Town Hall with President Ferrini-Mundy
UMaine and UMM President Ferrini-Mundy and Faculty Senate President David Townsend led a town hall conversation about current and upcoming opportunities and initiatives on Oct. 30, 2018.
Welcome, everybody, to what I believe is the first of its kind, a town hall meeting with the president of the University of Maine, our 21st president. Joan Ferrini-Mundy will be having a discussion, a conversation with the campus community on issues and opportunities, both present and the future.
The way we’re going to work is, as you’ll notice, there are cards on your seats when you came in. If you would write down any questions you might have, you’ll have plenty of time. Joan is going to give a presentation of 20, 25 minutes or so.
We’re streaming live to Machias and the Darling Marine Center and anywhere anybody wants to dial in, I believe. It’s my understanding that there are opportunities where you can type questions. We can pull them off the computer here.
With that, I would like to introduce our 21st president, Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy.
Good afternoon, everybody. Before we get started, I would like to ask that we take a moment of silence for the tragedy in Pittsburgh.
I’m delighted to be able to be here with all of you this afternoon. I got a little nervous earlier on that we hadn’t really sent the announcement out but we had, so thank you for coming.
I do hope this will be the first of several of events of this sort. I’m asking that as you sit through it and take a look at what we’re doing, be prepared also to tell us at the end, whether this was a good forum, a good style of interaction, let’s say, and whether we should do more of these and how we might change them and improve them.
I have a few remarks, as they said, then we will go to a Q&A. As you think of questions, if you jot them down, that will be great.
I’ve been here almost exactly four months now. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here at the University of Maine. When I’m out talking to donors and to alums, I do spend a lot of time reminding them how wonderful this place is, how great the people here are, how terrific it has been to get to know the campus and to get to know all of our sights off-campus as well.
Those have been very rewarding conversations.
One thing I would like to assure all of you who are here on the campus is that the community outside that loves this university is alive and well. They are eager to be supportive. They are excited about what we’re doing. They’re looking to learn as much as they can about what we are doing.
It’s a tribute to all of you in this room as the faculty, the staff, the students, because they remember the place so fondly. We have their great support.
Basically, I’m going to divide this set of remarks into…Behind me.
Joan Ferrini-Mundy: Anyway, we divide the remarks into three…
Who’s our our IT expert?
We can. I’m sure we’ll find it.
Thank you. Basically, into three categories of comments. What I’m going to do for each of these categories is really just hit a couple of highlights, excuse me, that have struck me in the past several months that I’d like to be sure we’re all aware of thinking about but do know that the list of items that I’m going to mention under each of these areas could be much, much longer.That’s one of my challenges here. There are so much going on. It’s difficult to figure out how to compress that all and share it, and be lifting it up and then bringing attention to it. Students and learners, research scholarship and innovation, and partnerships and engagement. I’m also going to take a little bit of time toward the end to talk about a few administrative updates and then open up our discussion.
Students and learners, right at the center of what it means to be a university. We wouldn’t be one without students and learners. They are our most important central focus here. They are what make us a university, what make us vibrant.
Our real purpose in the work that we do is about their learning, their education, preparing them for a variety of futures, a variety of possibilities. I wanted to begin with this focus on students and learners.
I’m starting to use the language of learners as well because I think that it conjures a slightly broader sense of what we need to be thinking about as a university. Learners really encompass all of us — the faculty, the staff. We all are in a mode of learning about new things, of understanding things in different ways. It’s a nice way to express who we are and who we might be as we move forward.
Specifically then, a couple of points that I wish to make in terms of our students and learners. The first is to do with enrollment. We have this year 2,247 students in our 1st year of class for the fall of 2018. That’s a wonderful number for us. Lizzie Wahab is here. I will introduce her more formally in a few minutes.
She can tell us every single piece of data about the students, the balance, and so on. Really, bringing students here is the first step. Making sure that they are able to stay and be successful is the second.
We do have median SAT that’s gone up a bit since fall of 2016. We have had some wonderful events on campus that are, I think, critical to our thinking, going forward, about student success. I’ve chosen only a couple to mention.
We had two visits from our Libra Visiting Professors, Damon Williams and Rebecca Sockbeson. Both of them, very focused on issues of diversity and inclusion. For those who had the chance to meet with them or to hear their talks or to interact, I hope that you were inspired.
I think that these two individuals who now are connected to us through these Libra Visiting Professorships can help us as a community to continue to grow and to continue to be inclusive and think about what it looks like to be an inclusive campus at the University of Maine.
I also note that we have had a 19 percent increase in the last five years of the University of Maine in non-white undergraduate students. We are diverse. We are diverse in many ways. We need to make that a centerpiece for excellence at our university, which I think we’re well along in doing.
I also wanted to note here that the code here is that in italics at the bottom of the slide is something that’s just getting started but that we will be engaging with you around over the coming months and years. That is our first-year student’s success initiative, which Provost Hecker launched a couple of weeks ago, I guess, a month or so ago.
