March 12, 2010

University system due for major change, leader says

DENNIS HOEY

— By

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Sunday, January 11, 2009...University of Maine system Chancellor Richard Pattenaude introduces his action plan for achieving financial sustainability throughout the UMaine system at a board of trustees meeting at USM in Gorham.

click image to enlarge

John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Sunday, January 11, 2009...University of Maine system Chancellor Richard Pattenaude introduces his action plan for achieving financial sustainability throughout the UMaine system at a board of trustees meeting at USM in Gorham.

Staff Writer

GORHAM — The University of Maine System must embrace ''transformational'' changes or face troublesome financial circumstances in the near future, its chancellor says.

Richard L. Pattenaude delivered that message to the system's board of trustees Sunday at the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham.

Pattenaude said that to balance its budget, the university system must reduce spending by about $42.8 million within the next four years.

He said the system, which includes seven universities, can no longer pursue incremental cost-cutting. The changes must be broader and deeper than anything the system has ever implemented, Pattenaude said.

Driving the need to reduce costs and make changes, he said, are the global economy's impact on investment income; the system's flat enrollment figures; a decline in the number of high school graduates; the need to control tuition increases, and rising energy, health care and salary costs.

Pattenaude said the changes are urgent, and should be phased in beginning in September. A 12-member task force will be formed immediately to look at ways to lower operating costs. Its members will make recommendations to Pattenaude, who will present his final report to trustees July 13.

''This is a beginning, not an end. It's not a finished plan. It's a set of key goals,'' Pattenaude told trustees after presenting his proposal, ''New Challenges, New Directions: Achieving Long-Term Financial Sustainability.''

The first step toward reducing costs will be a task force review of the size and role of the Chancellor's Office; the structure and funding of systemwide services; the focus of university missions; the relationships among the seven campuses, and the academic offerings provided in a geographic area.

Pattenaude said $18 million in reductions must be made during the next fiscal year if his plan is to succeed, with the goal being a $42.8 million reduction within four years.

''Each year, this figure will compound unless we do something. These are cuts that have to be made,'' he said. ''This is more than we have ever done in the past. There is just no flexibility left.''

Pattenaude's plan for change lacked many specifics, but he did mention several areas that needed to be considered. One of those is a greater use of Internet-based services to better serve students and employees.

His report also suggested saving as much as $10 million in academic programs and services.

''This is about becoming a 21st- century university. We haven't changed fundamentally since 1968 (the year the system was formed),'' Pattenaude said.

The board unanimously approved the chancellor's plan.

Trustees chairman Lyndel J. Wishcamper said the system must do everything it can to limit tuition costs.

''Every time we raise tuition, we are pricing families out of our system,'' he said.

Wishcamper said decreases in state aid to higher education are making decisions like raising tuition all that much harder.

''This (plan) is a long-term solution to the sustainability of our system,'' he said. ''This could be a strenuous and a painful process. These are not going to be temporary changes. These are going to be permanent changes to the way we do business.''

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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