By Paul Johnson, Professor, University of Southern Maine and Lisa Botshon, Professor UMaine Augusta
The University of Maine System (UMS) decided it needed to deliver more collaborative, market-relevant cross-campus programming. With that goal, UMS came up with a plan to offer what’s called Unified Accreditation-unifying each of the separate accreditations on the individual universities into one state-wide institutional accreditation covering all UMS universities.
Initially, it appeared that this would be a collaborative endeavor with all seven universities in the UMaine System working with the Chancellor’s office to look at the opportunities and challenges that Unified Accreditation presented.
However, three years later what the seven universities of the UMaine System have experienced is a top-down process where faculty, staff, and student concerns have been dismissed or ignored.
Here are six reasons why faculty members have found the process problematic.
- Unified Accreditation appears to violate the legal structure of the University of Maine System which was created in 1969 by the Maine legislature, and states that there will be seven distinct universities, which will have their own distinctive academic, research, athletic (including conference and division affiliations) and extracurricular programs.
- The consulting firm Huron, which was hired to provide its expertise with accreditation, recommends the UMaine System establish a uniform, online general education curriculum, potentially with an ed tech company.A, This proposal also violates the legal structure of the UMS.
- Faculty members have been repeatedly excluded from important areas of planning and consultation in which they hold expertise, and, moreover, little inter-campus collaboration has been facilitated or implemented by the UMS administration. Indeed, ground-up discussions among UMS faculty groups with common interests would yield more practical ideas for cooperation.
- It has been repeatedly stated that Unified Accreditation is necessary in order to allow students to take courses across the system. Yet, students can already do this. Similarly, one of the motivating factors for Unified Accreditation is to provide opportunities for faculty to collaborate across our universities. However, our contract already communicates the process for Cooperating Departments. What needs to be improved are our digital systems, funding, and other support for collaboration.
- Unified Accreditation does not address the inequities that exist among the universities in the UMS, and, in fact, seems to condone hostile takeovers. The smaller campuses, which already require higher – in some cases double – teaching loads for faculty members, while providing many fewer resources, are being subsumed rather than bolstered. For example, the University of Maine at Machias has effectively been swallowed by the University of Maine, having already lost its president and, more recently, its logo and other forms of campus identity. This has resulted in less choice for students.
- The Unified Accreditation plan has no clear means of assessment. The general paucity of data in justifying UA underscores the lack of serious study of the possible effects that it will have on the universities, whether positive or negative, and points to the administration’s lack of concern for the sustainability of the University of Maine System’s future.
Despite the claims of the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees, Unified Accreditation in its present format will do little to improve higher education opportunities for the citizens of Maine. On the contrary, rather than providing more choice for our students, this proposed model will lead to fewer choices, fewer classes, less full-time faculty, and ultimately the loss of a number of universities in the system.
We are all in agreement that getting a university degree makes a huge difference in the lives of our students, and we are in favor of enhancing accessibility so that any Maine resident who seeks a college degree can procure one. But it is clear that Unified Accreditation is not the answer to the problems that confront the UMS. Rather it is being misused to ignore the real challenges that we face today. Unfortunately, we have little confidence that the current Unified Accreditation efforts will benefit our institutions and, most of all, the people of Maine.