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UMaine System spent $363K for foreign student report by former USM president

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UMaine System spent $363K for foreign student report by former USM president

PORTLAND — It has been just over a year since former University of Southern Maine president Selma Botman got a new job.

Her position as special assistant to the chancellor on global education was created for her two months after she got a vote of no confidence from more than half the USM faculty. Although that didn’t meet the two-thirds majority to be considered “the will of the faculty,” Botman relinquished the campus presidency at the end of June, 2012.

With a year left on her contract, the University of Maine System created the high-level job for 63- year-old Botman.

The result of her new assignment: a 39-page, five-year plan for recruiting international students into the University of Maine System.

The cost of the report: more than $363,000.

That price included nearly $276,000 for her salary and benefits; more than $70,000 for her assistant’s salary and benefits; more than $10,800 for travel (including car and fuel); more than $2,600 to move out of the USM president’s home and office to another office in the Portland area; and $2,500 for an international recruitment consultant.

The university system, though, did not wait for her report to launch a program to recruit foreign students. In March, while her report was still in the works, UMS signed a five-year contract with a company that will recruit international students to the University of Maine at Orono and the University of Southern Maine.

UMS expects that this company, called Study Group, will recruit 400 students per year by 2016 using commission-based agents overseas. In August, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported that Study Group would be paid 80 percent of the first year’s tuition for each student it enrolls in the UMS. This practice is illegal when recruiting domestic students because of the potential for agents to be motivated by their pay, rather than the interests of the students they work with.

Botman was instructed not to include anything about Study Group in her report, according to UMS Chancellor James Page.

“I wanted them to develop independently so they could work independently so we could do one or the other,” Page said of Botman’s report and the UMS plans to work with Study Group.

Botman could not be reached for comment and UMS staff said they do not know what she is doing now. Her contract was not renewed and she has not been replaced.

The Academic and Student Affairs Committee of the UMS board of trustees met in July to review the Botman report and discuss Study Group. In November, the board will decide between pursuing Botman’s plan, continuing the partnership with Study Group, which is already in place, or letting individual campuses handle their own international recruitment, Page said.

Page said the board will adopt “likely a hybrid of a mixture of the three approaches.”

Botman’s stint as president had been turbulent. In March of 2012, The Portland Press Herald reported that four of Botman’s administrative staff received raises of between 18 and 22 percent, while faculty salaries had been frozen for three years.

The USM faculty released a list of grievances they had with Botman in April of 2012. Disapproval of her effort to consolidate programs that had few students and her top-down leadership style were among the grievances reported in the USM Free Press.

Her problems mounted in May, when MCPIR reported that Botman had appointed a former trustee as vice president for advancement at the University of Southern Maine, despite having no professional experience in fundraising. The move prompted a new ethics policy requiring a year’s waiting period between leaving the board and taking a paid job in the system.

The contract between UMS and Botman, dated Aug. 15, 2012, lists four responsibilities:

• “Identify and secure international agents who can help recruit students to UMS campuses.”

• “Cultivate relationships ... for educational and faculty exchanges.”

• “Articulate UMS’s commitment to global education.”

•  “Create gap year, 2 plus 2, 4 year, and graduate programs where possible.”

Documents provided to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting by UMS under a Freedom of Access Act request do not show that any relationships were secured or any programs created. There is no mention of faculty exchanges.

Chancellor Page said that he wanted Botman to outline a plan before the system committed to any programs.

“We needed a strategy before we went out and spent a lot of money,” Page said. “We didn’t have a picture of how it would all work.”

“It was worth it, given that we had a contractual obligation” to Botman, said Adm. Gregory Johnson, a member of the board of trustees and chairman of the academic and student affairs committee.

“I think it reaffirms, in some ways, the work we were already doing. And now that can be refined,” Johnson said.

“They needed something for her to do,” said Howard Segal, a history professor at the University of Maine at Orono. “My question would be, well, will that be used for future reference or will it just gather dust?”

In addition to the rationale for recruiting international students and the list of recruitment agencies, Botman’s report included a five-year business plan, a rationale for using recruiting agents, a discussion of the tuition international students would pay, examples of how the university might phrase promotional materials, a three-page list of international high schools and other data.

In the business plan, Botman estimated that implementing her strategy would cost UMS $287,500 per year. With her projected enrollment of 579 international students, at the end of five years the university system would see a $31 million increase in revenue.

“This would bring increased prominence to the State and much needed resources to the University,” the report said.

Though she was given a $20,000 budget for travel, Botman only used about $1,200. She went to New York City to meet with administrators from the State University of New York, a leader in international student recruitment, and to the University of Northern Arizona in Phoenix to meet with their vice provost for international education.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.