CAPE ELIZABETH — I strongly support upgrading the name of the University of Southern Maine, as proposed by USM President Glenn Cummings, who is currently seeking community input on the idea.

USM should have a name appropriate for its status as a state-funded university with the highest academic standards. It should have a name that eliminates questions about who administers this university. It should have a name that provides immediate public- and private-sector recognition and admiration of its status. It should have a name that benefits its graduates, faculty, employers, grant donors, our community and other institutions of higher education, both domestic and foreign, that may want to align themselves with the university.

When I moved to Maine in 2000, I did not know whether the University of Southern Maine was public or private and, if private, whether it was affiliated with a religious denomination or a particular organization.

Having been an administrator of a national academic recognition program for professional urban and regional planners in the United States – a program that recognizes over 54 graduate and approximately 25 undergraduate academic degrees, from Harvard University to the University of California, and from Michigan State University to the University of Florida – I’ve found the following to be common name branding practice for institutions of higher education:

A University of (State’s name) is the public university funded by the state, such as the University of New Hampshire, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas, etc., and typically has the highest academic standards in a state-funded university system. It is governed by a state-appointed board and reports to the state legislature or governor and residents of the state.

An institution with the word “university” in its name (e.g., the University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Loyola University, the University of Phoenix) is a privately funded school, not part of the state-funded and -administered university system. It is governed by a board of directors appointed by the private for-profit or not-for-profit owners and investors. Its educational focus may be research based, public health and social service, religious or other orientation. Its funding may be based on private donations and student tuition, and it may be either a for-profit institution or one whose goal is breaking even and covering their costs.

A (State’s name) State College or (State’s name) State University is typically a smaller, state-funded institution of higher education that is less selective than the state flagship university. Some of these evolved from teachers colleges to university status due to increasing student enrollment, an increasing number of academic programs or both. Examples include Long Beach State College and California State University at Long Beach.

Post-secondary state-funded Maine institutions offering associate degrees have names tying them to a region or county, such as Southern Maine Community College, or York County Community College.

So, again, when I saw the sign for the University of Southern Maine, I did not understand its status – public or private? – or its place in the context of higher education in Maine.

However, having subsequently served on the advisory board for the master of community planning and development program at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, I learned that USM was part of the University of Maine System, a network of four-year degree-granting institutions whose flagship, the University of Maine, is located in Orono.

Accordingly, to avoid the immediate confusion of a prospective employer considering hiring a recent graduate – or someone driving up the highway, seeing the sign and wondering who administers this university – USM’s name should be upgraded to “University of Maine at Portland” or some location. While I recommend Portland, I understand the possible competing interests between Portland and Gorham over inclusion in the university’s name. Therefore, maybe the name could be “University of Maine in Greater Portland” – but whatever location, the name should be consistent with national university naming and recognition standards.

The sooner the name is upgraded, the better this will be for students, graduates, faculty, employers and the community. It is time to spotlight the public and private commitment of the citizens of Maine to our institution of higher education, eliminate confusion about its status and the need to explain its standing and ensure that the university is easily and appropriately recognized. So – go, University of Maine at Portland.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.