Upon granting unified accreditation to the University of Maine System in July 2020, our regional accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), asked us to prepare a self-study in advance of a Fall 2022 visit by a NECHE-appointed evaluation team. Standard Nine: Integrity, Transparency and Public Disclosure can be found on this page.Read the full self-study
The University of Maine System (UMS) is committed to the free pursuit and dissemination of knowledge through its educational and cultural offerings, and outreach and public service to community members, businesses, organizations, and policymakers.
UMS, its universities, and its Law School communicate their New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation status on their respective websites, most commonly on a page devoted to public communications. Academic programs that carry industry and professional (discipline-specific) accreditations list these at the program and/or department level so audiences seeking that information can readily access it.
Student academic integrity policy
In 2020, UMS adopted a System-wide Student Academic Integrity policy establishing a uniform institutional standard for academic honesty and replacing a collection of similar but inconsistent university-level policies. The UMS Student Academic Integrity policy enables centralized record-keeping for academic integrity violations and allows faculty and staff to identify and appropriately address cases in which a student engages in academic misconduct at more than one university.
Faculty who teach at more than one UMS university are no longer required to negotiate multiple academic misconduct procedures, and the standardized policy promotes equitable treatment of student academic misconduct across UMS while providing additional rights and opportunities for redress for both students and faculty.
UMS regards student privacy as essential. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) protects the privacy of students. Under FERPA, students have the right to inspect and review their educational records and challenge records when they are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of privacy rights. Key resources such as Registrars serve at each university to oversee records retention and student information privacy. In addition, the UMS General Counsel is available to assist the universities and Law School when questions or concerns about student privacy arise.
Faculty and staff seeking protection of, and licensing for, inventions, technologies, processes, software, trademarks, or other intellectual property are supported and guided by area experts. Each UMS university maintains appropriate human and animal subjects review boards.
University of Maine (UM) and USM research compliance offices guide the university communities in ethical research and respond appropriately to cases of alleged misconduct. UMS Policies and Procedures for Financial Disclosures and Conflicts of Interest in Extramurally Sponsored Activities apply to all employees and students serving as investigators on proposals submitted to external sponsors.
UMS and its universities expect students to abide by the UMS Student Conduct Code (Code). The Code is updated every three years with input from each university and its stakeholders. The Code also codifies a range of other safety and non-violence policies, including an alcohol and drug policy, a tobacco-free policy, and an illegal downloading policy.
The Code is enforced locally by university and Law School administrators and enables students charged with violations to participate in a transparent and fair resolution process. Members of hearing boards receive substantial training on diversity, equity, academic freedom, and freedom of speech in addition to relevant laws, regulations, and policies.
Public-facing information and data
UMS and its universities transparently provide timely, accessible, accurate, and consistent aggregated information about student achievement and institutional performance to current and prospective students, their families, and the public. The UMS website provides System-wide data and links to each UMS university. UMS also provides information on the successful completion of degrees System-wide.
Each UMS university has its own website containing university-specific information, and a digital university catalogue that is updated annually and is easily accessible. Student learning goals can be found in general education requirements and in program requirements for each major on program web pages, in the university catalogues, and in student handbooks. Student achievement and institutional performance, including retention and graduation rates and, where applicable, licensure exam passage rates, can be found in the UMS DataBook, university web pages, and university catalogues. Examples include University of Maine at Farmington (UMF)’s Facts resource, University of Southern Maine (USM)’s six-year retention and graduation rates, UM’s student consumer information and alumni achievement awards, University of Maine at Augusta (UMA)’s student consumer information; University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI)’s common data set, and University of Maine at Fork Kent (UMFK)’s student consumer information.
Each UMS university publishes the total cost of education and net price, detailed information about financial aid availability, length of study, expected amount of student debt, and the cohort default and loan repayment rates on its website and in its catalogue. This information can typically be accessed from financial aid or admission pages and from links found on the homepage of each university. These resources connect students to financial services staff, bursars, information for veterans, special programs, scholarships, net price calculators, financial terms and conditions, add/drop policies, 1098T information, mandatory fee descriptions, refunds, and sponsor billing.
The UMS website houses information related to System-wide data and policies, student consumer information, links to each university, faculty and staff information, and University of Maine System Board of Trustees (Board) information. The public can access information on admission, employment opportunities through HireTouch, student discipline procedures, and university student handbooks.
UMS maintains an annual financial report. Some UMS universities provide information directly on their websites, such as UM (through its Office of Budget and Business Services), or on request (e.g. UMF through its Office of Finance and Administration).
Each UMS university maintains a directory on its website where departmental affiliations, faculty credentials, and biographical and contact information are listed. UMS maintains a comprehensive employee directory on its website, and dedicates a section of the site to detailed information about the Board: its policies, its committees, meeting materials and agenda, and related information.
UMS and university web content and social media content is governed by formal policies on content creation responsibilities, editorial control, and processes for adding and removing web sections and social media tools. While the authenticated web portal is managed at the UMS level, each university has designated staff who exercise editorial control over utilities, contents, and communications.
UMS is committed to responding to all reasonable requests for information about itself and its universities and Law School. As noted above, UMS provides public access to a UMS DataBook with aggregated information on various topics, including student enrollment and completion reports, financial policies, and procedures and human resources.
