Some Maine lawmakers are objecting to a proposal to change the University of Southern Maine’s name to the University of Maine at Portland, citing the cost of the proposal and saying it would undermine other communities in the region.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, seen speaking at the State House last year, says renaming USM to UMaine Portland “serves only to erase the proud southern Maine communities that have hosted USM for decades.” Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It is extremely disappointing that USM officials continue to push for a very costly move to change the name of USM to the University of Maine at Portland,” Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, an alumnus of the university, said in a statement Thursday.

“This name change, which will cost at least $1.2 million, and that’s only what they admit to currently, serves only to erase the proud southern Maine communities that have hosted USM for decades.”

Diamond and two other lawmakers from Windham, Rep. Mark Bryant, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Patrick Corey, released statements Thursday opposing the name change, which is headed to the Legislature for consideration in January.

The University of Maine System trustees approved the name change 10-2 Monday, with trustees Pender Makin and Patricia Riley opposing it.

Absent from the meeting were trustees Sven Bartholomew, Lisa Eames and James Donnnelly.

In September, USM President Glenn Cummings presented the board with findings of a marketing study that said the name change would make the university more attractive to out-of-state students and more clearly identify it as part of the state university system.

The up-front cost of the change is $1.2 million, which would include things like signage, new sports uniforms and ID cards, and a website and logo redesign. Additional costs would be expected over a three- to five-year period.

On Thursday, Cummings said the $1.2 million is a worthwhile investment for a change that he predicts would “be returned in triple within five years” with revenue generated by new out-of-state students.

Cummings said he has heard mostly positive feedback on the name change and he opposes the view that other communities in southern Maine would feel less of a connection to the school if it were renamed the University of Maine at Portland.

“Based on their logic, they’re saying people outside Farmington don’t connect with the University of Maine at Farmington,” he said. “People in Wilton, Strong and Temple affiliate deeply with Farmington.”

Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is the sponsor of the bill that would change the university’s name. Lewiston-Auburn College, which is part of USM, would retain its current name but continue to operate under the university.

Libby, who is a part-time graduate student at USM, said he reviewed the marketing study and agreed the proposal would help attract out-of-state students and address a workforce shortage in Maine.

“I think all of us are aware Portland has been getting a lot of positive attention over the years,” Libby said. “It’s a tourist destination and a very desirable place for young people to want to spend time. I reviewed the study and agreed this is a smart approach for the system to undertake.”

However, Corey, who also is a USM alumnus, called the proposal a “costly way to squander hard-earned brand equity.”

“USM enjoys the prestige of being a true regional institution, and has built that reputation through the array of students it serves, good work in the surrounding communities, and relationships with local businesses,” he said in his statement.

“A name change – probably a brand’s most meaningful and permanent aspect – that is less inclusive and that ignores the institution’s other regional campuses is a move in the wrong direction. I hope that the Legislature will reject this idea,” he said.

Bryant, the third lawmaker to speak out on the change Thursday, said Windham sends many of its high school graduates to USM and benefits from the school’s nearby campuses in Portland and Gorham.

“Changing the name to the University of Maine at Portland undermines the regional nature of the school, and its importance to communities like mine across southern Maine,” he said.

The current proposal is not the first time a name change has been considered for the school, which started out as Gorham Normal School in 1878.

When Gorham State College and the University of Maine at Portland merged in 1970, the school was renamed the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham and was referred to by locals as PoGo.

The current name, the University of Southern Maine, was adopted in 1978.

Correction: This story was updated at 10:28 a.m. on November 22, 2019 to correct Rep. Patrick Corey’s political affiliation.

 

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