Terrence MacTaggart has begun his brief return as University of Maine System chancellor well by demonstrating that he understands public concerns about and hopes for the university system and is prepared to act on both. What he deserves in response is broad support to persuade lawmakers to join him in strengthening what is among the most important investments in Maine’s future.
The UMaine System is seven universities and a central office, and how these eight entities perform individually and collectively, whether they get along, where they put state resources and what happens to their graduates should be of interest to all residents of Maine. Specifically, are tax and tuition payers getting good value for their dollar?
The chancellor has started to answer that in a useful way. He has undertaken an audit of the system office, asking what purpose the programs there are supposed to fulfill, whether they are succeeding, whether their cost is reasonable and, if so, should they be carried at the campus or system level.
Though he is reluctant to discuss how much money he hopes to save in the $21.3 million system budget, he is equally clear that part of the point of the exercise is to save money. The 204-person office has grown by about 12 percent between the time he left it in 2001, after serving for five years, and this spring when he accepted a one-year position during the search for a new, long-term chancellor.
Similarly, it is clear that he expects the universities will undertake this sort of review. That will help an even larger challenge – improving relations with the governor, Legislature and the public. The relationship currently isn’t awful, but to raise more funding, support expansion and work in partnership with other areas of the state, it should be better. A demonstration that the universities are effective and efficient would help.
The chancellor’s one-year agenda is largely about understanding how the university system can help Maine, culturally and economically. The quick answer is that it does a lot and can do even more. That means building trust so that capital support for the smaller universities within the system is immediately understood by all lawmakers as a way to make rural regions of the state stronger. And it means grasping that research and development investments at the flagship university in Orono is of statewide benefit.
It is telling that Mr. MacTaggart is not an “acting” chancellor, despite his temporary position. He has a year to make changes and he has a reputation as a successful leader who has worked well with the university presidents and with Augusta. His challenge deserves public backing.