Cummings takes case for USM name change to town

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USM President Glenn Cummings addresses the Gorham Town Council Tuesday.

GORHAM — University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings went to the Gorham Town Council Tuesday to drum up support in his campaign to change the school’s name to the University of Maine at Portland.

The name change is needed, he said, to heighten awareness about USM outside the state and to boost Maine’s economy.

Cummings vowed the Gorham campus, which harkens back to 1878, would remain part of its future.

“It’s not an insult to Gorham,” Cummings told the council.

USM also has campuses in Portland and Lewiston-Auburn.

Recruiting out-of-state students is vital not only to the university as enrollments fall at some Maine high schools, but also to the state’s economy and employers, he said. Cummings said 70 percent of graduates stay within 70 miles of where they went to college.

The name change proposal may prove a tough sell in Gorham.

“I don’t foresee us endorsing the name change,” Town Council Chairman Ben Hartwell said Wednesday when asked by the American Journal.

“I understand their need to bring in more students, but if we really want to attract people to Maine and keep people here, we need to realize that our overall tax burden in Maine is far too high,” Hartwell said. “I think the name change is a Band Aid for a much bigger problem.”

But Town Councilor Jim Hager agreed the university needs to find a broader student base. “I think you’re on the right track,” he told Cummings.

The Gorham campus has long and strong ties to the town, its people and its history.

It dates to 1878 when the Legislature approved Gorham for the location of the new Western State Normal School. Through the years, the school has been re-named Gorham Normal School, Gorham State Teachers College and Gorham State College before becoming part of the university system. It was renamed in 1970 as the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham and evolved into University of Southern Maine in 1978.

Cummings said the name had changed six times in one century, and another is not a statement about Gorham. “It’s about business,” he said. “I understand it’s a political bag of snakes.”

Renaming the university could cost up to $1 million.

University spokesman Robert Stein said Wednesday expenses would include new exterior and interior signage along with multiple smaller things like  uniforms (athletics, police, etc), stationery letterhead, logos and redoing the website.

A name change would require approval of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees and Legislature.

The proposal is based on a market research study.

“There is no unveiling; this is a process,” Cummings said. “This is my suggestion to the Board of Trustees.”

 Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.