The University of Maine System trustees voted unanimously Sunday to support a first-stage $15 million plan to create a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland.

The vote, taken at a special meeting in East Millinocket, authorizes the system chancellor to ask for additional funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which has been the driving financial force behind the $150 million initiative.

Over the past two years, the foundation has provided $2.25 million for early-stage development.

The proposed center would house the University of Maine School of Law, a new MBA program that combines the current graduate business programs operating at the University of Southern Maine and UMaine in Orono, and the graduate programs in public health and in public policy and management that now operate at the Muskie School of Public Service at USM. It also would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Policy, which is the research arm of USM and part of the Muskie School on the Portland campus.

If the multi-year first stage is successful, the trustees will be asked to authorize a second stage that includes raising funds to build a $94 million building somewhere in Portland to house the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies. A location has not yet been identified.

A business plan outlining the proposal was released last week.

“We’re building something that will be beneficial to the entire state,” board chairman Sam Collins said. “I am very much in support of it because of how we have structured it and minimal risk and what it can mean to the state of Maine.”

Chancellor James Page said Sunday that if the trustees decided not to go forward with phase two, the phase one developments would “stand on their own.”

The business plan, Page told the trustees, is the foundation “for the kind of robust discussions we need to have” in the next phase. “We need to take it for what it is, build, and with your approval, go forward and create this great opportunity.”

A faculty representative to the board told the trustees that while there was broad support for the concept and need for the graduate center, the faculty had concerns about the MBA merger in particular. The graduate business departments in Orono and USM are currently in talks about the merged program, from its curriculum to governance issues for faculties at different institutions.

“The merger will only work if both Orono and USM faculty work together as equals,” said Elizabeth Turesky, a professor at USM. “I believe faculty need your assurance that their significant concerns are addressed.”

Page noted that challenge in his presentation, saying the two campuses need to be “on equal terms” as they move toward the MBA merger.

“For the first time, we’ve taken a University of Maine degree and put it in a program in the Greater Portland area. That collaboration in two of the largest campuses is enormous,” he said, noting administrative and cultural barriers to that kind of collaboration. “We are taking two major programs and asking them to coalesce and to work together.”

 


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