The University of Southern Maine will withdraw legislation that would allow the school to rename itself the University of Maine at Portland, saying Friday that the controversial plan requires more research and discussion.

The University of Maine System trustees approved the proposal 10-2 last month, but lawmakers and others have criticized the initiative, saying the new name doesn’t accurately reflect the university’s operation on multiple campuses.

Proponents of the name change, including the university president, say it would strengthen the school’s ability to attract out-of-state students and more clearly identify it as part of the state university system.

The effort, however, is on being put on hold as the school announced Friday that it wants to allow the Legislature more time to consider the proposal and for construction of a new student center and housing on the Portland campus to get underway.

“Our discussions with state leaders in Augusta certainly implied we should have more discussion,” USM President Glenn Cummings said, noting that the Legislature’s short session this winter does not provide an ideal time frame.

“Secondly, we’re not under an enormous amount of urgency until the dorm is built (on the Portland campus). That is scheduled for the fall of 2022. Having to make a name change and attracting more students would be great, but there is no place to house them at this point.”

The name change proposal has been endorsed by the university’s Alumni Association, Student Government Association and board of visitors.

But after the board of trustees approved the change in November, a group of lawmakers from Windham expressed their disapproval, saying it was too costly and would undermine the school’s other campuses in Gorham and Lewiston.

The change is expected to cost about $1.2 million in up-front expenses to pay for things like new signage, marketing materials and new sports uniforms.

The Gorham Town Council also has expressed opposition to the name change.

A handful of students interviewed on both the Portland and Gorham campuses said the change would be misleading because all student housing is currently located in Gorham and they would like to see the university spend money on improved facilities and services before looking to change the name.

However, a marketing study done by the university last year found the change would make the school more attractive to out-of-state students, who bring in more tuition dollars.

Most out-of-state parents and students don’t know where the university is and the name change would more closely align it with the city of Portland, a popular tourist destination, the study found.

Cummings said the university is recruiting throughout New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic states, but does not have the money for “as UMaine does, for major billboards and advertising in the Boston, Hartford and New York City areas.”

“We could spend lots and lots of money pushing Portland to the out-of-state market or we could just change the name,” he said. “It’s a one-time hit rather than spend $1 million every year for out-of-state marketing.”

Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, sponsored the bill and said he appreciated the discussions about the future of the university that the proposal engendered.

“As a University of Maine student myself, as well as a resident of Lewiston, which is home to a University of Southern Maine campus, I was happy to support this measure,” Libby said in an email Friday night. “I also appreciate the healthy, open discussions it generated.

“I look forward to continuing to work with USM and the greater University of Maine System to help ensure the future success of the school.”

In a news release from the university, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a USM alumnus, expressed support for Cummings’ decision to put the name change on hold.

“I was proud to lead the fight and carry the messages of opposition to the proposed name change – concerns that were expressed not just from my senate district, but from around the state,” Diamond said.

“I appreciate President Cummings’ willingness to listen to those concerns and to end this effort, which I hope will not resurface. His dedication and commitment to the University of Southern Maine is admirable and speaks well for its future.”

Cummings, however, said he expects the name change to come up again within the next two to three years.

“I very much believe (the name change) has a future with us,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the discussions we need to move forward.”

 

 

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