Dear Chancellor Malloy,

Congratulations on your appointment as my new boss. I listened to your thoughtful comments when you were introduced to the public.

Allow me, however, to suggest some additions and revisions. As an historian starting my 32nd year at Orono, and as the editor of a forthcoming book on the University of Maine’s history from 1965 until 2020, I’d like to offer some historical perspectives.

Allow me, however, to suggest some additions and revisions. As a historian starting my 32nd year at Orono, and as the editor of a forthcoming book on the University of Maine’s history from 1965 until 2020, I’d like to offer some historical perspectives.

1. Please try to find some time to learn (more) about how the University of Maine System came to be in 1968. The Summer 2016 issue of Maine History, the state’s official historical journal, discusses the several proposed configurations of what became seven campuses – leaving out what later became Maine vocational schools (now community colleges) and Maine Maritime Academy.
The parallels are not exact, but the separation in Connecticut of the University of Connecticut from your state’s four-year colleges and community colleges is akin to the absence in Maine of one centralized system.

2. Please keep in mind the fact that the University of Maine in Orono had to fight for its very existence as an autonomous land-grant school under the 1862 land-grant Morrill Act. Bowdoin College tried to use the federally allocated funds for professorships and courses that were not exactly the equivalent of an actual and grant college.

Please also keep in mind that in the 1960s, the then-president of Bowdoin, James Coles, chaired the commission that lowered the profile of previously autonomous Orono as only rhetorically the flagship of the new University of Maine System. (Why the head of a private liberal arts college would be given this key role remains a mystery.)

3. As a result, conflicting visions of Orono vs. the other six system schools have never been resolved. We are officially the flagship campus and the dominant research campus, but this still doesn’t sit well with many powerful persons, not least, several system trustees. The notion of a flagship strikes them as elitist. Pathetic.

Why must so many be afraid of seeking excellence? Why doesn’t this apply to collegiate athletics, where no one seriously demands that everyone makes the team and everyone plays for the same amount of time? Why is hierarchy taken for granted in athletics but not in academics?

4. Regarding research, please try to broaden the notion held by the board of acceptable research being largely limited to that focusing on Maine and New England. Such parochialism is nonsense and surely doesn’t characterize other New England land-grant schools and, for that matter, most land-grants across America.

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared by two Brandeis University professors and someone from another school.

One of the Brandeis professors had retired to Maine and had a part-time appointment at the University of Maine. His research was on circadian rhythms – the inner biological clock  that regulates almost all life on Earth. Had he carried out the same research as a full-time University of Maine professor, would he have been celebrated? Or would he have been lauded only if his research created jobs for Mainers? I wonder.

5. This brings me to my final suggestion. Please try to enlarge the notion of research and teaching being wholly utilitarian. How realistic is it to require virtually every course, every major, and every degree be linked to a job? How many land-grant universities embrace such a narrow vision of a defacto vocational school? Darn few, if any, I suspect.

Is no one familiar with the defenses of the liberal arts as practical in the long run if not immediately for critical thinking in nearly all fields?

No less important, is no one aware of Justin Morrill’s own vision of farmers tilling the land while reciting classical poetry and simultaneously using cutting edge (no pun intended) agricultural knowledge and equipment developed by land-grant colleges?

 


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