New Maine engineering faculty raises questions for school


In 2020, the College of Maine system introduced plans to determine a brand new Maine Faculty of Engineering, Computing, and Info Science (MCECIS), funded by $75 million from the Harold Alfond Basis and one other $75 million in matched funds from the system.

It’s an formidable venture, a part of a $240 million donation made by the Alfond Basis in 2020 geared toward bringing “transformative change” to the system. The reward is the biggest ever made to a public establishment in New England and the eighth largest to any public establishment within the U.S.

The MCECIS will consolidate the assets of the system’s numerous engineering, laptop science and data science applications beneath one statewide establishment based mostly on the College of Maine at Orono. The objective is to double the variety of engineering graduates from the system in an effort to assist produce sufficient certified employees to fulfill Maine’s rising want.

The MCECIS is inching ahead—the system is already looking for an educational dean for the school. Nevertheless it additionally faces vital challenges, chief amongst them establishing an organizational construction whereas assuaging issues of college throughout the system about dropping autonomy over their campus-specific applications.

Final month, Carlos Luck, chair of the College of Southern Maine’s electrical engineering division, advised the system’s Board of Regents that he and different members of his division have been involved concerning the initiative. He cited worries about curricular autonomy, confusion over the “troubling ambiguity” of the brand new faculty’s construction, and fears that the MCECIS would erase distinct traits of USM’s engineering program.

Penny Rheingans, director of the College of Maine’s college of computing and data sciences and a co-lead on the MCECIS initiative, mentioned she understands the school’s issues, particularly as head of a program that might be introduced into the MCECIS fold. However she’s hopeful that an agreeable resolution can be reached.

“I feel discomfort with creating this stems from a worry that every little thing can be homogenized,” she mentioned. “That will be counterproductive … It’s a must to respect the variations between computing and engineering and between the establishments within the system. That’s the one means that is going to work.”

Organizational Construction Up within the Air

Joseph Szakas, the interim president of the College of Maine at Augusta and Rheingans’s co-lead on the initiative, referred to as MCECIS’s organizational framework “a piece in progress.”

“In all probability in about two extra months we’ll have a clearer highway map,” he mentioned.

Within the meantime, Szakas believes the most recent memorandum of understanding on the MCECIS ought to tackle school issues.

“The MOU laid the groundwork to allay the fears of USM school that they have been going to be subsumed by the College of Maine,” Szakas mentioned. “I feel it’s clear that isn’t going to occur.”

Luck isn’t so assured. Whereas he was glad to see assurances within the MOU that USM Engineering would confer its personal levels and be accredited independently, his ongoing issues are tied to a particular stipulation within the MOU that makes the USM college of engineering a division of the MCECIS—which is itself a school of the College of Maine.

“How can USM engineering turn out to be a division of a school on the College of Maine? I’ve my very own dean, my very own provost and president. Who’s my boss now?” he mentioned. “These points are removed from being labored out.”

Jim McClymer, president of the Related Schools of the College of Maine system, claims that the proposed MCECIS construction would violate school contracts, which he says don’t enable appointments to span a number of universities—one thing that might be needed ought to USM Engineering turn out to be a division of MCECIS.

“The college has actually made issues difficult by making an administrative construction that’s unworkable,” he mentioned.

Margaret Nagle, the Maine college system’s government director of communications, mentioned “nothing outlined” within the MOU concerning the MCECIS’s construction “would violate the phrases of the collective bargaining settlement.”

McClymer mentioned the preliminary planning course of for the MCECIS, laid out by the Alfond Basis and system directors, didn’t take the school perspective under consideration.

“They sat in a room and determined what this must be with out having to cope with the fact of being a college member, the place we dwell and breathe in our college communities,” he mentioned.

Emily Baer, College of Maine president Joan Ferrini-Mundy’s director of communications, disputed McClymer’s interpretation. She mentioned that whereas the Alfond Basis referred to as for the school to be based mostly on the College of Maine with USM as a companion, it permits the system and its member establishments the pliability to find out the organizational construction past that.

