Is Mike Michaud clueless about Maine public higher education?

I have always voted for U.S. Representative Mike Michaud for Congress and would have voted for him again if he had chosen to seek re-election. But once he declared his intention to give up his safe House seat to seek the governorship, I had doubts about whether he really understood what troubles thousands of Maine citizens about the University of Maine System’s current structure, values, and operating procedures. I hereby include not only the thousands of System faculty and staff who work on the seven campuses but also the tens of thousands of students and their families who take classes and those who invest in those students’ education. This is not, then, a small number of Mainers–far from it. For many of us, candidates’ stance on public higher education is a crucial factor in determining our vote for governor.

Rep. Michaud’s recent proposal to waive tuition and fees for all would-be sophomores throughout the System–part of his overall recent economic and business investment plan–sounds wonderful at first glance. This weekend’s Bangor Daily News’ analysis by Opinion Page Editor Matthew Stone is a first-rate analysis of the benefits and costs of the Michaud proposal that bears careful scrutiny by every Mainer. If, on the one hand, the Michaud plan would certainly increase the number of students who stay in college by reducing their financial obligations for at least one year, on the other hand, it doesn’t cover living expenses, books, and other costly components of undergraduate education.

What, however, troubles me far more is not only the absence of any specifics as to where the estimated 15 million needed annually would come from but also the apparent ignorance of what else matters besides student retention and reduced student financial obligations upon graduation.

I wonder if Rep. Michaud has any knowledge of the millions of precious taxpayer dollars spent in just the past few years alone on outside consultants for various issues ranging from evaluating physical plant to recruiting foreign students to hiring ever more IT and other “experts” by and for the System. I wonder if he has the vaguest sense of the ┬ádeterioration of so many academic units because of top-down decisions not to replace retiring or deceased faculty and the consequent inability to offer many courses that have long enlightened thousands of students- even if, God forbid, such courses are not the hands-on trade courses that are properly offered at Maine’s excellent community colleges. I wonder if Rep. Michaud approves of the ongoing and relentless growth of the University of Maine System in terms of both power and personnel and in turn the marginalization of the seven campuses in such areas as IT, travel, and purchasing.

It is hard to imagine that Governor Michaud would lift a finger to try to reform the inner workings of the University of Maine System that, thanks to former Governor Baldacci’s influence and appointments, is nowadays anti-union, anti-faculty, and anti-staff. ┬áLet us be frank: most of these powerbrokers are Democrats, not Republicans. Those wishing to look further can (re)read the May 3, 2012, article in the non-partisan Pine Tree Watchdog website. I would never vote for him, but Governor LePage has done infinitely less to undermine public higher education in Maine than his predecessor did.

I do hope that, as the gubernatorial campaign continues, all three candidates will say more about public higher education in Maine beyond the usual superficialities. And I hope that Rep. Michaud will expand on his recent proposal. The State of Maine desperately needs this.