Who would dare question U Maine System’s second year tuition freeze?

At first glance, the recent action by the U Maine System Trustees in freezing tuition for in-state undergraduate students for the second year in a row is a no-brainer. In return for what the Trustees and the System’s top administrators hope–and pray–will be flat funding of the System by the Governor and the legislature, students and their families will not have to dig deeper to pay for what in recent years have been annual in-state tuition increases. (These freezes don’t apply to out-of-state undergraduates or to some graduate students. Not since 1985-1987, moreover, have there been two consecutive years without such in-state tuition increases.

However economically and politically appealing, tuition freezes for a majority of System students are mixed blessings. Every one of the seven System campuses is heavily dependent upon tuition-paying students to make ends meet. So freezing tuition for so many students means fewer dollars in the bank–not a minor consideration to already financially strapped campuses.

When the System’s initiation in-state tuition freeze was decided last year, it was, I’ve been told by reliable sources present at that meeting, done in haste, with no time provided for discussion and with little if any input by the seven campus presidents. Apparently it was a spur of the moment decision that no campus president, I suspect, could oppose in the face of such a public relations coup.

Let me note that, by contrast, the System Trustees require a minimum of fourteen months (!) to approve nominations for Honorary Degree recipients by the seven campuses. Having served on the UMaine Honorary Degree Committee this past year, I assure you that this is the way the System operates: almost immediate votes on tuition and at least fourteen months to ponder something far more significant like honorary degrees. Speaks for itself, eh?

With a second in-state undergraduate tuition freeze in place, the System’s financial top honchos are already claiming insufficient funds for any faculty pay increases. Pay for most System faculty has been frozen since July 2009. As has been widely reported, this is NOT because of insufficient funds but rather because of ideological biases that deem most faculty as not deserving higher pay (save for ¬†faculty who receive tenure and/or promotion or who come up for post-tenure reviews every four years).

One other, related matter that still makes no sense to me: the annual tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates will again range from $10,000 at the University of Maine, the “flagship” campus, to $7300 at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Recall that the System’s top administrators and the Board of Trustees insist upon the transferability of grades from one System campus to another. That surely presumes that courses at each of the seven campuses are of the same quality in all respects. Yet these substantial differences in tuition reflect the very opposite condition: that Orono costs more because Orono offers more than Presque Isle. Try explaining that!