New Maine Engineering College raises questions for teachers

In 2020, the University of Maine Systems announced plans to establish a new Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science (MCECIS), with $ 75 million from the Harold Alfond Foundation and another $ 75 million in funding from the system.

It is an ambitious project, part of a $ 240 million grant from the Alfond Foundation in 2020 aimed at bringing “transformational change” to the system. The gift is the largest ever made in a public institution in New England and the eighth largest for any public institution in the United States.

The MCECIS system will bring together the resources for various engineering, computer science and information science programs under a statewide institution at the University of Maine in Orono. The goal is to double the number of engineering graduates from the system to help create enough qualified staff to meet Maine’s growing needs.

MCECIS is moving forward – the system is already looking for an academic dean for the college. But it also faces significant challenges, the main of which is to establish an organizational structure and allay faculty concerns across the system about losing autonomy over their campus-specific programs.

Last month, Carlos Luck, chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern Maine, told the system’s board of regents that he and other members of his department were concerned about the initiative. He fears that concerns about curriculum autonomy, confusion over the “critical ambiguity” of the new college structure, and the distinctive features of MCECIS USM’s engineering program will be removed.

Penny Reignans, director of the University of Maine’s School of Computing and Information Sciences and co-leader of the MCECIS initiative, said she understands the faculty’s concerns, especially as the head of a program that will be rolled out to MCECIS. But he is hopeful that an agreed solution will be reached.

“I think the discomfort with making it comes from a fear that everything will be homogeneous,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “

The organizational structure is up in the air

Joseph Sajakas, interim president of the University of Maine in Augusta and co-leader of the initiative, called the organizational structure of Rangins, MCECIS, “a work in progress.”

“We’ll probably get a clear road map in two more months,” he said.

Meanwhile, Szakas believes that the recent agreement of MCECIS should address the concerns of the memorandum faculty.

“The MoUT has laid the groundwork for the USM faculty to allay fears that they are going to be included by the University of Maine,” Sajakas said. “I think it’s clear that won’t happen.”

Fate is not so confident. Although he was pleased to receive assurances from the MoU that USM Engineering would offer his own degree and be recognized individually, his ongoing concerns are tied to a specific condition in the MoU that makes the USM School of Engineering a department of MCECIS — a college of the University of Maine itself.

“How can USM Engineering be a college department at Maine University? I have my own dean, my own provost and president. Who is my boss now?” He said. “These problems are far from working.”

Jim McClimer, president of the Associate Faculty at the University of Maine Systems, has claimed that the proposed MCECIS structure would violate faculty agreements, which he said would not allow recruitment to multiple universities যা which would be necessary if USM became a department of engineering. Of MCECIS.

“The university has really complicated matters by creating an administrative structure that is ineffective,” he said.

Margaret Nagel, executive director of communications at Maine University Systems, said the MoU “did not mention anything” about the structure of the MCECIS and would “violate the terms of the joint bargaining chip.”

McClimer said MCECIS’s initial planning process, determined by the Alfond Foundation and system administrators, failed to take into account faculty perspectives.

“They sat in a room and decided what it should be like without having to deal with the reality of being a faculty member, where we live and breathe in our university communities,” he said.

Emily Bear, director of communications at the University of Maine’s president Joan Ferini-Mundi, has disputed McClimer’s explanation. He said the Alfond Foundation, as a partner, called for USM to be college-based at the University of Maine, allowing the system and its member organizations the flexibility to determine organizational structures beyond that.

Ringans stressed that some growing pain should be expected because there is little evidence of what the system is trying to do.

“We’re building something for which there’s really no national blueprint,” he said. “Trying to integrate discipline, and especially organizations, is a really difficult, complex design task. So it’s no surprise that there are obstacles along the way.”

McClimer said stress for innovation could be part of the problem.

“I think so [the system] More interested in doing something than doing good, ”he said.

An example that ‘left a bad taste’

The recent rift between faculty members and the system’s chancellor Daniel Malay – including an unpleasant presidential inquiry at the University of Maine in August that led to four separate no-confidence votes in May – warns faculty more about the system’s efforts to centralize programs. MCECIS.

McClimer said tensions between faculty and Malay had already spread before the no-confidence vote.

“The UMA’s presidential inquiry has given us a position to express many concerns,” he said. “There’s a concern about how the chancellor talks to faculty, how our concerns are identified as fears and anxieties … which leaves a lot of frustration.”

“It certainly didn’t make things easier,” Szakas said. But I think the goal [of MCECIS] Stronger than these restless things across campus. “

The anxiety of fate goes beyond the organizational chart of the college. He worries that the USM’s engineering program, which he has taught there for 27 years, will be submitted by a larger, more traditional program at the University of Maine – and that USM students will suffer as a result.

USM Engineering, which has about 250 students, serves a distinct population in the urban Portland area, where there are mainly obsolete and part-time students, Luck said. In contrast, the engineering school at the University of Maine in Orono, where there are about 2,000 students, primarily serves a typical graduate population outside of high school.

“It’s not about protecting the turf,” Luck said. “People in South Maine may be deprived of a distinct engineering program tailored to the needs of our urban population.”

Destiny says there are good reasons for faculty to be cautious about merging resources with the University of Maine. In 2018, as part of an initiative funded by a Challenge grant from the Alfond Foundation, the USM School of Business merged with the University of Maine and became the Combined Graduate School of Business located at UMaine.

The new business program is now twice the size of the original USM and Umain programs, according to Bayer. In a way, it can be seen as a model for the MCECIS initiative, which similarly seeks to enhance capabilities in systems engineering programs. But luckily the parallels also raise the alarm.

“[The university system] One could argue with the numbers all day, but they cannot deny that those seeking a face-to-face MBA in the greater Portland area have now denied that option, ”he said. “I don’t see it as a hostile occupation as much as unification. So when it comes to MCECIS, it’s across the red flag and the bell.”

Bayer said the Maine Graduate School of Business, while at the University of Maine, has faculty and administrative representation from the USM and allows the integration system to draw on the strengths of both institutions.

McClimer says the MBA issue has “left a really bad taste in people’s mouths” across the university system.

Szakas said MCECIS initiative leaders “wrote the MOU to address concerns arising from MBA integration.”

Destiny acknowledges that the MOU states that the USM engineering faculty will be retained in their own institution and will maintain complete autonomy over the curriculum. Still, he said, the “MBA defeat” makes it hard to believe that things will be different at this point, especially since Alfondos is involved again.

“It’s like an old proverb,” ​​Fate said. “A dog bitten by a snake will be afraid of the rope.”

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