ORONO — The 2009-2010 University of Maine academic year was particularly significant for a number of reasons.

We started with record student enrollment in September, saw our research enterprise reach the $100 million mark for the first time and enjoyed the remarkable daily achievements of UMaine’s extraordinary faculty, students and staff.

We also dealt with stark reality related to our ongoing budget challenges. At UMaine, we’ve reduced spending every year for most of a decade.

Recognizing that belt-tightening is not enough, we undertook a yearlong process for a new paradigm leading to a more sustainable long-term academic program budget.

Thanks to the wisdom, commitment and vision of the senior faculty members and administrators we asked to lead the effort, we did develop a series of program modifications that will save some $12.2 million over a three-year period beginning July 1, 2011.

These moves include program cuts and suspensions, painful but necessary decisions attributable solely to the untenable budget situation we face.

At the same time, we’ve announced a series of initiatives were calling “UMaine 150.”

We chose that name because the phase-in period will lead us to the university’s 2015 sesquicentennial. These initiatives involve program restructuring, renewed emphasis in areas of demonstrated student interest and statewide need, and creative approaches to increasing revenue and reducing expenditures. The details are online at www.umaine.edu/umaine150.

It would have perhaps been simpler to achieve our budget goals by focusing exclusively on cutting programs, but the people of Maine expect and deserve better from their flagship university.

That designation mandates leadership and statewide scope, and UMaine 150 will allow this university to build on its strengths in strategic ways.

These initiatives will make UMaine stronger, better able to fulfill its mission and more responsive to emerging needs.

For example, we’ve decided to create from existing resources a Division of Health and Biomedical Sciences.

This will bring together academic programs such as nursing, food science and human nutrition, and molecular and biomedical sciences under one virtual roof while also connecting to departments like biology, chemistry and others.

We’ve seen structures like these lead to tremendous success in areas like composites engineering, marine science and climate change in recent years, but I’ve never seen a structure with more potential than this one.

These are areas of predicted job growth where Maine and UMaine have research strength built on collaboration among statewide partners including the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and Jackson Laboratory.

Students who study in this division will graduate ready to take their place in emerging fields. They will have a leg up on their competition because their degrees will be built upon the comprehensive liberal arts foundation that is the hallmark of a university education.

Because those students will have opportunities to participate in research, even as undergraduates, they will be fully prepared to contribute in meaningful ways, right away.

UMaine 150 is also about opportunities in high-demand liberal arts disciplines like new media. It’s about capitalizing on technology through online education. It’s about integrating UMaine’s unique innovation engineering curriculum throughout the university.

Most of all, it’s about strategic focus on cost-effective ways to provide more of what Maine needs from its state university.

I am fortunate to be inspired by potential every day such as when 1,700 people walked across the Alfond Arena stage as the newest of UMaine’s 98,000 graduates.

It’s clear when we see Prof. Habib Dagher and his colleagues work to tap the vast economic and environmental benefits associated with offshore wind power.

It strikes us when we see the impact of UMaine Cooperative Extension efforts in making lives better and businesses stronger all across our state.

And we really see it when we learn the stories especially during the springtime of the new students who honor us with the commitment to enroll at UMaine in the fall.

UMaine 150 is a road map for realizing the University of Maine’s potential at a time when Mainers need it most.

— Special to the Press Herald