Already an enormous amount of interest from around the campus, 36 faculty and staff have volunteered to be a part of the team. Nine working groups, the charge will be coming shortly to the working groups. This is meant to be a comprehensive, integrated approach to first year student success, where we will be looking at such ideas as a student success center or one-stop shop for academic info and support, for personal and social guidance for referrals and so forth.
I’ve heard one of the members of the team. Please take no offense if this is offensive. It might be offensive, I’m sorry.
To say that one thing we’ve got to look at here is what we call the killer courses. As a former professor of mathematics, I was part of that crowd. The courses, the first year courses that should really be serving as a pump, not a filter, as we’ve heard in the mathematics community over the years around the first year of calculus.This notion that we are aiming at first year student success will be comprehensive. I’m very, very excited about this as a campus-wide conversation, in fact, and being a part of how we think about what it means to help students find this as a place to stay and thrive beyond their first year. We will be focused there.
I, also in talking to David Townsend, said I have a few ideas that I’d like to just sort of broach but that can be dangerous as a president, because it can turn into “The president has said we are going to have an initiative on X, Y, or Z.” I decided to go ahead and broach at least one. Just be careful. I’m not saying we’re doing anything yet. It’s just an idea, where I’d like your inputs and your reactions.
I’m very interested in the quality of teaching and learning. That’s my background. That’s a part of what I care about deeply. I know it’s a part of what people at this university care about. Some kind of a something. I’m not sure what it would be.
An initiative, a set of open forums, a set of people who might choose to come together to talk about high impact, relevant instruction and curriculum in this century at the University of Maine.
Because there’s so much going on here, I’d like to find a way to make it more visible and for us all to learn from one another on that front. I also think that’s important for a university to be centrally focused on the notion of what it takes to insure first year of success and learner success in general. We can talk in the discussion about your ideas, perhaps, for how we might bring a focus there.
The second theme I’d like to mention is about research, scholarship, and innovation. Lots of times, this gets listed strictly as research. Sometimes, it gets mentioned more euphemistically as new knowledge or discovery. I think that this is an integrated area that includes research, scholarship, the generation of new knowledge, and the innovation that can go with that that can lead to impact in the state of Maine and beyond.
Impact that might be on the economy and indeed as the land grant university in the state of Maine needs to impart beyond the economy of the state of Maine but impact that can be on a very basic and core discipline as well. The creation of new knowledge that leads to increased basic research in a field because it unlocks certain key questions and certain pathways.
I take this to be a very broad area. It’s partly what distinguishes the University of Maine from many of the other institutions in the state, is that we are a research university. We are the land grant flagship university. This area is really critical for us, again, to highlight and to make sure it’s thriving and well supported.
A few facts about our research scholarship and innovation ecosystem here. First of all, our research expenditures meaning dollars spent out of external funding…Is that roughly right, Kody? It went up significantly from fiscal ’17 to fiscal ’18.
That’s really very good for us, because it means not only have grants come in and people are spending but it means that the indirect cost recovery that comes from those grants on which the university depends for much of its fundamental functioning, that’s increasing and coming in to us when those expenditures happen.
We see a lot in the innovation category too, 19 invention disclosures, 16 patent filings in fiscal 2018. Generating marketable results and figuring out how to take them beyond toward a commercialization is something that’s a part of the research enterprise. It’s not always the most central goal for our faculty but there are many in this university who can help and who can support this.
Provost Hecker chairs the Innovation and Economic Development Council, which was established last year in order to respond to the recommendations of the Commercialization Working Group report. If you aren’t familiar with that, it’s a very nice document, this working group report. We’ll be seeing some real implementation steps, I think, coming from this new council that’s been established.
In just quarter one of fiscal 2019, there have been seven externally funded awards coming in over a million dollars. I hope I have all of the names here, but you see them. Then a number of significant awards and recognitions across our liberal arts and humanities and creative arts fields. A few of these are listed here as well.
This is a significant university in terms of its production and visibility in scholarship and research within the research of scholarly communities. I think a next step for us will be bringing that out more broadly, making certain that the state understands the key role that we play with that important part of our mission.
I also have here in italics something called the Research and Development Plan. I’ve been asked by the chancellor as a part of the expectations for me in this first year to take the lead in developing a research and development plan that essentially will lay out some goals and recommendations for the university and for the way in which the university would interact with the state.
We are just beginning to shape how we’ll go about preparing this plan. Many of you will remember the work of George Jacobson and his colleagues. Any of you in the…What was it called? The group of…
The Faculty Five. Any of you in the Faculty Five? We can have a new Faculty Five or 20 or 100. The point is going to be to come together somehow. We have in mind a variety of ways. Some open sessions for people to bring their ideas, then perhaps smaller working and writing teams. This has a deadline of March, roughly. There will be work coming up on this in the coming weeks.
