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Journal Tribune
Updated January 18, 2019
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From USM to University of Maine at Portland? Signs point to ‘yes’

“We think it’s necessary, honestly, to ensure our future,” President Glenn Cummings said Monday.

The university, which has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston, has been exploring the idea of a name change for months.

Cummings said “University of Maine at Portland” emerged as the preferred choice after polling various groups from alumni to prospective out-of-state students over the last six months.

Now campus officials will hold a six-month period of community forums to get more feedback, before taking the proposal to the UMaine System trustees for a vote by this fall. If they support the name change, the proposal will go to the Legislature, likely in 2020, for a vote.

Cummings said feedback from surveys of 400 prospective students, 400 parents and about 100 out-of-state guidance counselors indicate that changing the name would make a difference to prospective students and out-of-state guidance counselors who help guide students on college choices.

For one, out-of-state people aren’t sure exactly where the university is physically located, and they are unsure if it is part of the state’s public university system. In an online survey, 81 percent of out-of-state high school guidance counselors said the are more likely to recommend USM knowing it is in Portland.

Support for a name change among USM community members was mixed: Faculty showed the most support – 54 percent supported the change; alumni and students showed the least support, 28 percent and 30 percent respectively.

“I think it’s a smart move,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, who is also a student as an MBA candidate. “It’s forward-looking and it’s a name change with an eye toward recruiting the best talent we can for the state of Maine.”

His colleague, Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, disagrees. Diamond, an alumnus of the school, penned a full-throated denunciation of the change in a Portland Press Herald op-ed published in November.

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Cummings said he later met with Diamond to discuss the name change, and the two plan to make joint presentations to alumni groups. Diamond did not return a call for comment on Monday.

USM has changed its names several times already. It started out 140 years ago as Gorham Normal School in 1878, at one point changed to University of Maine at Portland-Gorham and was referred to by locals as PoGo, and in 1978 changed its name to the University of Southern Maine.

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