When she applied to the University of Southern Maine last year, Lily Loftus of Bennington, Vermont, didn’t give much thought to the school’s name.

Lily Loftus, a USM freshman from Vermont, said, “It’s kind of misleading” if the school’s name is UMaine Portland “but we live in Gorham.” Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“It didn’t really make a difference to me,” said Loftus.

The freshman studying linguistics has some of her classes on the university’s Portland campus, but like other residential students, lives on the Gorham campus. She said she’s “not thrilled” about a proposed change that would rename the school the University of Maine at Portland.

“It’s kind of misleading if it’s ‘at Portland’ but we live in Gorham,” Loftus said. “I know they’re moving forward with putting dorms (in Portland), but as of right now there’s nowhere to live here so it seems a little misleading.”

The proposal to rename the school gained the support of the University of Maine System board of trustees, but needs approval from the Legislature, which will take up the issue when it convenes in January.

USM President Glenn Cummings has pushed for the name change as a way of attracting more out-of-state students and more closely identifying the school with the rest of the state university system.

Ashley Gonzalez, a freshman from Saco, favors the name change, saying it “will bring a lot of out-of-state students to the Portland area.” Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

But opponents say the change, with an estimated up-front cost of around $1.2 million, is expensive and undermines the regional nature of the university, which has campuses in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston.

Currently there is no student housing in Portland, but the university has plans to construct a 550-bed dorm by the fall of 2022.

Of about 20 students interviewed on the Gorham and Portland campuses Monday, only three said they support the name change.

Others disagreed and mostly said they felt the $1.2 million should be spent on other things or said they didn’t care about the name.

Some, however, were in favor of the plan.

“I think it’s a great idea and will bring a lot of out-of-state students to the Portland area,” said Ashley Gonzalez, a freshman from Saco.

Gonzalez, a biology major, commutes from home and takes all her classes on the Portland campus.

“I think it’s great because there’s a lot of tourism and sometimes for projects we have to go downtown,” she said. “I think having the name changed to the University of Maine at Portland is great.”

On the Gorham campus, freshman Colin Petit said the name recognition of a larger city like Portland justifies the change.

Grace Boisvert and Colin Petit, freshmen from Biddeford, give their opinions on the proposed name change for USM. Petit said the name recognition of Portland justifies the change. Staff photo by Jill Brady Buy this Photo

“Portland is nicer than Gorham,” said Petit, of Biddeford. “Well, I don’t know about nicer, but it’s more known by everybody, I feel like.”

But Abshiro Noor, another freshman interviewed on the Gorham campus, disagreed. She said the name change would be confusing.

“Calling it the University of Maine at Portland doesn’t make sense because we have different campuses in different areas,” she said. “Since Portland is the city, I guess in a way it would be (more appealing for out-of-state students), but I don’t really think it will make a difference.”

Last year the university conducted a market research study based on the feedback of hundreds of prospective students, parents and guidance counselors.

Students change classes Monday on the USM Portland campus. The university system’s trustees want “Portland” in the school’s name. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The study found that most out-of-state parents and prospective students didn’t know the university had a campus in Portland and that capitalizing on the city’s popularity as a tourist destination would make it more attractive to applicants.

At a board of trustees meeting in September, Cummings estimated the change would bring in 80 to 100 new out-of-state students in the first year, meaning the school could pay for the cost of the name change in about three years.

But Nikko Laventure, a freshman from Ashby, Massachusetts, said he doesn’t think the reasons behind the name change “are very valid.”

“I think it’s fine the way it is,” said Laventure, 18. “I don’t think they should change it, but they can do what they want because they’re the ones with the money.”

Zachary Harrison, a sophomore from Scarborough, agreed the name should not change. The University of Southern Maine sounds better and is more inclusive for the university’s three campuses, he said.

“If you want to put $1 million into the University of Southern Maine, there are a lot of things that would be better than a name change,” Harrison said, suggesting upgrades to residential buildings or the food in the dining halls.

The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, USM Alumni Board and USM Foundation have endorsed the name change. Elected officials, however, are divided on the issue.

Last week a group of Windham lawmakers released statements opposing the change based on the cost and saying it takes away from other communities that affiliate with the university.

The Gorham Town Council also recently reaffirmed support for a resolution against the change, saying the town has a “unique history as a distinct college community with its own identity” and a name change would not be in the “best interests of the Gorham community.”

Two of the three state lawmakers from Gorham, Rep. Maureen Terry and Sen. Linda Sanborn, both Democrats, said on Monday that they support the change.

“I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to the students who are already here and now they’re losing that name that has been meaningful to them,” Sanborn said.

“The letters I’ve gotten from them have mostly had to do with facilities and thinking we should improve facilities at the Gorham campus before we go invest somewhere else, but I’m afraid they’re not seeing the bigger picture,” she said. “They will get what they want if the university is able to get on more stable financial footing.”

Rep. Andrew McLean of Gorham and Sen. Ben Chipman of Portland, both Democrats, are undecided on the issue.

“I know the administration wants to change the name and I’ve heard some of the reasons for that, but I’d like to also hear more from students and faculty,” Chipman said. “I’m keeping an open mind at this point.”




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