A who’s who of Maine business, education and political leaders gathered at the Ocean Gateway terminal in Portland Jan. 27 for the announcement that Lewiston native and hi tech entrepreneur David Roux and his wife Barbara are donating $100 million to create the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, a graduate and research program in Portland focused on data analytics, bioinformatics, biotechnology, genomics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and precision medicine.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Rep. Chellie Pingree called it “a wow moment.” Mayor Kate Snyder called it “a game-changer for Portland.” Gov. Janet Mills said, “It’s not just about Portland. This is good for the entire state of Maine.”

David Roux described the new program as “an elite institution that is not elitist” and argued that Maine has been “underperforming against our potential” when it comes to technology education.

What’s been “underperforming against its potential” is the University of Maine System. There is a major public university in Portland, but the University of Southern Maine was nowhere to be seen as Northeastern University came to town to announce the Roux Institute.

Back in September 2018, USM trustees announced that Roux had toured USM and that “Maine appears very likely to be the home, in three years, of a world-class institute at the intersection of digital and health sciences.”

Just not at USM, I guess.

When I asked Roux whether the new Roux Institute was the same program that was foreseen at USM in 2018, he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Northeastern was chosen because it has a long history of innovative co-operative education, internships and school-to-work curricula. Wasn’t that what USM was aiming at in 2015 when it tried to re-brand itself as Maine’s Metropolitan University?

As a USM alum I get tired of other schools upstaging my alma mater. The University of New England, for example, started back in 1978 with the merger of a sleepy little women’s college that trained dental hygienists and nursery school teachers and a failing Catholic men’s college, but somehow UNE managed to go boldly where USM failed to go, capturing almost the entire health care education market with a medical school, dental school, pharmacy school and a health sciences school with programs in applied exercise science, athletic training, dental hygiene, nursing, nurse anesthesia, nutrition, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician’s assistants, public health and social work.

USM does have a nursing school and it got a $7.5 million grant in 2017 from the Harold Alfond Foundation to create a Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies, which sounds as though it would like to be what the Roux Institute will be. But USM lives in the shadow of UNE and now Northeastern.

Don’t get me wrong, the Roux Institute will be a fantastic addition to Portland and Maine no matter what institution houses it, but it is also true that the University of Maine System and USM need bold, visionary leadership to achieve their untapped potentials.

The USM president was not among the education leaders at the Roux Institute launch because USM trustees were meeting that same day to approve a $100 million project of their own, a career center and 577-bed dormitory on the Portland campus. One of the most asked and unanswered questions at the Roux Institute event was where the new institute might locate. USM would make a whole lot of sense, but I’m sorry to have to say that ship appears to have sailed – or sunk.

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