City Wants Role in Planning USM’s Future; Gorham Campus to be Sold?

Mark Swann, Chris Hall & Mayor Michael Brennan at Press Conference Today

Mark Swann, Chris Hall & Mayor Michael Brennan at Press Conference Today. (The man in the left background is a reporter for MPR)

USM Professor  Susan Feiner at Press Conference at City Hall.

USM Professor Susan Feiner at Press Conference at City Hall.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,747)

A panel of city leaders expressed concern about the future of the University of Southern Maine, Portland, and asked the administration to include them in ongoing discussions about proposed budget cuts going forward. USM is an important part of what makes this city so vibrant and dynamic.  Mayor MIchael Brennan cited the March 17, 2014 issue of TIME magazine that said:  Portland has “outgrown its reputation as a quaint tourist town.  Portland is attracting highly skilled workers to its growing finance, insurance…..”  The article also pointed out that 45% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.  The press conference took place at City Hall in the early afternoon.

Other panel members  expressed the importance of keeping USM a healthy and vibrant institution of higher learning in Portland.  Mark Swann, Executive Director, of Preble Street Resource Center, recalled that his non-profit was founded by the Social Work Department of USM in 1975.  In doing so, founder Joe Chrysler said:  “USM should be part of the city, not just in the city.”  Jennifer Hutchins, executive director, Creative Portland, said it’s necessary we have a high qualify educational institution to attract skilled young adults to Portland –  a goal of “CP.”

Panel members emphasized they want to be part of the ongoing budget cut discussions, but have not been asked by the University System to participate. Neither panel members Chris Hall, CEO, of Portland Regional Chamber nor Portland Mayor Michael Brennan would say where budget cuts should be made in response to inquiries from several faculty members who attended the press conference. “I would be opposed to cuts that would be damaging to the future of USM,” the Mayor said.  If “USM did not exist tomorrow, we would be in serious trouble.  Fifty-one percent of the state’s economic activity occurs in southern Maine,” Brennan commented.  Hall said that the Chamber might be able to find some additional sources of revenue.

Susan Feiner, a professor at USM told the panel:  “This is about laying off tenured professors.  It doesn’t matter at USM if you are tenured or not; you can be laid off.  Tenured facility are looking for jobs elsewhere right now and they will never be replaced.  I wanted you to say this can’t happen.  We are getting rid of things we can’t sacrifice.  We will never recover from these cuts.”

Of the talk that the Maine System is preparing to sell of the Gorham campus,  Mayor Brennan said he’d just heard that as well.  “I don’t think it’s an immediate concern.,” he said.