CUMBERLAND — Maine’s universities face unprecedented economic, demographic and competitive challenges, leading some to suggest changes to the formula we use for allocating resources. But no matter how you cut the slices, the pie is shrinking. It cannot satisfy the appetite for spending at our state’s seven independent and administratively siloed universities.

As stewards of public higher education in Maine, the board of trustees does not have a preference for one campus over another, as suggested in an opinion piece that ran on these pages recently (“Maine Voices: USM funding has suffered from ‘Orono-first’ culture,” Feb. 1). Your University of Maine System trustees do share one bias – the agreement that our students come first. We list their education and research as well as our missions to support economic development and perform public service among our top priorities.

In the face of our challenges, a funding formula debate is counterproductive and not enough to solve our problems. We need a wholesale change in our operating model that ends intra-campus competition and senseless inefficiencies.

We need all our facilities, faculty, programs and staff operating under one administrative structure that cost-effectively delivers on the mission outlined above.

The One University Initiative unveiled last month by Chancellor James Page is the way forward.

Under the chancellor’s plan we will maintain seven mission-differentiated, mutually dependent campuses, each with its own unique value proposition for the people and places it serves. The president at each campus will be charged with pursuing prominence and opportunity through distinction.

Our seven institutions will operate as one fully integrated university, reducing redundancies and ensuring that our entire enterprise benefits from the expertise and efficiency that can only be achieved through true cooperation and scale.

On the academic side, our faculty and staff will be tasked with integrating our academic and research programs across our institutions, ensuring that our best and most needed areas of study are adequately resourced and available to every qualified Maine learner. We do not seek conformity or to confine disciplines to a single campus, but rather seek collaboration among programs across Maine, achieving single, statewide university access from all seven of our institutions.

A key example of the benefit of this approach can be seen in the cooperative development of our cybersecurity program. The collaboration among four of our institutions is an early and resoundingly successful example of what is to come. While no single university in Maine had the means to develop a program of distinction, our collaborative effort earned the University of Maine System a designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cybersecurity from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Key elements of the program will be housed at the University of Southern Maine.

The designation is the first of its kind for a university system and brings more than just prestige. Our cybersecurity graduates will have a leg up when pursuing employment and our program will have a better chance of earning grants and contracts. The value of Maine-based expertise in the emerging field of cybersecurity is hard to calculate but the field is expected to create the need for more than 300,000 additional jobs over the next several years.

The opportunity to create similar outcomes can be achieved in other priority programs. Over 100 academics and administrators are at work in nine areas of study looking for new opportunities to achieve through collaboration. This is the excellence our students, employers and communities deserve.

The One University Initiative will require a multi-year implementation. This will bring our traditional funding formula to an end. In its place will be a capacity to invest strategically in the programs, services and research that matter most to our students and our state.

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