It’s really to say, where do we want to be in the future with our research mission, our development mission, innovation? How will we get there? What will it take to get there? This is a huge opportunity. Some of you may know, this is the 20th anniversary of MEIF. We do need to be thinking about what does this look like going forward. Our R&D, very important for us.
The third category that I wish to mention is about partnerships and engagement. In particular, the partnerships’ part of this. Again, given our role as the flagship and as the research university, it is essential for us to leverage the work that we do here through partnerships and a whole host of arenas with a whole set of different kinds of stakeholders and organizations.
This is something else that I’ve been learning in my first four months. There’s a huge array of partnerships underway around the university. Some of which are very visible, many of which are one-to-one relationships among scholars or among teachers or organizations that we just don’t know much about.
This will be a focus going forward, first of all, to try to figure out what we have, what its impact is, and to be able to tell the state and beyond how important these partnerships are to moving forward for improvement.
Within this, just a few things to mention. We are working to expand this year the Innovate for Maine fellowships and to the Maine Flagship Internships, great opportunities for our students to engage with external partners and get a sense of what it is like to work in industry in Maine and beyond.
Another kind of partnership with one of our sister institutions, the University of Maine at Augusta is the UMaine-UMA Foundations Program, where students are able to come, start in a pilot program where they live on the UMaine campus and then they take classes from UMA faculty and can earn their way into UMaine by their fourth semester.
We’re very proud of this program. It’s just starting, really.
This summer, I attended the grand opening of the expansion of the Downeast Institute, which is the marine science field station for the University of Maine at Machias. It’s a partnership between UMM and the Downeast Institute, which is extremely important for students in that region and students at UMM in order to have access to the kinds of marine science and fisheries work that is underway there.
I also should mention here that perhaps the biggest and most significant partnership that we have is our partnership with the University of Maine at Machias, which is, I would say, thriving and moving towards its next stages as we go forward.
In italics here, I’ve mentioned the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies, which is a partnership involving the University of Maine, University of Southern Maine, University of Maine Law School, Maine Center Ventures, which is the new innovation and incubation-oriented part of that opportunity.
This is also beginning to take shape. Many of you, perhaps, have been following the work around the MBA program that will be based there, that will be the UMaine MBA. It will subsume the USM degree. Our faculty are working together with new dean, Michael Weber, to make that a reality.
An exciting place to watch. There’s a new committee essentially that’s been formed to start to look at how we can coordinate activities around the state with Maine Center Ventures there in Portland, how we can coordinate so that we are promoting incubation and business support in new ways.
We have a vast array of partnerships. Increasingly, the questions that we’ll need to ask ourselves are — because partnerships are work-intensive and sometimes costly — what are the outcomes? What are the results? What are we finding are to be the benefits of these partnerships? Then how do we do more of them and support them well?
I did also promise a couple of administrative updates. I’ll be fairly brief so that we can turn to our discussion. [coughs] Excuse me. First of all, I would like to introduce the three newest members of the President’s Cabinet. I’ll just ask them to stand and wave to you if you haven’t met them. Ken Ralph is our Director of Athletics. Ken comes to us from Colorado College.
Delighted to have him, and I will tell you that every time a team wins, Ken takes full credit.
That’s OK though. Lizzie Wahab, who is our new Vice President for Enrollment Management comes to us from the Sage Colleges, full of creative ideas about enrollment. Then finally, Andy Egan, who I’m not sure we can see but he might be listening on the phone, who is the new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Head of Campus at the University of Maine at Machias. Welcome, Andy.
Andy has come in with enormous commitment to working on our partnership with the University of Maine at Machias to figuring out what it will mean to bring that to a next level. He is in constant touch with us here. We work together very closely. He was able to attend the summit that was held here on campus. Some of you may know about that. Were there some folks at that summit who are in the room?
An event that was the culmination of a series of activities meant to bring together some of the operations folks on both campuses, so that we can figure out how to learn from each other. Andy was on the campus here as well in Forestry some years ago. He knows folks here. He feels very connected to the University of Maine.
He is very eager to look for ways to just enhance our partnership. I’m very optimistic about what we’re seeing in Machias as well.
Andy talks about mutualism, apparently a term from the biological sciences where both of our campuses can together thrive by looking at the strengths that we bring to each other in ways that we can develop mutually beneficial activities that are supportive.
If you have interest in being more engaged with Machias, if you’re not at Machias, and the Machias folks can hear this as well, really do be sure to let Andy know, to offer your ideas. The resources and assets that we have at Machias are quite interesting and quite different from what we have here in Orono. There are ways for us to work together in the creative side of possibilities.
Those new folks are terrific additions.
Also, just a word about budget and if we have more questions, Claire Strickland is here. She can answer all of them, I’m sure. We are in the middle of budget season. We always are in some budget season. This is the fiscal ’20 budget construction that is underway right now. You see this detailed timeline. I’m presuming we’ll post these slides if you’d like to have more detail available.
