I am a University of Southern Maine student who is graduating in May and wants to stay, live and work in Maine.
I’m sure information about student protests over recently proposed cuts and our lobbying efforts in Augusta has reached every corner of Maine, but I would like to take some time to say that we care about our university and our education and are concerned about the “metropolitan” vision offered by the administration.
The vision is, in effect, a full-scale assault on the liberal arts and humanities, keeping largely intact what the administration purports to be fields that the “market demands.” The vision is vague, numbers-driven, and lifeless – lacking in quality and driven by comparisons to “the Honda corporation” or “Netflix.” They have also envisioned reducing “redundancies” so that programs aren’t offered at multiple campuses. Essentially, their “metropolitan” vision is one that shifts USM from being a public good to being a corporatized diploma mill.
REDUNDANT – OR ACCESSIBLE?
USM is the only urban comprehensive university in the state of Maine, a phrase floated prior to “metropolitan” university. In other words, it’s a university which offers programs in liberal arts, humanities, sciences, engineering, medicine, business and law. It is important that we keep this distinction in our vision of a “metropolitan” university.
The University of Southern Maine is not a private, for-profit university to be run like a corporation or bank. It is a public good sponsored by our taxpayer dollars. The purely quantitative and numbers-driven eradication of liberal arts and humanities programs is an assault on what we Mainers need and want. I therefore reject the administration’s vision and I offer an alternative in its place.
First, let’s not cede to the corporate model of ridding our public universities of “redundancies.” Offering programs at more than one university is not redundancy – it is access to Mainers who are “place-based,” those who do not have the luxury of transplanting to Fort Kent or Orono. In fact, last September, Cardhub released a report which lists Portland as one of the top cities with the most learned citizens. Should Portland lose that distinction? We need to continue to offer easy access to education where Mainers live and work.
Second, instead of gutting liberal arts and humanities, let us expand them and incorporate them into Portland’s creative economy. We are a city steeped in the arts and creative enterprises.
The city is moving forward with the PACE (Portland Arts and Creative Enterprise) initiative and Mayor Michael Brennan has expressed interest in being involved in the future of USM. Let us move forward in realizing our university’s and our city’s full potential when it comes to the arts and creative enterprise!
Third, let us take advantage of Portland’s culinary distinction. In 2013, the Huffington Post ranked Portland as one of the top 15 cities with the best restaurant offerings. Portland also houses world-class brewing companies such as Allagash and Shipyard.
If USM wants to aspire toward a “metropolitan” and urban comprehensive university, let’s offer culinary arts and brewing degrees and work with local restaurants, with Allagash and Shipyard, to help our region climb to the top of the culinary charts.
A SOURCE OF PRIDE
Fourth, we should take advantage of Portland’s growing distinction as a high-tech hub. In April of 2013, Techie.com ranked Portland as one of the top 10 unexpected cities for high-tech innovation.
According to Techie.com, this is largely due to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the Casco Bay Technology Hub. USM can partner and strengthen relationships with these organizations to make Maine the East Coast’s Silicon Valley.
Finally, let’s capitalize on Portland’s distinction as a place to raise a family.
In 2012, Parenting Magazine ranked Portland as both the third best city for families and education. As the state’s only urban comprehensive university, let us partner with families, communities and schools to make USM the No. 1 destination for not only high school graduates, but also pre-K and kindergartners.
Let’s make USM a source of pride for the community and our families; let’s have kindergartners answer, when asked what they want to be as grown-ups, “I want to go to USM where I can be…” a doctor, lawyer, artist or entrepreneur.
While not a complete list of what a “metropolitan” vision should look like, these suggestions could be a starting point for avoiding turning USM into a corporatized, lifeless “Netflix university.”
— Special to the Telegram