Office of the President

Monday Missive (Sept. 8, 2020)

Dear USM Community,

May this post-Labor Day Missive find you healthy, rested and ready as our second week of classes begins. By any measure, we had a beautiful bouquet of weather for the three-day weekend, thus allowing, I hope, many Huskies to delve into their favorite activities in the natural world. Faced with myriad Zoom meetings and a seemingly infinite cascade of emails, any experience in the embrace of the Maine outdoors resonates even more deeply in me. I hope that’s the case for you as well.

Labor Day provides an ideal opportunity to celebrate the labor of our staff and faculty in the service of our students and the world at large. Each day, I see our employees reaching out to prospective students, guiding incoming scholars, and tirelessly finding ways to teach complex subject matter in engaging and meaningful ways. Labor in service to others offers a wellspring of meaning and happiness if done with a sense of pride and joy. Our university is rich with employees who take this approach to their work, and we thank them deeply for their efforts.

Let me offer some updates:

1. Speaking of commitment on behalf of our students, the USM Faculty Senate met on Friday afternoon and engaged in thoughtful discussions of two new programs: a Master of Arts in Data Science and a Bachelor's in Special Education. Both topics generated rightfully challenging questions along with numerous statements of interest and support. The process speaks to the intellectual rigor our faculty bring to their teaching and programmatic planning. It also speaks to their determination to continue offering top-shelf academic opportunities to our students. Both proposals were approved and advanced to their respective next levels. Congratulations go to Professor Bruce MacLeod and Dean Jeremy Qualls for their leadership on the Data Science proposal and Professors Rachel Brown and Walter Kimball for their careful research in support of a possible Bachelor's in Special Education.

2. USM engaged in its second week of asymptomatic testing for COVID-19, and the Phase 2 protocol identified two positive cases. Our Health Services team, in conjunction with the Maine CDC, swiftly moved both students into isolation. Contact tracing on those who may have been in close contact with the test-positive individuals was also quickly implemented. Those students deemed close contacts remain in quarantine. Our total number of active cases has dropped to three as one previously infected student no longer requires isolation. Our thanks go out to the many staff who supported these individuals with care and prompt professionalism. As I have mentioned before, there are two ways to stay abreast of the latest positive-case counts at USM and each System campus: the System is now providing daily announcements (updated around 1 p.m. each day) of positive counts and other testing-related updates on the Together for Maine website. You can also find aggregated test result data on the System’s COVID-19 Testing Summary dashboard. (Scroll down on the page a bit to see the dashboard.)

3. Last week, the UMS Board of Trustees FFT (Facilities, Finance and Technology) Committee held its September meeting. USM updated the committee on its progress regarding the Portland Commons (a 577-bed residential hall) and the USM Student Career and Success Center on the Portland Campus. We will present to the Portland Planning Board in a follow-up meeting in late September. This coming week, we will meet with neighbors who reside near the northern edge of the Portland Campus to discuss options for additional structured parking.

4. We also presented our FY'21 revised budget to the FFT Committee. Recent upticks in enrollment have been critical to putting us on the path to achieving our fall projected budget targets. Strong surges in new enrollment in online graduate offerings and notable increases in new first-year out-of-state enrollment, combined with stronger in-state return rates helped close a gap in our finances caused by reduced revenues that resulted from the pandemic. Additionally, as public high schools navigate respective fall return logistics, we anticipate our early college enrollments will ramp up. The implementation of enhanced safety measures at our Gorham residence halls required that we reduce the total number of students permitted to live on campus. The fiscal impact of this decision to prioritize student safety cost nearly $3 million. This is, of course, significant and will require us to monitor finances carefully in the year ahead to remain on budget. We will keep you posted with any additional information that comes as a result of decisions made by state or federal governments.