What’s happening now in October and the beginning of November is that here, on the campus, we are having – we being the Provost Claire Strickland who is our chief business officer, I want to say budget officer. Claire and I, we are having regular meetings with leaders of major units here on the campus to really talk about their budget interests and hopes for fiscal ’20.
We’re assembling that information. We’re looking also at of course the news that we’re getting from the system about the various allocations and their assumptions. We’re looking at enrollment very carefully. All of these are factors that need to be rolled together as we then develop our budget proposal.
We will, as we have done in the past, provide a preliminary budget presentation to the campus. I believe that’s scheduled for Nov. 26. I’m very committed to transparency around budget. We will bring that to you.
There’s one another thing I wanted to say about budget, which is this. Budgets are challenging everywhere. We are in challenging times in the state of Maine. I’ve come from the federal government. Same thing. That said, I think we also have to be a place that keeps space for and keeps a stance toward the importance of doing new things, of trying new things, of innovating.
You can count on…At least, that’s what I’m saying today. Maybe by Nov. 26, the story will change. I’m hoping we will count on even…No matter what our challenges are, finding some way to make space for good ideas, for new directions, for the beginnings of, perhaps, some initiatives in various places. We will continue.
I know that has been the practice in past years. We will continue to try to stay committed to that. There will be a full budget presentation coming up in about a month.
A few other dates to just call to your attention. Mark your calendars. Election day is coming. The strategic visioning forum, we’re not going to say a lot about that yet. Provost Hecker and I will be speaking with the campus on Nov. 15.
A new president comes to a place and people say, “Well, when are you starting the strategic plan? Aren’t you supposed to have a strategic plan? Isn’t every president supposed to be able to say, ‘I’ve launched strategic planning.’?”
This campus has done an enormous amount of work in strategic planning and visioning. You have your Blue Sky initiative, which I thought was an excellent strategic plan. Thorough, visionary, well-prepared, highly collaborative, I think, in the process that led to it. Not only did you have five years of working to implement that plan, you then had a year of taking stock, a very wise thing to do.
Step back, take a look at how it went, produce a very nice report out of that.
We start with the Blue Sky plan. Jeff and I will talk much more about how we’re envisioning building from that to do some things that will take it to a next stage but without the full-blown process that often goes along with strategic planning. Stay tuned, don’t want to say more and steal our own thunder ahead of that.
I got my dates out of order, sorry. Nov. 7 is an open forum with the University of Maine System Chancellor, Jim Page. I’ll be there too. The cabinet will be there, as well as the chancellor senior staff. I know that many of you have been to these in the past. That’s where we will begin to hear more news about where the system is from the chancellor. I hope we have a strong turnout for that meeting.
Nov. 26 is the budget discussion that I’ve mentioned, early December. You should be watching this. The Charitable Campaign Appeal for University Employees, CCAUE. The deadline will come up in early December. I just heard a fact about UMPI. They have 6 percent of their staff contributing to this campaign, by far the highest across the system.
I think we can do better. I really do encourage widespread contribution to this most important cause, because it does bring very critical resources to the state of Maine and to others. Thank you for your work there.
Looking ahead, we are working on our accreditation. How many of you been part of accreditation teams? That was another very wide effort here.
NEASC has changed names. You can forget trying to figure out what NEASC meant. Now they are NECHE, which is the New England Commission on Higher Education. Our site visit will be March 31 through April 3 in three places — in Orono, in Machias, and now in Portland because we are a part of the main center there. This is clearly a statewide look at aspects of the University of Maine as they exist in multiple sites.
Kumble Subbaswamy, who is the chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, is the chair of our team. He will be visiting here in a month or so with a smaller group of us to just prepare. By all indications, things are OK. So far, I’m a very cautious person. We will continue to work.
The group has been just extremely diligent in preparing those materials. Thanks to all who were a part of it and to all of you who will have the opportunity to be a part of it when the team gets here in March.
The last thing I want to say, and saying this in my role as president, but you are aware that on November 6, there will be an agenda item, a ballot item in the election. Item 4 is an item which provides the $49 million bond for the University of Maine System, the University of Maine, and UMM would benefit from that with the focus on improving our facilities in order to be sure that we are educating our students for the future.
I would ask, first of all and most importantly, that you vote. If you are so inclined, a vote for yes is a vote in support of higher education for the state of Maine, which is important for our institution, in my opinion. With that, I think we are now ready for some questions and discussions. David will figure out how to do that. Thank you.
Do we have any written questions that made their way to the front of the room, but not as far as me?
We won’t be strict about this written question thing if we ever do this again. This is just a first time to make sure people feel comfortable giving their questions.
I see none.
You have one. We have three cards and six questions on three cards.
It’s good for a little crowd, saving cards.
First of all, how can UMaine grow its support for postdocs?
That’s a good question. I don’t know where our situation is with postdocs. Kody, do we have data?
Not here with you, OK. I’m not sure if people can hear. Can you hear in the back if I just speak? I don’t know if they can hear online.
I can shout. Thank you.
