Faculty at the University of Southern Maine are raising concerns with the University of Maine System about what a recent move to a unified accreditation will mean for their campus.

The unified accreditation, approved in June 2020, is intended to make it easier for universities in the system to share resources and programs by also allowing them to share governance and oversight obligations. But it has generated concerns at USM about whether the university will continue to have independent control over its own programs and budget.

Those concerns, which the faculty and staff brought up with UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy at a town hall meeting Friday, have been heightened since the resignation announcement of USM President Glenn Cummings, which has also raised questions among faculty about the direction of the university.

Malloy told faculty and staff at the meeting that he believes unified accreditation presents an opportunity to build programs across campuses and to identify strengths that can be shared. He said afterward that while some faculty and staff have concerns, that comes with any change.

“Change has to be mutually accomplished and that’s a hard thing to do,” Malloy said. “And that’s why I sit down and do these things and have these talks and get out and speak to people.”

During the meeting, he told faculty and staff that budgets will still largely be controlled by individual campuses, and other decisions, such as tenure, would also stay with campuses. But he said Maine is a poor state with a declining number of high school graduates and that raises questions about future sustainability.

“As opposed to my predecessor, who advocated for the One University concept, I advocated for something different, and that is a new cooperative venture between existing institutions, each with a president and most with provosts as well,” Malloy said.

Faculty said they are concerned about more centralized decision-making and whether USM will remain an independent university with control over its own programs.

“At what point as we move forward are conversations going to be held where while we are moving forward in some ways there are going to be others where we may be taking steps back and we need to de-centralize some decisions in certain areas for campuses to make sure … it doesn’t take away from the uniqueness, their history and the community we serve?” said USM Vice Provost for Student Affairs Damian Medina.

Thomas Parchman, a professor in the Osher School of Music, said he is concerned about the system moving to a unified course catalog.

“A student taking, particularly a sequenced course, at one institution and then another course with different outcomes at another institution, could put that student at a serious disadvantage,” Parchman said. “As a faculty member, I’m also concerned about the quality, the outcomes, the academic part of this whole thing. It would seem to be giving up that control.”

The move to a unified course catalog is part of a broader re-working of the MaineStreet student information portal, and would allow a student to easily search for equivalent courses on other campuses. Students can already take classes at other UMaine campuses, but the unified course catalog would simplify the process, said Carolyn Dorsey, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs for the system, in an interview after the meeting.

“It wasn’t a very user-friendly process,” Dorsey said. “The student had several steps to make sure everything worked out well and it counted on their transcript. Now that will all be seamless and will be taken care of for the student behind the scene.”

Rozhin Yousefvand-Mansouri, an associate professor in the School of Business, raised questions about the move a few years ago from two separate masters of business programs at USM and the University of Maine to one MBA at the UMaine Graduate School of Business that is delivered using faculty from both universities. Yousefvand-Mansouri said Orono has ended up with more control and she is concerned that could happen to other USM programs.

“The labor work is done by USM and we are not paid the same amount,” Yousefvand-Mansouri said. “We get to teach intro courses with like 50 students while the UMaine faculty teach seminars that they enjoy teaching. That’s how it’s hurting us.”

Enrollment has grown from 149 students in the two programs in 2018 to more than 400 in a single, statewide program developed prior to the unified accreditation, according to the system. Malloy, who was not chancellor at the time the changes were made, said he was still not sure the MBA program was handled as well as it could have been.

“Perhaps if I had been chancellor at the time we would have handled that differently,” Malloy said. “How long do these issues fester? If you have ideas on how to resolve the problems you have, I invite you to reach out to me.”

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