ORONO — The University of Maine faculty senate Wednesday gave its stamp of approval to the creation of a School of Marine Studies.
The faculty governing body voted 24-14 to support the project that would consolidate the university’s diverse marine science offerings and staff under one roof.
“I am very pleased,” Dan Belknap, chairman of the marine sciences task force, said Thursday. “I see this as a vote of confidence from the faculty senate.”
The professor of geological sciences and marine studies said a final proposal will be prepared in the next few weeks. UM President Frederick Hutchinson is slated to present the proposal to the University of Maine System board of trustees at their January meeting.
Today there are 70 university staff members involved in marine studies that are spread among four colleges, 14 departments and nine research programs. There are no degrees offered specifically in marine science.
To correct this situation, President Hutchinson created a task force to study how these disparate offers could be forged together. The task force, made up of faculty and administrators, earlier this year recommended that UM establish a school of marine studies.
In addition to bringing marine studies personnel together in a central location, the school proposes to establish an undergraduate degree in marine sciences. The school will also have an outreach office that will tie the university to state agencies, businesses and other institutions involved with marine resources.
Belknap said the task force hopes the school will be up and running in September of next year although establishment of the degree program could take longer.
The creation of the school will be funded with $135,000 in reserve funds from the university as well as a one-time payment of $200,000 from the University of Maine System.
The task force recommendations were the subject of a public hearing in early November and was first taken up by the faculty senate later that month.
Before the senate debated the issue, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Robin Alden lobbied the group in support of the school.
“The state is missing a lot by not having a strong marine resources program at the university,” Alden told the senate on Nov. 29.
Alden said she had discussed the school with Gov. Angus King who said it was “patently absurd” that Maine does not have a marine resources program.
“This university has an obligation to have a strong marine resources program that starts with an undergraduate degree and continues through graduate education,” the commissioner said.
“If the University of Maine is not strong in the marine area, the state is not as strong as it could be,” she concluded.
Opponents of the project objected to university funds being set aside for the marine sciences school while other departments have been faced with budget cuts.
“The governor needs to put his money where his mouth is. The whole university is absurdly underfunded,” said Mary Ellen Symanski, a nursing professor.
Physics professor Peter Kleban proposed that the outreach center be removed from the proposal to reduce the school’s budget. His amendment was rejected by the senate, but faculty agreed that the school should be created with a minimum of funding.
“I know this is a difficult time with downsizing, and a lot of departments have taken hits,” Belknap said Thursday. “But we can’t just stand still or we will wither away.”