The question was, how can we increase our support for postdocs. I asked our vice president for research if we had data about what we have for postdocs here. He will provide that at some point. A couple of things to know about postdocs, some fields are much more inclined by tradition to have postdocs.
The biological sciences have tended to be, from my experience at NSF, fields that do engage postdocs. Mathematics, not so much. I think computer science, perhaps, not so much. I saw somebody from computer science here. Anyway, it does vary by field. Any kind of support we will provide would need to be perhaps customized by field.
I know that at least for the National Science Foundation, most grant proposals in those fields that were intensively using postdocs would include funding for postdocs. That is one way to increase the support. It’s a little bit of a flippant answer because it’s sort of like saying, “Go find your own support.” At the least, we should be sure if people want postdocs, that they are including them in their grant proposals.
A problem that I learned about at the NSF with postdocs is that they are sort of a not very well-supported group of people in general, nationally, because sometimes they can write their own grant proposals. Sometimes, they can’t, depending the university’s rules. Sometimes they are really given support to do travel and professional activities. Sometimes, not.
I do think if we can get a fix on what we have on campus for postdocs and then make some intentional decisions about why and how we might grow that, we would also need to then be thinking about what sorts of supports we would put in place. They might differ a bit from what we’re supporting our graduate students to do.
Great question, something that we’ll look at and speak about further at another time.
There are a couple of follow-up questions in association with that. The first one is, would the University of Maine consider an institutional membership to the International Postdoc Association as part of the support? Would UMaine consider an institutional membership to the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development?
I don’t know a lot about either of those organizations, but what I would propose — since this is the first I’ve heard of these, I don’t think it’s a good time for me to say yes or no. We need to see what those dues are like, to see how broad those organizations are.
You should feel free to put a request of that sort into an email and send it to me or to the provost or to Kody, because those are the sorts of things that we need to look at and need to weigh. We do get a lot of requests. We would put that into the mix.
Turning the question around slightly, I do think it’s tied to what I said, that if we did have a substantial body of postdocs here, we would need to really think about how we integrate them well and support them in the campus. I do think we would be looking to the professional societies to understand what’s recommended and how we can do that well.
Along the same lines, in relation to research, fellowship and innovation, there’s a pair of questions here that really go together. First of all, is research among the top strategic priorities of the University of Maine? Is the current university supportive research commensurate with its strategic priority?
As you’re going to hear, when the provost and I talk about our strategic re-envisioning, that’s when we’ll really hear about some proposed strategic priorities for the university. It’s probably not accidental that my talk had three big chunks, one of which was about research, discovery and scholarship.
I really fully believe that as a flagship university, as the land and sea-grant university in the state, as a university that’s really being expected to help to support and drive the Maine economy, I think research must be central. That’s my personal view at this time.
It would be quite likely if we talked among ourselves a bit further that we could come to some consensus that perhaps research is really a critical strategic priority for us. It will be something we’ll talk about fully in the design of the strategic re-envisioning.
The second part of the question about how much support will we be able to provide for research, that’s the sort of thing that gets discussed at these budget meetings. In an ideal situation, you have your strategic priorities and then resources flow to support those.
Again, I knew enough that I’m still simply getting the landscape, looking at what’s there, looking at what we do. It’s critical to remember that research and scholarship does cost the university money. We need to be conscious about how we would support that enterprise and grow it.
I will just add that another piece for me around the research environment in the university is our graduate education environment and how those two are integrated together. Lately, I’ve been even beginning to read more and think more about the following argument, which is this. You can tell me if you think this is useful or not.
We are the land grant. We are the research university. We are trying to attract students from inside of Maine and beyond. What are our various distinctive features? I know Lizzie pays a lot of attention to what these are.
One is that we are a research university, that the faculty who are in classrooms with our undergraduates are active scholars, active researchers, active creators of new knowledge, new art and new music.
How do we make the case more fully that that world of engaging in research and scholarship, and teaching undergraduates is actually combined? That because we have researchers who can share their world of building new knowledge with their undergraduates in an intentional way, I think that distinguishes us.
I’m still eager to find out exactly how much of that is going on really intentionally. When we’re more than our research experience for undergraduates, which I know we do a lot of and that’s wonderful and important. I’m talking about course-based undergraduate research and scholarship experiences.
The capstone courses are a place where this happens. I think it’s broader than that. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could say, “The University of Maine guarantees that every student has an authentic research and scholarship experience coming here”? I’ll bet we’re close to that. Although, I’d like to see a few more nods to be reassured.
No. Not so sure. We’ll continue that discussion. In any case, big priority for me.
You’ve already addressed a part of this third question, which is really drilling down in the research theme. It’s built on the four bars, of the bar graph you showed where research spending has been drastically increasing last two or three years. What is the university’s plan to address this growth?
I’m interpreting this is about taking place in its research enterprise from addressing the growing operation on a facility’s needs to supporting opportunity initiatives and rewarding researches for their efforts. In other words, ways to incentivize research.
