Support Question 4 on Tuesday to fund higher ed improvements

The case has been made by many in Maine public higher education that passage of Question 4 will provide $49 million for upgrades and other improvements at all of Maine’s public universities, including UMaine.

As UMaine’s new President recently explained in an e-mail,
“Passage of Question 4 will create or modernize facilities that support academic excellence in ‘STEM’ disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), all of which are essential to Maine’s economic growth. One of UMaine’s most heavily used classroom buildings, Neville Hall, will receive major renovations if Question 4 passes.” (Neville Hall houses the English Department, by the way.)

Bond issues that deal primarily if not exclusively with the UMaine System are hardly guaranteed to pass, no matter how compelling proponents’ arguments. Some voters are hostile toward public higher education period. Like Republican Gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody–ironically a member of both the UMaine System and the UMaine Community College System Board of Trustees–they yearn for vocational education first and foremost. They have solid arguments for supporting programs and high school and community college degrees that lead to good jobs with good pay.

The problem comes when, like Moody, voters are asked to support programs and degrees that require more abstract and less overtly practical advances because, alas, that’s the way the world works. The anti-intellectualism that has always been part of American culture kicks in, and the centuries-old contempt for “book learning” undermines those funding campaigns.

Maine is among those states that have often rejected such higher education bond issues. In the past, when separate bond issues for the UMaine System and the UMaine Community College System were on the same ballot, the former often went down to defeat, where the latter always passed easily.

One cannot, of course, discount the waste of millions of taxpayer dollars by the UMaine System on endless outside consultants, on ever more administrators, on retreats at four star resorts (as if no decent space existed within System buildings), and on first-class foreign travel to sign exchange agreements that benefit very few faculty and students but, as with former System Chancellor Joseph Westphal, offer administrators wonderful trips.

Some of these expenditures HAVE been reduced under more recent Chancellors and Trustees. But bad feelings, justified or not, persist.

I hope that a majority of Maine voters overcome any lingering hostility and support Question 4.