Like many states across the country, Maine is facing significant financial challenges brought about by a confluence of extraordinary events: a worldwide recession, falling state revenues, inexorably rising benefits costs, all of which are exacerbated by declining demographic trends in our target market.
As leaders of the nation’s universities, we are called upon to respond in thoughtful and decisive ways to reduce costs and control tuition increases, while somehow enhancing service to the people of our state. What comes to mind when I am faced with challenges of such magnitude? It’s a variation of Harry Truman’s comment: If you can’t stand the financial heat, get out of the administrative kitchen.
Universities are truly challenging places to work these days, and despite our region’s frigid winter weather, there continues to be an endless supply of heat emanating from a variety of new and unparalleled sources.
To meet these challenges, we devised a plan—New Challenges, New Directions—that will create the path for significant and positive change as we strive to maintain affordability, reduce operating costs, and provide greater focus on addressing the state’s educational and economic interests.
The plan introduces certain “fast track” items as priorities to pursue immediately: create a three-year degree option, double enrollment for online programs, increase enrollment in health professions programs, expand access to professional graduate programs, and establish an alternative energy education program. These efforts will help lead us into the future with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and influence. If you are interested in learning more, please visit www.maine.edu/UMSNCND.
As university administrators face similar challenges and devise plans to deal with these unprecedented times, I offer three thoughts to guide you. At various times in my career, these principles have helped me through some difficult situations:
- When it gets complex and confusing, first and foremost always focus on what is best for the students.
- When in doubt, always take the high road. As one of my mentors once told me, take a road so high that they can see the soles of your shoes as you go by.
- Don’t fall prey to a fetish for newness, which might make you fail to invest in that which already works and has great value. (This sage advice was recently given to me by two faculty members and is now one of my guiding principles.)
Keeping these principles in mind, we must take care not to be overwhelmed by the financial and technical aspects of solving the enormous challenges we face. Instead, we have the responsibility to envision and advocate for new and exciting outcomes as we move forward in our missions of educating and graduating our nation’s university students.
Richard L. Pattenaude is chancellor of the University of Maine System.