That’s a great question. I suspect that whoever wrote the question might have some excellent ideas about what we ought to be doing, which is how we’re going to need to grow this whole discussion going forward. At the very outset, part of what I need to understand is the research environment here.
I understand that we have a variety of centers who are doing excellent work. I’m curious to learn a lot more about the staffing of those centers and the infrastructure that supports those centers to be certain that we have all that we need for a growing research enterprise.
I’m also interested in the relationship of the centers to departments, how faculty appointments work across this whole system. Coming from the National Science Foundation, I spent a lot of time talking to colleagues across government about the nature of research. This is in the STEM fields. In my reading, it’s clear that it’s across fields.
The nature of research going forward being more interdisciplinary, more convergent, requiring much more communication across and over and through boundaries. That’s a question I have here as well. Are we well-setup for that? Do we have the right mechanisms in place, the right apparatus in place to make sure that that can happen?
I’m still learning. I know there are people in the cabinet who thought deeply about this. I do assure you that it’s very high on my radar to be paying attention to these kinds of questions. By the way, I don’t think there are simple answers to these questions.
Everything is going to be a resource issue. The trick is going to be how do we work together well to decide what our priorities are, in given time periods, too? It’s not as though the priorities can’t shift a little bit as we build up in one area. Keep something else steady for a while and then that theory is turned.
It will take a lot of conversation and a lot of strong collaboration across the campus. Please, since many of you are here, hope you will be willing to be a part of some of those conversations going forward.
In a different area, one that is shared by the faculty senate, what are your goals and plans for improving how the university handles diversity and inclusion, including racial, ethnic diversity, as well as gender and sexuality? Are there any plans or thoughts in the works or a direction that you would like to pursue?
Again, I don’t yet have the plans. I have goals that are my own personal impression type goals at this point. I can be very clear about my stance on diversity and inclusion. We cannot have excellence in a university unless we have diversity and inclusion functioning well, central to our culture, highest among our values.
I start from there. Then I watched to see what we have. Much of what we have is really wonderful. We are a place that is welcoming. We are a place that is generally highly supportive of people who are different from one another and different from us as individuals. We are welcoming in that regard.
That all said, it’s a topic and an area that requires our constant attention and constant discussion because it’s very easy to have inherent bias, implicit bias come to play, and to get in the way of what we need to be doing to do well.
I also know that there have been some surveys. Perhaps Dean Dana — would know. I forgot which. One of the surveys, that we saw, talked about various kinds of impressions that students have being here on this campus. What they wish they had more of or less of.
Generally, our students, they are extremely positive about opportunities for engagement and how engaged and a part of the campus they would seem to feel to be.
They do tend to rate us low on opportunities to interact with, engage with, get to know people who are different from them. I think that we can constantly work at making those opportunities happen. Thinking of diversity as multi-dimensional, we certainly think of racial, ethnic and gender diversity but we also can think about generational diversity.
We have first-gen college students here. We have a whole host of age diversity that I think is available to us on this campus. We want to become a place that is clear about its commitment. That’s in the goals category. The plans for how to do this, that’s a complex question. That takes, first of all, my understanding what’s already happening.
I’m not so presumptuous as to think, “There’s nothing here. I’ll come in and we’ll figure this all out.” No. There’s a lot happening. It’s a question about how we give it more visibility, how we bring it together. Robert, I don’t know if there’s more you want to say. They have that roughly right on that survey item.
The survey was a “Wall Street Journal” survey type. We are spending time now. We got Damon Williams here recently.
I am Robert.
We had Damon Williams here. He’s provided a report. I’m looking at Nov. 20 to report out. We’re looking at changing things both with the student life side, in terms of how we’re addressing the issues of diversity inclusion. We’re trying to amp up the multicultural center, which includes the LGBT Rainbow Resource Center.
The provost and I are talking with the equal opportunity folks because we’ve got to do a better job of accounting for who’s here on campus and the faculty and staff, and getting deeper, richer pools, so our diversity enhancement can happen. We can’t just look at the diversity issue. We got to think about the inclusivity aspect. We have an ongoing issue right now, which is resolving.
The student group, the Black Student Union asked for their hair care products, which is a long discussion. They were turned down by another student organization. The idea was transparent to those who think about the needs of varying student groups but it wasn’t very transparent to the student group to turn it down.
We’re trying desperately to get people to think about inclusivity at large. I know the president’s committed to it as well.
We have a couple softball questions here. What do you like best about…?
You could have started with those.
No. We’re transitioning. What do you like best about the University of Maine, and especially at the town of Orono? Careful now.
You already warned me that I’ll get these questions and I still…It’s hard to say. I think in both cases it might be the people. People have been so very warm, so incredibly welcoming, so friendly, so eager to help. As my husband and I are settling in here, people are just terrific.
We’ve lived in a few other places. People are always nice. I do think that there is a distinction here in that folks seem to genuinely love being here, being in Maine. The people that I’ve met in Orono seem to like being in Orono. That comes through because they want others to get to like the place in the same way.