Rheingans harassed that some rising pains must be anticipated contemplating there may be little precedent for what the system is making an attempt to perform.

“We’re constructing this factor that there actually isn’t a nationwide blueprint for,” she mentioned. “Attempting to mix disciplines, and notably making an attempt to mix establishments—it’s a extremely laborious, complicated piece of design work. So it’s not shocking that there are some bumps alongside the best way.”

McClymer mentioned the push to innovate could also be a part of the issue.

“I feel [the system] is extra involved in doing one thing first than in doing it effectively,” he mentioned.

A Precedent That ‘Left a Unhealthy Style’

Current conflicts between school members and the system’s chancellor, Dannel Malloy—together with a botched presidential search on the College of Maine at Augusta that led to 4 separate votes of no confidence in Could—have made school additional cautious of the system’s try to centralize applications at MCECIS.

McClymer mentioned tensions between school and Malloy had been simmering since effectively earlier than the votes of no confidence.

“The botched UMA presidential search gave a locus for lots of our issues to be expressed,” he mentioned. “There’s a priority about how the chancellor speaks to college, how our issues are labeled as worry and anxiousness … that leaves a variety of frustration.”

“It definitely hasn’t made issues simpler,” mentioned Szakas. “However I feel the objective [of MCECIS] is stronger than these unsettling issues throughout the campuses.”

Luck’s issues transcend the school’s organizational chart. He’s nervous that USM’s engineering program, which he’s seen develop over the 27 years he’s taught there, can be subsumed by the College of Maine’s bigger, extra conventional program—and that USM college students will undergo consequently.

USM Engineering, which has about 250 college students, serves a definite inhabitants within the city Portland space, consisting largely of nontraditional and part-time college students, Luck mentioned. Against this, the College of Maine’s engineering college in Orono, which has about 2,000 college students, primarily serves a typical undergraduate inhabitants proper out of highschool.

“It’s not about defending turf,” Luck mentioned. “The individuals of southern Maine might be denied a definite engineering program that’s tailor-made to the wants of our city inhabitants.”

Luck mentioned there may be good purpose for school wariness about merging assets with the College of Maine. In 2018, as a part of an initiative funded by a problem grant from the Alfond Basis, the USM college of enterprise merged with the College of Maine’s and have become the mixed Graduate Faculty of Enterprise, housed at UMaine.

The brand new enterprise program is now double the dimensions of the unique USM and UMaine applications mixed, in keeping with Baer. In a technique, that might be seen as a mannequin for the MCECIS initiative, which is equally in search of to extend capability within the system’s engineering applications. However Luck says the parallels additionally increase alarms.

“[The university system] can argue numbers all day lengthy, however they can’t deny that individuals who wished an M.B.A. face-to-face within the larger Portland space at the moment are denied that choice,” he mentioned. “I didn’t see it as a merger a lot as a hostile takeover … so when MCECIS comes alongside, it’s crimson flags and bells throughout.”

Baer mentioned Maine’s Graduate Faculty of Enterprise, whereas housed on the College of Maine, has school and administrator illustration from USM, and the merger allowed the system to attract on the strengths of each establishments.

McClymer says the M.B.A. concern “actually left a foul style in individuals’s mouths” throughout the college system.

Szakas mentioned MCECIS initiative leaders wrote the MOU “to handle these issues that got here from the M.B.A. merger.”

Luck conceded that the MOU does say that USM engineering school can be housed at their very own establishment and retain full autonomy over the curriculum. Nonetheless, he mentioned, the “M.B.A. debacle” makes it troublesome to belief that issues can be totally different this time round, particularly with the Alfonds as soon as once more concerned.

“It’s just like the previous saying,” Luck mentioned. “A canine that’s bitten by a snake can be afraid of a rope.”


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