October 28, 2020

Trustees approve college merger> UNE, Westbrook to share enrollment

PORTLAND — Brushing aside concerns raised by some faculty members and alumni, trustees of Westbrook College and the University of New England on Tuesday approved a plan to merge the two private schools.

The consolidation, which takes effect Thursday, will create an enlarged University of New England with a total enrollment of 2,100 students.

About 1,800 students attend the UNE campus in Biddeford, which includes the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Maine’s only medical school. The Westbrook College campus in Portland now has about 300 students.

In a joint announcement, UNE and Westbrook said the merger was expected to enhance the quality and cost-effectiveness of education at the two campuses.

“To characterize the principal goal of the merger in one phrase, it is `to expand possibilities for students, faculty and staff members, and supporters on both campuses,’ which are great,” said Sandra Featherman, president of the merged institution.

As part of the consolidation, UNE planned to increase enrollment at the Westbrook campus by offering new degree programs and introducing noncredit and other continuing education programs, Featherman said.

In combining the athletic programs, the four shared varsity programs — men’s and women’s basketball, softball and cross-country — will be led by two former Westbrook coaches and two former UNE coaches.

Trustees voted at private meetings at their respective campuses and the outcome was announced at an afternoon news conference at Westbrook. Officials said the vote was unanimous.

Some Westbrook faculty and alumni had expressed reservations about the plan to combine their 165-year-old college with the newer and larger university, citing such issues as staff salaries and teaching loads. Critics had maintained that those issues should be resolved prior to the merger.

Norman Brackett, chairman of Westbrook’s board, said the concerns were reviewed during the meeting and he was confident that they would be addressed.

Exploratory discussions about a merger between the two schools have taken place sporadically over the past decade. Official talks began at the beginning of this year.

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