Since it was founded as the Gorham Normal School in 1878, the University of Southern Maine has undergone several name changes. Now, its current president is proposing that its name be changed again, possibly to one more in line with the school’s connection to the city of Portland.

Students change classes in 2016 near Luther Bonney Hall on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine. USM could soon have a new name. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

USM President Glenn Cummings sent letters to the entire USM community recently suggesting that it might be time to explore a name change.

He stopped short of suggesting a new name, but officials interviewed Wednesday said the University of Maine Portland seems the most popular candidate.

The name change would require approval by trustees and the Maine Legislature, and would apply to the Portland, Gorham and Lewiston campuses.

“Over the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about whether a new name for our university might better extend our geographic reach and enhance our reputation and appeal among college bound students here in Maine and beyond,” Cummings wrote in the letter sent to alumni Wednesday. “I have begun to share my thinking with many members of the community and would like to ask for your input as a valuable member of our 52,000-strong alumni network.”

Faculty and staff were made aware of Cummings’ proposal in late July, but on Wednesday thousands of USM graduates received an email informing them that a name change was being considered.

Surveys soliciting input are expected to be mailed in mid-September to the university community.

“I want to reiterate that this is only an exploration,” Cummings wrote. “One important point to keep in mind is that our commitment to a three-campus presence in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn will not be affected in any way by the outcome of this exploration. Even if the research indicates a name change would be beneficial to the university, this would be a long and deliberative process.”

USM President Glenn Cummings, seen in 2015, said the consideration of a new name for the school is “is only an exploration.” Staff photo by Derek Davis

Cummings said the first step was to hire a market research/branding partner to determine perceptions of USM among likely college-bound graduates, guidance counselors and parents and to gauge whether a name change would enhance people’s interest in attending USM or recommending it to friends and family.

Robert Stein, USM’s executive director of public affairs, has worked closely with Cummings on the proposal.

Stein said the university solicited market research bids in June. About two weeks ago, the university awarded the contract to Broadreach Public Relations and Market Decisions Research. The Portland firms will survey the university community. Stein said the project will cost about $60,000.

Stein said a name change could enhance the university’s reputation and appeal. Out-of-state high school graduates looking at colleges and universities could be confused by the University of Southern Maine name.

“Do they even know where that is?” Stein asked. “A name change could reflect our growing ties to the city of Portland.”

Stein said the University of Maine Portland has been getting the most favorable reaction.

Stein said the proposal is coming at an exciting time. Enrollment is growing and USM this month received a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor to design a new Center for the Arts on its Portland campus.

The $50 million project will feature a 1,000 seat concert hall as well as a recital hall and art gallery.

Corey Hascall graduated from USM in 1999 and is now vice president of alumni engagement at the University of Southern Maine Foundation.

“I’m excited because I think USM is in a great transformational time, and changing our name is a way to reflect that,” Hascall said.

Hascall likes the University of Maine Portland suggestion because it puts the university on a map that is recognizable to most people.

“I think that is the strongest contender … it just makes the most sense,” Hascall said.

“Prospective students from outside of Maine have no idea where we are,” she added. “A name change could attract more students. And frankly we are out of step with the rest of the University of Maine system.”

Hascall was referring to the six other campuses in the UMaine System including the University of Maine in Orono, the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Maine at Farmington.

Alumni reaction to Cummings’ proposal has been mixed. Hascall said she received several emails Wednesday afternoon with some graduates making comments ranging from “don’t change” to “thank God.”

In 1978, the university changed its name to the University of Southern Maine. Before that, it had been called the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham and was referred to by locals as PoGo.

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

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