PRESQUE ISLE — Facing deep financial shortfalls, University of Maine System officials say they are committed to a long-term transformation that will streamline costs by cutting overhead and sharply focusing on what academic programs will be offered at each campus.

“We have made enormous progress,” Chancellor James Page told the system’s board of trustees Sunday at the opening of its two-day meeting at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. “If I can be so bold as to say: I think our teams have made more progress in 36 months than (the system made in) the previous 36 years.”

The so-called “One University” initiative is a multipronged approach to reducing overlap and saving money to close a deficit projected to reach $69 million by 2019. Page and the trustees have repeatedly said that maintaining seven campuses, each with its own administration, is financially unsustainable.

At its most basic level, the plan involves consolidating administrative structures to cut costs and overhauling the academic offerings at each campus to reduce overlap.

Some parts of the One University plan have already been completed, such as consolidating certain back-office functions. Other aspects lie ahead, such as the academic program changes and consolidating the finance functions.

So far, consolidating information technology and procurement is saving the system $5 million a year and consolidating human resources functions is estimated to save $1.4 million by 2019, officials have said. There is no estimate yet for the potential savings in consolidating the finance functions.

An updated five-year financial projection, taking into account the savings from the various initiatives, is scheduled to be presented to the trustees Monday.

As part of the academic overhaul, teams of faculty are currently analyzing each academic area, such as nursing and business, and evaluating programs across the seven campuses to see what, if any, changes should be made – whether, for example, multiple campuses should offer the same degree, or only a few should. The process will eventually evaluate all course offerings.

Dave Stevens, who is leading the overhaul as the system’s director of organizational effectiveness, described many of the changes so far as laying the foundation for future work, which will stretch out for years.

“This is not a one-year change process,” Stevens told the trustees. He said the foundational work will be done by the summer 2018, when the system is projected to be operating as a single entity.

Over the next academic year, he said, officials plan to present the One University plan to each campus to get input from employees, students and members of the local community.

Student trustee Paul Nelson said that was a key step, and that officials should use student governments on each campus to help get the word out about the changes or there will be “mass confusion.”

“I’m asking myself, what is academic transformation? What does it mean to me as a student? We’re going to whiplash students if they don’t understand,” Nelson said.

Page said changing the university community’s thinking around whether the system is seven individual campuses, or a single system, is also key.

Under the old model, the campuses were encouraged to compete for students, while the new model is to see the campuses as individual players on a single team. The old model led campuses, for example, to offer lower tuition or better financial aid to get students who might have attended another UMaine System campus. Similarly, a student transferring between campuses was seen as a “loss” to one campus and a “gain” to another. In the new model, it would be seen as a “win” for the system because the system retained that student.

Several trustees said they were still concerned about the financial bottom line.

“We’re cutting a path through brush and we don’t know as we hack through the brush where we’re going to end up, and what resources we may or may not have, and we’re developing a vision as we go,” said trustee James Irwin, noting that Page did not include financial projections. “How do you line up the goal with economic reality?”

Page said eliminating the projected $69 million budget gap was a top priority, because it stands in the way of major investments.

“We have to absolutely eliminate the structural deficit. We have to get beyond the uncertainty of ‘next year we are going to have to cut,'” Page said. “Once we do that, we can continue to invest in a small way, but the investments have to be very careful and very limited.”

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

[email protected]

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