It’s easy to see why there’s so much positive buzz around the University of Maine System’s new Professional and Graduate Center. At this point, the idea is so fuzzy it could be almost anything. Startup funding comes from the Alfond Foundation, not the state budget. There’s very little to dislike.

Bringing focus to the idea will be the job of the center’s inaugural CEO: two-time independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler. His appointment was announced last week, and he will have 18 months to develop a plan and raise money to start a self-supporting institution with a mission of building the state’s economy.

The idea is to create links between three existing programs — the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine business schools and the University of Maine School of Law in Portland — producing lawyers who can read a balance sheet and MBAs who can interpret regulations. The center also would facilitate interdisciplinary research on Maine industries, as well as projects involving students, professors and the private sector, which would supply real-world learning opportunities for students and expertise for businesses.

But it also has the danger of becoming a redundant level of administration that pushes independent institutions to do what they probably ought to be doing anyway. For now, Cutler won’t run any of the programs and his only power is the power to persuade. In the change-averse world of higher education, that is never easily done.

So far, the center is best defined by what it is not: It’s not a school, and it won’t issue degrees. It won’t have classes. It is not a merger of any of the programs. It will not displace any administrators.

The center is also not a typical academic institution, as reflected by Cutler’s title: CEO, not dean or president. He refers to it as an “enterprise,” not an “institute.” Cutler’s experience is in business and government, not academia.

His ties to the business community will be essential if he is to succeed. If the center is really like a business, its customers will be the entrepreneurs who need help turning ideas into companies and the proprietors of small businesses that are ready to expand. The business people will have to get something from the new entity that they are not getting now from the three existing programs, or they won’t throw in their support before the grant funding dries up.

We hope that it works. Maine’s economy is changing, and Maine people need to be skilled and flexible enough to take advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves.

If the center is as successful as Cutler believes that it can be, it will deserve an A plus.

But at this point, with so much organizational work to be done, the grade will have to stay an incomplete.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.