The Universal Notebook: Should USM become UMP, again?

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In the grand scheme of things, what we call the Portland-Gorham campuses of the University of Maine System probably doesn’t mean a great deal except to a few thousand alumni and few thousands more who might become alumni if they can figure out where the school is.

University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings would like to change the university’s name to the University of Maine at Portland, primarily for marketing reasons. Count me among the 66 percent of USM alumni who prefer the old name, but I won’t be terribly upset if the name does get changed. It’s not as if it hasn’t happened before.

When my father went there just before World War II, it was Portland Junior College. When I entered in 1967, it was the University of Maine at Portland, so I should be nostalgic for UMP. In 1970, UMP merged with Gorham State College to become the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham (PoGo U). In 1978, the name was changed to University of Southern Maine.

Cummings says we have U.S. Sen. Angus King to the blame for the proposed name change. When Cummings was named president in 2015, King called to congratulate him and then said, “You’ve got to change the name.”

According to Cummings, the senator understood that the name was confusing. People outside of Maine didn’t know where it was or whether it was part of the University of Maine System. And with the ranks of Maine high school grads declining, USM would have to attract more out-of-state students.

So last year USM commissioned a market survey that found 61 percent of prospective students would be more likely to consider USM if it were named University of Maine at Portland, and 81 percent of guidance counselors would be more likely to recommend USM if they knew it was in Portland.

Why change the name to attract out-of-state students? Because out-of-state students subsidize in-state tuitions and Maine needs to attract new residents. Cummings cites the 70/70 rule of higher education, which suggests 70 percent of college graduates settle within 70 miles of their alma mater.

My preference for USM is not school pride, it’s just that UMP makes it seem the Portland campus is a secondary satellite campus of the flagship university in Orono. I think USM is a more substantial name, making USM the equal of UMO. University of Maine at Portland-Gorham might be more accurate. Of course, then you’d be getting into academic gobbledygook like PoGo and Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI or yew-y-pew-y).

Cummings will present the proposed name change to the board of trustees in July. If the board approves, the state Legislature gets the final say. The university estimates the name change will cost about $750,000 in new athletic uniforms, signs and forms.

Being afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome, I naturally tend to blame Donald Trump for everything (and I don’t care for the fact that “UMP” appears in his name), but in the case of the USM name change, that’s really not so far-fetched.

Back in 2015, USM tapped Harvey Kesselman of Stockton University to be its next president, but Kesselman had to bow out at the last minute when Stockton ran into trouble acquiring the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City as its new home. It seems there was a covenant in place requiring the Showboat to remain a casino-hotel. The covenant holder? Trump Entertainment.

And so it was that Glenn Cummings was named president, Angus King called and now USM may well become UMP again.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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