University of Southern Maine Could Be Renamed

There's a lot in a name, at least when it comes something like college, in which you might invest years of your life and thousands of dollars.

That's why there is a clash brewing in Maine over what to call one of the state's more popular public universities.

Monday, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees voted 10-2 to approve a name change proposed by leaders at the University of Southern Maine, which has two primary campuses in Portland and Gorham.

School leaders believe rebranding as the University of Maine at Portland will make its programs more attractive to prospective students, parents and guidance counselors outside Maine, who they say are unfamiliar with USM.

"Although here in Maine, people live USM, if you go below Kittery, they don't," said USM President Glenn Cummings.

The school ordered extensive studies to prove a adding Portland to its name would be worth an estimated $1-2 million cost, according to Cummings.

"Sixty percent said, 'I would definitely be more likely to look at you and come visit,'" said Cummings. "Fifty percent said, 'I'd be more likely to come to you,' so the research, the data validated our instinct."

But Bill Diamond, a Democratic state senator, says he and other lawmakers don't share that instinct, and they're not alone.

Diamond says constituents have come to him saying they're upset at the school's plan and school alumni think the money isn't being put towards more meaningful projects like programming and marketing the school as it is.

"Being naïve and saying, 'We're going to attract kids to come here, everybody's going to come,' is really short-sighted," said Diamond. "Kids will come to schools that benefit them, that they can afford, where the programs are excellent, so that's where the focus should be."

Cummings says the cost impact on the school would be minimal because USM's annual budget is $140 million and the millions used for the rebrand would come not come from state tax dollars, but sources like philanthropic grants and vending machine money.

He also points out the University of Maine System Board of Trustees supported the plan, though Diamond thinks the vote should have been unanimous.

Either way, any change will still have to be approved by Maine's state legislature and Gov. Janet Mills, whom both sides think can be swayed.

"I served in the legislature for a long time and I believe legislators can look at this and say, 'This is change, but the outcomes for the State of Maine are tremendous,'" said Cummings.

"I think we'll find the support's going to be waning," said Diamond.

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