Now that the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System have signed a historic agreement allowing the transfer of up to 35 general education credit hours between Maine’s seven public community and its seven four-year colleges in the liberal arts, isn’t it time to apply the same logic to varsity sports teams at every one of those 14 institutions?

If liberal arts courses at any Maine community college are soon to be of equal value with those at even the “flagship” Orono campus, surely it is only fair to allow varsity athletes to follow the same path.

As UMaine System Chancellor James Page proclaimed at the recent signing ceremony, “It is not where you start, but how far you go that matters. With this agreement we are ensuring the same learning outcomes, same expectations and same credit for our students across all 14 of Maine’s public colleges and universities.” What could be clearer than that?

Before the signing of this agreement, many faculty throughout the UMaine System could recount painful experiences with transfer students — and not necessarily from the Maine Community College System — being insufficiently prepared for even introductory courses, much less for more advanced ones. The fault is less that of the students than of those who approved their transfer credit(s).

At one time, it was possible for UMS faculty to have some say in approving or, God forbid, rejecting transfer credit requests. I suspect that those days will soon be over.

After all, what would “elitist” faculty know about “quality control”? Better to give that power to non-academic administrators who have never taught a college course or graded a paper or an exam or, for that matter, ever advised a student. Their technical expertise allegedly dwarfs that of mere faculty with advanced degrees — “eggheads,” to revive the anti-intellectual phrase of the 1950s.

Let me be clear: I do not oppose the expansion of transfer credits. Far from it. Along with other recent efforts by the UMaine System to increase the enrollment of those who wish to complete their bachelor’s degrees at Orono or at Portland-Gorham-Lewiston, Farmington, Machias, Presque Isle or Fort Kent, a simultaneously expanded and streamlined credit allocation process could do wonders.

But there is a considerable difference between serious credit evaluations and what appears likely to be “anything goes” — to borrow the title of Cole Porter’s famous musical.

Gov. Paul LePage cited an example of a transfer student from Southern Maine Community College allegedly being denied credit for a history course that the student then had to retake at the University of Southern Maine, using the same textbook.

Applying that logic, don’t varsity sports teams at all 14 institutions use the same equipment and wear similar uniforms and play under the same rules? Consequently, why shouldn’t a club hockey player at the University of Maine at Fort Kent or at Eastern Maine Community College be assured of a place on Orono’s Division I men’s and women’s varsity hockey teams? How could the same top administrators and trustees who insist that academic transfer be “seamless” — their favorite term — argue that athletics is different from academics?

Ah, but there is the catch that those intending to lower academic standards never concede. And lowering academic standards, let us acknowledge, is a crucial part of the University of Maine System’s agenda as the University of Maine is toppled from its flagship status to an institution no different from the other six smaller system campuses.

Anyone who doubts that intention should read the op-ed by powerful UMaine System trustee Karl Turner in the Feb. 15 Maine Sunday Telegram, titled “Maine Voices: UMaine’s Orono campus not first among equals.” He spoke for the system, not just for himself (despite being an Orono alumnus).

To be sure, anyone who argued for such equal opportunities for all Maine public college athletes would be laughed at and shown the locker room door. Who denies these facts of life: Athletes of all ages and backgrounds differ in talent, not all will make varsity teams, and those who do make varsity teams will not all play the same length of time.

Why, then, I ask, are serious concerns about “quality control” of academic transfer credits invariably now to be dismissed as the rantings of elitists?

Howard Segal is a professor of history at the University of Maine.

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