5. The recent arrival of Dr. Idella Glenn, our new Associate Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact, and Will Johnson, our new Director of Intercultural Student Engagement are essential steps in our efforts to reach the goals of our new Five-Year Strategic Plan that pertain to Leading on Equity, Race and Social Justice. Many other efforts toward these goals continue apace. This past summer, USM hosted its first Summer Antiracism Institute, which trained 21 faculty and staff who now meet regularly, are active on IDAC and are incorporating antiracism into their work for the University. In November, Honors Program Director Rebecca Nisetich will co-headline the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference with a featured presentation titled “#Honorssowhite? Representing Diverse Student Voices.” And the IDAC Curriculum Committee members are in conversation with the IDAC Fellows about a proposal for an entry-year race/equity/justice course that would be required for all new USM students. The IDAC Curriculum Committee will meet with the Core Curriculum Committee to discuss this proposal in late September. 

6. I hope you were able to participate in last week’s opening webinar of the Understanding the COVID-19 Pandemic series, featuring Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of Maine CDC, and Dr. Dora Mills, Chief Health Improvement Officer of MaineHealth. This Thursday’s webinar, “Crisis Management and Missteps in COVID-19,” will be led by our own Joseph McDonnell, Professor of Policy, Planning, and Management in the Muskie School of Public Service. To see the full slate of presenters and register for the free webinar series brought to us by USM’s Muskie School of Public Service and the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center please visit the program website. This free webinar series runs each Thursday through November 19, 2020.

7. I also call your attention to the Franco-American COVID-19 Experiences in Maine project sponsored by the Franco-American Collection (FAC) at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College. Working with other libraries statewide as part of the Maine Community Archives Collaborative, the FAC is focused on collecting objects related to and reflections about the pandemic from people in Maine’s Franco-American community. Materials can be digital or physical and will be posted on the FAC’s Digital Commons page. Still images, videos, artwork, writings and musical performances that reflect the pandemic experience are welcome additions to the collection. You can learn more on the Digital Commons website (see link above) or by contacting FAC archivist Anna Faherty: / 207-753-6545.

8. The start of the fall semester is all the more momentous this year as we welcome our largest incoming class of Promise Scholars. This year’s 24 recipients hail from 16 different high schools and 11 youth-serving organizations, including JMG, Make It Happen! at Portland Public Schools, the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute and TRIO Upward Bound. All students receiving this scholarship, which provides fill-in-the-gap grants that cover 100 percent of USM tuition and fees, have demonstrated academic excellence and a passion for giving back to their community. With the new class enrollment, the total number of Promise Scholars at USM stands at 58, with the goal to award 25 new scholarships each year, in perpetuity. This program is a pride point for USM and demonstrates what can be accomplished in service to students when a university partners with its foundation, philanthropic supporters and local community organizations. 

9. Finally, I call your attention to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. this Thursday, when USM graduate Justin Levesque will be feted for the installation of his “Glacial Retreat” artwork at the 88 Bedford Street Metro Bus Stop on the Portland Campus. Supported by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Levesque and two other artists installed their unique designs approved by a volunteer review committee, including Jamie DeSimone of the Portland Museum of Art, Daniel Minter of Indigo Arts Alliance and Maine College of Art, independent art consultant Fred Yaloris representing Rock Row, Zoe Miller of Greater Portland Council of Governments, Greg Jordan of METRO and Dinah Minot of Creative Portland. Justin’s artistic work will encourage discourse on climate change among students, faculty, staff and visitors on the Portland campus. I am deeply grateful to Creative Portland and partners for sharing this wonderful NEA Our Town grant project with us. If you plan to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, please be sure to wear a mask and keep yourself at a safe distance from others.

On a personal note, Labor Day this year made me reflect on the exceptional work ethic of my mother. Now almost 80, her work life paralleled the transformation of the Maine economy since the middle of the 20th century. In her early 20s, she worked in the Auerbach shoe factory/textile mill in Brunswick, Maine, (now the Fort Andross Building) until cheaper, non-unionized labor available in the southeastern U.S. contributed to the shuttering of mills throughout New England. She became a multi-decade employee of Shaw's Supermarkets and, later, worked for retail outlets in Kittery and South Portland. To my knowledge, she rarely missed a day of work. And she never complained. I am honored to celebrate her labor and that of millions more.

May your week be full of learning, connections and appreciation for the work of others.