For months we have witnessed one bad decision after another from the chancellor of the University of Maine System. On July 11, the Board of Trustees chose (“UMaine System gives chancellor new deal despite calls for removal,” July 12, Page A1) not to address the obvious problem of poor leadership by the chancellor but rather to give him another year because the system needs consistent leadership in difficult times.

Chairwoman Trish Riley, in this same article, says the board considered the concerns of faculty and  others and “weighed the chancellor’s serious missteps and lack of effective communication and engagement against his considerable accomplishments,” including (as paraphrased by reporters Lana Cohen and Emily Duggan) “securing significant private donations, moving forward with unified accreditation and making investments in updating campus infrastructure.”

The trustees’ failure to move quickly and with clarity to change the leadership of the university system leaves Maine citizens with a failed chancellor for another year with little understanding of the issues and priorities for which he is responsible. These issues are complex and controversial, and the campuses and public know little about the details and the potential far-ranging impact on the future of public higher education in Maine.

Riley cited UMaine System accreditation as an accomplishment of the chancellor. Accreditation is a process unique to U.S. higher education. For more than a hundred years, we have been the only country in the world that practices “peer” accreditation. Faculty and administrators from other institutions visit an institution and evaluate its success in meeting long-established standards for institutions and programs. Peer educators, not central office officials, determine the ability of colleges to adhere to standards based on the mission they perform.

The accreditation process being pursued by Malloy and the trustees is fundamentally different from what has made U.S. higher education so successful and the envy of the world. To quote the “Unified Accreditation” planning document in the section titled “Institutional Characteristics,” prepared by the university system, the purpose is structural and procedural change, which leads to “unifying a set of universities that were previously individually accredited. NECHE (New England Commission on Higher Education) granted accreditation to UM: making it the first statewide higher education enterprise in the country to be accredited as a system.”

What is the problem to be solved that requires us to be the national pioneer for an untested change of a major higher education tradition?


Systems do not educate anyone. They are central offices with staff who are generally responsible for the efficient use of resources and coordination with the trustees.

Each campus in the University of Maine System has a unique mission. And it is the faculty and staff at each campus who actually work with students and do the planning, implementation and evaluation of their wide-ranging teaching, academic and administrative functions. To centralize these functions in a chancellor’s office will only lead to a diminution of these functions and their quality on the campuses.

In 1969, a Blue Ribbon Commission of educators and citizens recommended the creation of the existing university system, headed by a chancellor. The purpose was not only to create a system that would better serve Maine people but also to ensure the unique campus missions were preserved in order to benefit local communities. The Legislature approved the commission’s recommendations, and the university system was formed.

Some 50 years later, it seems time for another such commission to be appointed by the governor and Legislature in order to address the issues of leadership and to determine the proper governance model for the future. Tearing down the existing campus missions, academic programs and governance structure and centralizing it in an office removed from any direct educational function certainly does not seem to be a logical process for the future without a great deal more study and discussion by citizens throughout Maine.

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