It really has been about meeting wonderful folks and appreciating their interest and their kindness. Any of you in the room who had been a part of that, thank you so much.
I think the reason why most of us are here or most of the people in the audience are here is they not only want to hear what you think and what your ideas are but they’re here to advance support for you. This question, I think, sums it up. What do you need or want help with?
That’s really nice.
Coming new to a place that is this big, this complex and this rich, part of what I find myself needing…I’m getting this but in a dosage that’s kind of overwhelming, are ways to get to know folks deeply enough so that we can actually talk about issues fairly directly but to do that in a short-time frame is really hard.
What I need and want is your patience because it will take a little while for me to remember names and for me to get to know you.
That’s going to be crucial for us to be able to have those conversations because I can’t do a good job in this job and I can’t do a good job with all of you for the university unless people can be very frank with me and tell me when something’s wrong, when something’s a problem, when they are really unhappy because of something that we could fix here at this university.
Getting to know people at that level despite the wonderful and warm welcomes, that’s what I’m eager for, is how do we get to a point where you can feel comfortable calling me or stopping by and saying, “Joan, we really got a problem here. We’ve got a worry about this.” I always do like solutions, by the way, along with the worry.
We need to work on this because I think we have to be transparent. We have to be able to communicate well. I have to know where you are, where things are standing. I guess that’s what I’d like.
Any questions from our remote audience? Nothing has been typed in?
I was just going to say, we have another 15 minutes on our schedule. We’re not going to let the president off this easily. I do want to commend her for…
We can go watch the band rehearse, I can hear them.
In my 26 or so years here, I think this is the first time in six presidents we’ve had an opportunity to have a town meeting, where we hear the president’s thoughts and then drill her on various issues that have concerned us over the years. What we’re looking forward for the future.
There must be other questions that may have been generated by hearing these questions or anything from the floor. I see Dean Servello waving his pen.
Dean Servello: I will just ask if you would give us your reflections on working with the system at this point in time. Obviously, it’s an unusual situation. Let’s put it this way, you heard about it at the interview state. Now you know more at this point.
Right. First of all, I’m assuming everybody in the room is pretty familiar with the fact that we’re a part of a system.
To be honest, that was interesting to me even through the interviewing because its complexity. It’s clear what we are. We are the University of Maine. We are the flagship. We are the research university. We are the largest university. We are a statewide and beyond organization. We need to be confident and certain about that.
So that said, then we are part of the system. In fact, the University of Maine with its partnership with the University of Maine at Machias is just a fascinating case study within being in a system because we are enacting what it means to partner well, I think. We’re on the verge, at least, of that. I hope the folks at Machias feel the same.
We are working hard to show what it means for the University of Maine to engage in a very productive, mutualistic way with another partner in the system. That, to me, is very productive. We have some kind of partnership with every other institution in the system, I believe. Jeff is confirming, right? There are varied levels of depth or complexity. There is that.
Then there is also the administration of the system, the chancellor and his staff, the board of trustees. You will find I’m a little bit Pollyannaish but I find a helpful posture to take, which is the board is really interested in the success of the University of Maine. They look to us, I believe, for leadership in a host of ways and to be a good partner. We’re demonstrating that with Machias.
The chancellor’s staff and office have been nothing but supportive and helpful, prompt to respond. We spend a lot of time, for example, with Jim Thelen in the Office of General Council. He’s an enormous help to us, and others in the system office as well.
It’s complicated. It won’t always be easy. There will be times when we wish that the University of Maine got a different kind of attention or a different treatment. I just think in general, at the top level, it enriches our university. We bring so much to it that we can be a confident partner. We may want to revisit that question six months from now.
That’s where it is right now. Yes, John.
This kind of addresses the shift that you had to make from being a COO of a very large organization, much larger than we are at the university, where somebody who’s on top of every detail, to moving into a role where you are the CEO and you’re providing a vision, you’re providing leadership.
You’re in a position where you have to let go some of the things that a COO would look at. How are you finding that adjustment?
I’m just going to assume there’s not a lot behind this question, despite the fact that John has watched me do line edits of things that he’s written and so forth. No, that’s a very fair and good question. Do you all know John Diamond, the director of our alumni association? Just a fabulous colleague to us.
It is a transition for me. It’s hard for me. I am very detail-oriented. Anybody working closely with me will know that. We had something fairly recently where Robert said, “You didn’t edit that at all. That was good, good.”
I do realize that simply to cover the breadth that I need to cover, to get to know the people that I need to know, to be in all the different places I need to be, I won’t be able to know the details. That said though, I want to be clear, I guess I want to know the good news, of course. I do need to know the bad news.
In that sense, I can’t let go of part of what I had as my COO hat because I just feel the university is small enough, we are visible enough and we are public enough that it’s important that the president, essentially not… sometimes, hear “we’ve got to protect the president from this or that.” I’m not that style.
