Commentary: How USM is preparing for a collaborative future

The following commentary was written by President Jacqueline Edmondson and published in the Portland Press Herald on Friday, September 30.

President Jacqueline Edmondson office office photo
President Jacqueline Edmondson

I am proud to lead the University of Southern Maine, which is committed to serving students and transforming lives through education, research, and outreach to Maine and New England communities. USM has a distinct identity in our region, one that is evolving as we intentionally pursue excellence. As we look to the future, one constant will remain: our doors are open to you. 

As a public regional comprehensive university, the University of Southern Maine is a steward of public higher education in our region, and we help to drive the economic, cultural, and civic life in the communities where our campuses are located. “Community” is a complex construct, particularly when we consider the potential reach of our online programs, but we embrace this complexity. We have experts among us who study community and what it means to be in and of a place, including the implications of being located on the lands and waters that were once the ancestral fishing, hunting, and agricultural grounds inhabited by the Wabanaki and Abenaki people for thousands of years. The insights and perspectives our community experts and historians provide offer rich and necessary dimensions to our understandings of our collective work together.

What it means to be a public regional comprehensive university is not well-defined. Carnegie Commission for Higher Education classifications range from very high research universities that offer doctoral programs to master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, and special mission colleges like community colleges and tribal colleges. Regional comprehensive universities like USM intersect with many of these classifications. We award undergraduate and graduate degrees, we engage in research, and we provide access to education to a wide range of students. The ambiguity that is inherent in the definition of a regional comprehensive provides us an opportunity to define who we are and focus on what we should be in the future. 

Regional comprehensive universities have always faced challenges, yet they adapt and persevere. Regional comprehensives often operate with some measure of oversight from the government, and states use tax dollars to support their operations. Regional comprehensives are known to engage in research through partnerships with local businesses, governments, and organizations. Much like USM, regional comprehensives often began as normal schools to educate teachers and they relied on enrollments from local residents. Over time, USM’s mission and scope has evolved, extending from a focus on pedagogy and curriculum for public schools to equipping students from the region and elsewhere to live globally and solve the problems before us. We are now on the cusp of still more evolution as we move ahead in a post-pandemic world facing climate change and unprecedented strains on the social, civil, and even political fabric of our society. 

At USM, with more than 60,000 living alumni, we are in a unique position to focus our identity and strengthen our excellence. We have an opportunity to draw from our past while we simultaneously look to a future where we remain integral to the needs of southern Maine, and in collaboration with other University of Maine System universities, to the entire state, region, and beyond. Our efforts will strategically link us with needs in communities across the country and around the world as we solve problems, advance education of the public, and create a more just and equitable society. 

I look forward to working with members of our university and our communities – in Portland, Gorham, Lewiston-Auburn, and online – as we ensure that USM is relevant, serving regional needs, and a first-choice school for those pursuing their education. I also invite our communities to enjoy what USM offers through its arts and music programs, athletic events, the Osher Map Library exhibits and podcasts, the Franco-American Museum, and so many other signature programs and events. Our doors are always open to you, and our future is bright.