GORHAM – Monday, President Selma Botman and a design team released the University of Southern Maine’s “Academic Reorganization Proposal.”

This concept would restructure the university into five entities, including three new colleges: Nursing, Health Professions and STEM (Science, Techology, Engineering and Math) College; Communications, Culture and the Arts College; and the Muskie College of Public Service, Management and Society.

A significant missing piece to this emerging puzzle is a college or school of education.

Indeed, the proposed restructuring separates existing departments that prepare teachers to enter the profession from departments that support individuals already teaching in schools.

Under the proposed plan administrators, teachers seeking additional credentials, school counselors and school psychologists would receive their education in the Muskie College of Public Service, Management and Society while people who are entering the teaching profession would be taught in the Communications, Culture and the Arts College.

Originally Gorham Normal School, USM has a long history of teacher education and the development of professionals to staff schools and support students. This history has been continuous even while the institution changed shape, merged across Portland and Gorham, and grew into a regional, comprehensive university.

The vision and realization of a unified entity that serves schools has evolved through careful deliberation and mindful program development.

Throughout USM’s history a strong, coherent commitment to serving the schools, children, and families of Maine has remained consistent.

Consistency should not be mistaken for stagnation, however. Indeed, USM’s graduate teacher education program is nationally recognized; the College of Education and Human Development at USM has prepared the majority of the principals, superintendents, and special education directors in the state; the college houses nationally accredited programs; and has broken ground in online learning reaching rural areas and underserved populations.

Furthermore, CEHD is the only institution in the state to have paths to dual certification in content teaching, special education and English as a second language as well as a doctorate in school psychology.

CEHD has directly touched a huge proportion of students, teachers, administrators and families in Maine. With the newly unveiled redesign, the college will be dismantled and its departments spread across the university.

USM should preserve an entity focused on education, which reflects the fact that schools are complex places, serving diverse student needs and staffed by professionals with a wide range of expertise.

The proposed restructuring raises significant implications for the college’s existing high-quality programs and for the development of new programs.

One of the first concerns is for oversight and integrity of programs that prepare school personnel. While people who hold different roles in schools hold different professional licenses, the state Department of Education approves these programs as a unit, acknowledging that there are common expectations and experiences that can and should be created and managed together.

With teachers and other personnel in separate colleges at the university, it is challenging to think about how this unit identity can be maintained.

A second concern is that by separating the departments, synergy and collaboration are undermined. If we want our children taught by professionals who work together and share their expertise, then we need to prepare these professionals in an environment that does the same. It is time for those concerned with schools in Maine to ask questions as to why a unit that prepares education professionals should no longer exist at USM.

Parents should ask how the quality of teachers in the state are likely to be affected by these changes. Teachers and administrators should ask why those entering the profession should be prepared by one arm of the university while current teachers and administrators should be served by another.

Long-standing partners of CEHD should ask for clarification of their future if collaborative partners are spread across the university. And accrediting bodies should ask what supports will exist to maintain the integrity of existing high-quality programs.

The proposal is available at usm.maine.edu/pres/reorganization/ and is open for comment until March 15.

It is important that the wider community examines the plan and asks questions about its implications for our schools.

 

– Special to the Press Herald