The University of Maine System Board of Trustees voted Nov. 18th to authorize System leadership to seek approval from the Maine Legislature to change the University of Southern Maine’s name to the University of Maine at Portland.
"Changing USM’s name to the University of Maine at Portland will strengthen USM and the University of Maine System” said James Erwin, Chair of the System Board of Trustees. “By creating more clarity about its identity and improving its marketability, the Board believes that USM will be better able to achieve its full potential.
“As an affordable, accessible and innovative institution of higher education in Maine’s population center, USM is poised to help lead the University System’s efforts to help solve Maine’s workforce needs and strengthen Maine’s economy,” Erwin added.
The name change initiative was launched a year ago by USM as a means to attract out-of-state students to USM and to Maine.
“With a steep decline in high school students in our state, we must attract out-of-state students to bring in resources to expand academic programs, improve our facilities and provide scholarships for Maine kids,” said Glenn Cummings, President of the University of Southern Maine. “While we are proud of the tremendous progress we have made in recent years to strengthen and grow USM, we will take a step backwards unless we are successful in this effort.”
Before launching the name change initiative last fall, the university first conducted a major market research study that surveyed college-bound high school students throughout the northeast, as well as parents of such students and high school guidance counselors.
“The market research showed that placing ‘Portland” in our name would significantly move the needle in attracting out of state students,” said Cummings. “The fact is most people outside of Maine have no idea where USM is, but when they learn our largest campus is in Portland, they become very interested in learning more.”
Many CEOs in Maine have endorsed USM’s effort to change its name, seeing it as an important approach to bring in out-of-students who will stay in Maine after graduation to fill jobs crucial to employer growth.
“As a Maine business leader, I face the realities of our state’s severe workforce crisis every day,” says Clif Greim, President of Harriman Associates, an architecture and engineering firm. “Through a USM name change to University of Maine at Portland, we can introduce additional young people to our great state, help them to develop roots here and contribute to our economy.”
Other CEO’s supporting the name change include: Michael Bourque, MEMIC; Rich Petersen, MaineHealth; Jeff Sanders, MaineMed; Steve Smith, LL Bean; Michael Simonds, Unum; John Chandler, BerryDunn; Dayton Benway, Baker Newman Noyes; Chris Joyce, Texas Instruments; Bill Tracy, Auburn Savings; Bill Burke, Portland Sea Dogs; Ellen Belknap, SMRT; Leeann Leahy, VIA; Jo-an Lantz, Geiger; and Bill Williamson, Bank of America.
The name change is also supported by the USM Alumni Association and the Student Government Association.
Testifying during Citizen Comment at the Board of Trustees meeting, USM Alumni Board President Jeffrey Jordan said, “Our Alumni Board carefully reviewed the market research data over two meetings, and then voted 11-1 in favor of a name change. While many of us hold the USM name dear, we understand the future success and growth of the university rests on changing the name to University of Maine at Portland.”
Also during Citizen Comment, USM BOT Student Representative Nathan Carlow spoke in support of a name change, indicating that the USM Student Government Association (SGA) voted last week 10-2 in in favor of changing USM’s name to the University of Maine at Portland.
Others supporting a name include the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Press Herald editorial board, and USM’s Board of Visitors.
With the Board’s approval, the name change will now be considered by the State Legislature, which in 2005 put into State statute that the names and locations of Maine’s public universities must receive approval of the Legislature. A bill submitted by Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby to change USM’s name to the University of Maine at Portland has been approved by the Legislative Council for consideration during this upcoming session.
“With today’s strong vote of support from the Board of Trustees and the previous support we have received from groups, employers and leaders inside and outside our university community, we look forward to taking our compelling case to the Legislature,” said Cummings. “We know this is the right thing for USM and our public universities, and the right thing for Maine employers and the growth of our economy.”