There will always be that but what I’m finding is that people here are just phenomenally good at what they do. We should have the whole cabinet stand and be introduced. This is an extraordinary team of leaders who do their work extremely competently. As we’re getting to know each other, I’m hoping they’re seeing me micromanaging slightly less.
Could we have the Cabinet stand up and be sure that you all just introduce yourselves. I’m pretty sure folks know you but…Jeff.
I’m Jeff Mills. I’m the head of the University of Maine Foundation, which is located upstairs, right above you. The president is a President’s Club donor, by the way. I’m very pleased to announce. Thank you for your support.
Kody Varahramyan, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.
Robert Dana, vice president for student life and dean of students.
I’m Ken Ralph, and I’m director of athletics.
Hi there. I’m Chris Lindstrom. I’m vice president of human resources.
Kim Jenkins, interim chief of staff.
Claire Strickland, chief business officer for UMaine and Machias.
I’m Jeff Hecker, I’m the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.
Good evening. I’m Lizzie Wahab. I’m the vice president for enrollment management for UMaine and for UMaine at Machias.
Just so you know, this group meets weekly. We all increasingly, I think, are getting to know enough about each other’s work that we can sometimes be helpful to one another. It’s a team here and we’re very pleased to be in that situation.
For somebody who has lived in Maine for his entire life, went to school here, has worked here for a while, and has looked at the university from all sides within the state of Maine. I’m not sure if everybody shares this view.
We have an image problem in Maine. We’re not a school first choice for Maine high school kids when they’re going on to college. We lose a lot of our best students to your alma mater, University of New Hampshire.
Do you think that we’re hiding our candle under a bushel? Do you think we have a better story to tell, or the ways to tell it, not just the main legislature, but the people of Maine? Athletics has a lot to do with getting the message out. Games in Portland, etc., winning teams especially, but academics need to be promoted and the quality of teaching.
We’re put up and compared with Bates, Bowdoin and Colby, and the quality of teaching there is thought to excel what we do. I can only name one or two professors down there. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what these rumors are based on.
What are some ways that we can promote ourselves within the state so just the common person like I am in Maine looks at us in a different light than has been in the past?
That’s a great question, Dave. I have talked a bit about this over the past months. I would just like to first get a little bit of a read of the room. How many of you agree with what they Dave is saying?
This already means we’ve got a set of folks who probably have ideas about what we can do here. This is really complicated. It’s a mix of New England humility. We’re not very good at tooting our own horn and bragging in anyway.
That said, I think there are some strategic things we probably can do. Some of it will mean using either the Blue Sky plan framework or a new one that we might promote around this strategic visioning activity.
A lot of it has to do with bringing together ideas and starting to have some messaging and marketing. I’ve been talking about this two. Some messaging that is common across all us.
If we decide that we’ve got three or four or five categories of things that are strategic for us, we can pretty much bet that students ought to be one of those, in some way or another.
Maybe there are ways to begin shaping our messaging, eliciting messages from all of you when you have them about the great quality of instruction, about the great kinds of outcomes we have in our classrooms, about research findings.
I know that we have many, many scholars here who go about their work. They get their next project started, they finish their project, they get their papers out, and they go on to the next one.
What I’m trying to encourage, the one I’d like to see, and I’m sending notes to our researchers as they get new grants, let us know when you have some findings even if they are very basic and fundamental.I know I come out of the sciences and I lean there, but if you have findings, even the most fundamental work still is of interest to certain audiences. We need to be having a stronger focus on getting messaging out. We’re working on how to do that well, in an efficient way, in a proactive way, but I can’t claim we have the answers.
I just know this notion that you’ve identified here as a not being willing enough to get out there with their messaging. It’s something we’re all looking to solve. Since so many of you raised your hands and felt this way, that means you all get to help offer solutions, too.
One piece I think is critical when you talked, Dave, about the State of Maine. I’ve been getting mixed messages about whether this is a good idea or not. I, at least, need a stronger connection to our K–12 system in the state.
I need to figure a way to be in high schools or to be talking to groups of high school, not only guidance counselors but teachers of students who might come here.
Students who might look at the University of Maine, and say, “Oh, that’s just up the street. I don’t want to go there. I want to get out and see the world.” We need to begin to be sure we’re doing everything we can to attract those top students from the State of Maine and beyond.
The other group that I’m very concerned about is students in Maine who aren’t necessarily opting for higher education, who see that there may be other pathways, more affordable pathways. I do think we are going to need to be sure we’re making ourselves accessible to and inviting to those groups.
So lots to do on that and obviously something we’ll work on.
Any follow-up questions? Any predictions for the weekend scores, hockey, football, field hockey?
I have a few. We can talk about this later.
Again, I want to remind everybody that this is in my history here, the first time that a president has done this. I hope it’s not the last. I think these can be very productive. They have a way of instilling a sense of boosting morale among the university community. I thank you, Joan, for doing this.
Thank you very much. Thank you all.