AUGUSTA — To guard against a financial failure of the University of Maine at Machias, system trustees voted Monday to make it a regional campus of the flagship University of Maine in Orono.

Officials said UMM, which has posted budget deficits for years, was not sustainable on its own. Under the new structure, it will keep its name and degree-granting authority, and will be led by an academic dean who reports to the president at UMaine.

“I think this is momentous,” Samuel Collins, chairman of the University of Maine System board of trustees, said after the unanimous vote. “It’s not easy bringing two institutions together.”

The change will take effect July 1.

UMM has a roughly $9 million annual budget, and in recent years has needed up to $1 million in emergency system funds to balance its budget. The Machias campus also faces enrollment challenges because of a 31 percent decline in the number of students graduating from Washington County high schools since 2007.

The changes, officials say, will stabilize finances at Machias by reducing some personnel costs, and by increasing tuition dollars by adding new students.

UMM already has about 35 extra students this year who originally applied to Orono but were referred to Machias for a one-year program to build up foundational academic skills before returning to Orono in their second year.

The Down East campus, about 100 miles east of Orono, has 745 students, a 20 percent drop from five years earlier. The campus has 76 employees, including two administrators and 34 full-time faculty members.

The move would cut administrative salaries because it would eliminate the need for a campus president, a campus budget officer and an executive assistant to the president.

“I think we can look forward to this being a tremendous advancement for the universities, the communities they serve and the state of Maine,” University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said, noting that there is still work to do to implement the changes. “People approached this with open minds, tough questions at times and a realization that if we work together, we can achieve the right outcomes.”

Academically, officials say they will create new “four-plus-one” programs, which means Machias graduates could attend Orono for one year and graduate with both an undergraduate and a master’s degree. They also plan new “two-plus-two” programs, in which a student attends Machias for the first two years of undergraduate work, then goes to Orono for the final two years.

Some Machias professors hold graduate appointments at UMaine already, and the two campuses partnered in 2014 to have Orono handle financial aid management for Machias.

Also Monday, the trustees approved a new free-speech policy that affirms constitutionally protected speech, calls for civility and gives the university room to prohibit speech if it crosses into harassment or threats.

Officials said the policy would help the system navigate free speech issues, while making clear that students do not have the right to shout down a speaker, which has happened at other campuses in recent months.

The policy says in part that “demands for civility and mutual respect will not be used to justify restricting the discussion or expression of ideas or speech that may be disagreeable or even offensive to some members of the University community. Free speech is not absolute, and one person’s claim to exercise his or her right to free speech may not be used to deny another person’s right to free speech.”

The policy defends constitutionally protected speech, and reads: “There shall be no restriction at any System institutions on these fundamental rights, although the University may prohibit speech that violates the law, defames specific individuals, genuinely threatens or harasses others, or violates privacy or confidentiality requirements or interests.”

The trustees were also briefed Monday on the need to renovate or replace aging facilities – 40 percent of all system facilities are more than 50 years old. The latest review by Sightlines, a Connecticut-based firm, found that the system would have to spend about $35 million a year just to slow or stop deterioration of facilities, and should ideally spend $80 million a year to make improvements.

The report comes as the system navigates a multipronged approach to raising funds for facilities. The governor’s proposed budget calls for issuing as much as $100 million in bonds to pay for system renovations, new construction and technology upgrades in classrooms and labs. A bill sponsored by Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, seeks $75 million in general obligation bonds for the system, and officials say they are also seeking another $25 million to $30 million in revenue bonds.

Those state funds would be used to tackle projects in a five-year $250 million capital investment plan, said the system’s director of facilities management, Chip Gavin. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in basic deferred maintenance, the five-year plan includes $20 million for a new engineering building at Orono and $12.5 million for a new student center and dorms at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

“Out of the gate, very few of the projects are new construction. A lot of this is focused on catching up,” Gavin said. “The plan is based on need to have, not nice to have.”

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal asks for the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to be given permission to issue as much as $100 million in bonds for the system. The authority can issue bonding after a majority vote of its board and a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature. Voter approval is not needed.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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