure they run smoothly and ensuring that all university policies are followed
“The learning curve is pretty steep, but it’s been exciting,” Belgard said about her experience so far. With the changes that came with rebuilding the student executive board—her vice president had stepped down, prompting the promotion of her treasurer to vice president and the need for an election of a new treasurer —she’s had to learn quickly, but she’s enjoying every minute of it. “You learn in the moment,” she said.
It’s clear that Belgard enjoys her job, no matter how challenging it might be. “I’m not a detail person, to be honest,” she said about the demands of the job. “I’m more of a broad, visionary person –– where you start here, and you’ll eventually end up there, but the details don’t matter. There’s a lot of walking people through things.” And it turns out that those details are an important part of being president. Belgard gets countless emails a day from student organizations with questions and requests to schedule meetings with her. She admitted that it was a lot more than she expected and has been quite adjustment, but that challenge has only proven to be a learning experience.
“I want to be able to help students find their potential,” she said when asked what her mission is now that she’s been in the position of president for a full semester. “I work closely with student groups to get the most out of their USM experience, and I think getting involved in a student group really helps you create a sense of self.” She’s also learned a bit about her own abilities. “I surprise myself. It’s challenging, but I get surprised when things come together. I’m like ‘Oh, I did this on my own, what?’ I don’t think I realize I have the potential to do something like that.”
Belgard doesn’t seem to think she’ll be looking for re-election once her term as president is over at the end of this semester. “It’s a 12 hour commitment a week, but I do so much more,” she said, proving that it is very much a job. But she’s more than okay with that. “It’s definitely been a good experience overall.”