Reorganizations typically generate concerns and doubts, not to mention a lot of satirical workplace humor.

In one Dilbert comic strip, the manager announces a new strategy. “Let me guess,” says Dilbert, “you’re going to randomly reorganize the department, just like last month.”

One course of action higher education cannot be accused of is random reorganization. At USM and elsewhere, academic models that made sense a generation ago — or even a millennium ago — are long overdue for serious reconsideration.

Prompted by a tighter focus on student success and the harsh realities of a new economic climate, USM has spent much of the past year rethinking how its academic programs should be organized.

In May, the university’s trustees approved an academic reorganization that will transform our university in profound ways. The new plan will further distinguish and energize our academic core, while repositioning us for future growth and sustainability. Most importantly, it will enhance the educational experience for our students.

Through a collaborative effort that actively engaged faculty in the process, six schools and colleges have been consolidated into three new colleges. USM’s two other colleges, Lewiston-Auburn College and the University of Maine School of Law, are not structurally affected.

The plan eliminates the positions of three deans and will lead to the centralization of other administrative services, saving some $1.3 million.

FOR THE STUDENTS

So how will this plan benefit students? Our reorganization plan, which will be implemented during the 2010-2011 academic year, groups academic disciplines in order to encourage the growth of exciting new opportunities for interdisciplinary studies. This will be an intensely creative moment in USM’s academic history.

Faculty across the university are beginning to explore new departmental configurations better suited to a 21st-century university. Some of these discussions could lead to the melding of different disciplines into whole new departments that prepare students for contemporary careers needed to increase our state’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Faculty members are beginning to think about new groupings that address emerging community interests or anticipate future work force educational needs. At the center of all of this work is a constant focus on what our students need for personal and professional success, on providing them with the best 21st-century education that we know how to deliver.

Admission counselors have told us that prospective students often ask about an undergraduate teacher education program. A major component of the plan is a commitment to re-establish a four-year, undergraduate program in teacher education. For years, we have offered a highly regarded graduate-level teacher education program, and it will continue to grow.

But now, undergraduate teacher education, once the academic foundation of this institution when it began as the Gorham Normal School, will return. It will ground aspiring teachers in content areas to ensure that they are well prepared in the disciplines they will teach after graduation.

Like other public institutions across the United States, USM is rethinking the ways in which its organizational structure should serve its current and prospective students.

FAR MORE DIVERSITY

Today’s students reflect a culture and society that is far more diverse than anytime in American history. From 18-year-olds graduating from high school to mid-career professionals seeking further credentials in order to advance their careers, USM’s student body brings a broad variety of expectations to the classroom.

The huge growth in online courses is just one indication of the ways in which students seek instruction that better fits into their lives and increasingly crowded schedules. A university that does not respond to the changing needs of its students ends up losing them.

This reorganization says USM is a nimble institution that understands what it takes to fulfill students’ aspirations for better lives, satisfying careers and effective participation in the global economy.

The future of this university lies in its willingness to make it clear to new generations of Mainers that it will always be ready to respond to their changing needs.

The people of Maine who support this institution though their tuition and tax dollars rightfully expect USM to provide an inspiring, up-to-date education that transforms the lives of students, their families and their communities.

We agree. There is no more inspiring work for all of us at USM who believe in the enduring value of a university education.

 

Selma Botman is president of the University of Southern Maine. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]