The University of Southern Maine will start implementing a reorganization plan this summer that President Selma Botman hopes will promote a new interdisciplinary approach to academics and revitalize the university.

Botman is setting up volunteer committees to help draft new governance and policy documents and choose interim deans for three new colleges that will be formed in the reorganization.

She also plans to establish USM’s first curriculum committee, to coordinate academic programs across the university with an eye toward developing interdisciplinary studies targeting real-world needs.

“To address many of the issues we’re facing today in the world, we need an interdisciplinary approach,” Botman said. “I envision a self-confident institution that periodically looks at itself and says, ‘What can we do differently?’ A university that’s on the cutting edge of a movement that is forward-thinking and responsible.”

The reorganization will consolidate eight schools and colleges into five, and eliminate three academic deans’ positions, saving about $750,000 a year.

The USM Faculty Senate approved the plan in April, by 25-17 advisory vote. The University of Maine System Board of Trustees endorsed the plan in May.

Botman said she wants to have the three new deans in place by the end of August and complete most of the reorganization within a year.

While saving money is driving the reorganization, it’s not the only goal, Botman said.

She views the reorganization as a rebirth for USM, following a recent system-sponsored market study by Noel-Levitz, a Colorado-based consulting firm that is developing recommendations for “rebranding” Maine’s universities and boosting enrollment.

In the past eight years, USM’s enrollment has fallen from just over 11,000 to just over 9,000. Only 34 percent of its students earn bachelor’s degrees within six years.

“People realize things have to change,” Botman said. “This is an opportunity for all boats to rise, especially for students. We want to expand everyone’s horizons.”

Jeannine Uzzi, vice chairwoman of the Faculty Senate, says the reorganization has the potential to change the university in exciting ways, but it has a long way to go.

“Right now all we have is the template for reorganizing the schools and colleges,” said Uzzi, an associate professor of classics. “The devil is in the details. I do think the reorg will be good for USM in the long run.”

Though some faculty members have serious concerns about the reorganization, it has spawned difficult but productive discussions among staff members in various departments, she continued.

“It’s forcing professors to talk to each other across disciplines,” Uzzi said. “I’ve had more conversations with faculty lately than I did in the previous seven years.”

USM’s eight schools and colleges are: School of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology; College of Arts and Sciences; School of Business; College of Education and Human Development; Muskie School of Public Service; College of Nursing and Health Professions; Lewiston-Auburn College; and University of Maine School of Law.

Lewiston-Auburn College and the law school won’t be affected by the reorganization.

The other six schools and colleges will be reorganized into three new colleges centered around science and math, communication and culture, and public service, business and graduate education.

The university is searching internally for the three new deans, Botman said.

The deans of the science and math college and the communication and culture college will have two-year interim positions that could become permanent if the deans prove to be a good fit.

The dean of public service, business and graduate education will have a one-year position that will be filled permanently after a national search, Botman said.

“It’s a complicated college involving several professional schools and we need new, fresh leadership,” she said.

John Wright, dean of the School of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology, won’t be in the running for any of the new dean positions.

In May, Botman appointed him to a two-year position as USM’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. He replaced Kate Forhan, who stepped aside to take a faculty position.

Wright came to USM in 2000 and is the senior dean.

He is chairman of the steering committee responsible for implementing the strategic plan. The university will conduct a national search in 2011-12 to fill the position permanently.

Botman said she doesn’t anticipate leadership changes for the schools of public service, music, nursing or social work.

Department chairs will be appointed, or reappointed, as they have in the past, but for a maximum of one year, she said.

Colleges, schools and departments will follow approved budgets. Routine academic work such as scheduling faculty, hiring adjuncts, advising students and buying supplies will continue as usual.

Many policies related to that work will have to change, Uzzi said, for the reorganization to produce the results that Botman wants, particularly regarding interdisciplinary studies.

If the new deans are strong and creative, they will promote increased sharing between faculty members and students in everything from program development to course scheduling, she said.

Concerns about cross-pollination are strongest among colleges that are accredited by professional organizations, which have certain core academic requirements that cannot be watered down, Uzzi said.

USM will have to break down barriers between departments, especially when it comes to compensating instructors who develop and team-teach interdisciplinary courses.

“The institution traditionally has not valued new ventures and working across boundaries,” Uzzi said.

“It’s only now starting to say maybe that’s what we should be doing.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]