WINDHAM — “The University of Southern Maine – the University of Everyone!” Well, everyone in Portland – that is, if USM President Glenn Cummings gets his way. He wants to change the name of the University of Southern Maine (as the school has been known since 1978) to the University of Maine-Portland.

Evidently, President Cummings feels that stripping away southern Maine’s connection to the university and replacing it with the name Portland sends a more sophisticated and acceptable image of our university. That’s correct: In one swipe of his pen, the entire reference to southern Maine would be eliminated from what has been a proud, long history of identification with the university. Some frustrated alumni, upon hearing the news, described this move as, well … a bit pretentious and definitely politically naïve.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that, in my opinion, President Cummings has done a wonderful job as the leader of USM, and I feel that he has proven that he’s the right man at the right time to lead USM.

USM was founded in 1878 as Gorham Normal School, then became known as Gorham State Teachers College in 1945. In 1964-65, the name was changed to Gorham State College. The merger in 1970 of Gorham State College with the first University of Maine at Portland birthed the somewhat unwise title of University of Maine, Portland-Gorham – or, as it became blushingly known, “Po-Go University.” Such should be a warning to the incessant name changers among us.

So, you see, we’ve already tried going the Portland route and it didn’t work out so well. Besides, if President Cummings is intent on changing the name of USM for some unknown reason, then how about honoring the original name and the proud town where it all started – Gorham? Gorham has been a part of the institution’s name since the beginning, until USM was created, and it’s where the college proudly has its roots. I’m not suggesting such a change, but it certainly would make more sense than the University of Maine-Portland.

The communities that make up southern Maine are mostly rural, and the people of these towns are proud of what they are and the values they hold true. The name “University of Southern Maine” is inclusive and welcoming to all, and to simply discard that identity and replace it with Portland could have unintended consequences. When the voters went to the polls earlier this month to vote on a bond that brought more than $26 million to USM, it might have been a harder sell with a less inclusive identity for the university.


In fact, if the name-change proposal should get beyond the University of Maine System Board of Trustees, which I doubt, given the trustees’ recognition of the importance of maintaining the broad representation of the name “University of Southern Maine,” the next stop for consideration and approval would be the Legislature. The legislators who represent the scores of mostly rural communities in southern Maine would not take kindly to the idea.

This “Portland bill,” as I’m sure it would be called, would be enthusiastically debated, and based on what many of the alumni have been telling me, the opposition would be heartfelt and widespread. Bullying the reference to southern Maine into submission and replacing it with Portland? Might want to rethink that one.

Even if we limit the definition of southern Maine to just three counties – Cumberland, York and Androscoggin – that’s a population of over 600,000 citizens, 10 times the population of Portland.

I know that President Cummings lives in Portland and that he represented the city in the Legislature. And who can disagree that Portland is a unique and beautiful city? However, Portland is not Baldwin or Pownal or Kittery or even Gorham or any of the other roughly 70 beautiful towns and cities in southern Maine.

I would suggest to President Cummings that the University of Southern Maine and, as he and we so proudly exclaim, “The University of Everyone,” is fine just the way it is without an embarrassing intervention from another “name changer.” He may want to huddle with the Po-Go folks for some advice.


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