Each university also maintains data available through an Office of Institutional Research or similar office. Avenues for requesting information are prominent in many high-traffic areas of UMS universities websites, such as UMA Admissions and UMF Connect With Us. Compliance information such as Title IX, FERPA, annual security reports, and diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EEO/AA), is often provided as links on a university’s homepage.
To aid the public in obtaining shareable information not available on UMS or university websites, UMS has established a coordinated process for responding to Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) requests, with guidance provided by the UMS General Counsel’s office as needed. FOAA contacts for each university are clearly identified on the UMS website; the same is true for UMS shared services that regularly receive requests for information, such as Human Resources and Procurement.
Information and resources about grading can be found on university websites, including the Office of Student Records (or Office of the Registrar) and in course catalogues. Assessment information at the university level is usually provided by institutional research and/or assessment offices. In many cases, university websites provide information about, and links to, related UMS resources and policies.
Grievance and complaint policies and procedures
Grievance and complaint procedures are detailed and widely disseminated. Policy and educational material on harassment and disability accommodation are distributed to students, faculty, and staff primarily through accessible electronic communications. They are also available in paper format. All such policies are periodically assessed and updated to reflect best practices, changing case law, and federal regulations.
Information about grievance processes is provided to enrolled students annually and is posted on university websites and the UMS website. Faculty and staff receive annual notices about the availability of these policies. All employees are also informed annually of their responsibilities should they learn of an instance of a student or staff member being affected by sexual harassment and/or other gender-based violence or acts of discrimination. All faculty and staff are required to complete annual Title IX training and must complete sexual harassment training every three years.
While individual universities are responsible for educating their communities about policies and procedures, shared UMS resources assist them in investigating and adjudicating complaints. EO professionals work collaboratively and are available to assist each university as needed, enabling UMS to deploy staff from other UMS universities to address situations involving perceived bias or conflict of interest.
UMS Human Resources provides access to UMS labor agreements for salaried and hourly staff. Fairness and truthfulness regarding professional treatment of staff are outlined in various collective bargaining agreements and in all grievance procedures. UMS policy supports a grievance process for represented and non-represented employees, and the attendant policies and standards are widely distributed. The Equal Opportunity Complaint Procedure and Board Policy 402 on Sexual Harassment, Dating and Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking apply to all members and guests of the university and Law School communities.
Recruitment and employment
UMS Human Resources staff approve all job announcements and recruiting strategies for professional and faculty searches, including requirements to advertise in ways that promote a diverse pool of candidates. Equal opportunity (EO) staff are available to advise search committees throughout the search process, including sharing implicit bias information with search chairs and committee members.
If written agreements diverge from standard language, protocol dictates that memorandums of understanding (MOUs), contracts, and other agreements be reviewed by the UMS General Counsel’s office to provide an opportunity for clarifying roles and obligations. Relatedly, guidelines for determining employee and independent contractor relationships define who is considered an employee or representative of the UMS and its universities.
Marketing and brand management
Each UMS university publishes a brand book that includes logo, font, and color palette guidelines defining what is allowable in representing the university. This guidance reinforces public understanding of the communicating parties involved, and brand recognition. Several universities also suggest a structure for employee email signatures that includes identification of an employee’s role. Communications made via hard copy use letterhead identify the initiating university and office, and signature blocks usually indicate a person’s position by title.
UMS is mindful of the unique challenges faced by current and prospective students, particularly in rural areas, and uses a variety of strategies— public website, authenticated web portal, print publications, and social media— to ensure that all are able to access information. Each UMS university publishes information about its location(s) and settings, student bodies, programs, academic and other support services, opportunities for students (both academic and co-curricular), and student resources, including library and Information Technology (IT) services.
All UMS websites are designed for accessibility from a variety of devices, including desktop computers, tablets, and mobile smartphones.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and resources
Each university has staff dedicated to providing accessibility support to students and employees under ADA laws. ADA administrators across UMS meet regularly to discuss trends and best practices in the field, classroom, workplace, and student populations; engage in routine policy and practice reviews; and pursue professional development. Students or staff with complaints about access under ADA are directed to the Equal Opportunity process overseen by the UMS Director of Equal Opportunity.
Catalogues are the most comprehensive publications UMS universities produce, setting forth the obligations and responsibilities of students and the universities. Catalogues are updated annually. Institutional information— including mission statements, objectives, educational outcomes, status as a public university, policies and procedures, registration, student fees, and a description of physical resources— can be found in each university’s catalogue.
The Law School does not maintain its own catalogue. Instead, it maintains Course Listings pages (for first-year, second-year, and third-year courses) and a registration packet that is distributed to students every semester. Information about the Law School can also be found in USM’s catalogue, an artifact of the Law School’s former administrative housing under that university.
Prior to publication of a new academic catalogue, the Office of Student Records (or Registrar) at each university runs a database query whereby courses that have not been taught in two years are identified and flagged for review. Following a review by academic division chairs/deans, courses that will not be taught for a third year are sunsetted (i.e. no longer listed in the catalogue). Courses are removed from a catalogue altogether if they have not been taught for five consecutive years.
UMS takes a systemic approach to addressing issues of inclusion. For example, a System- wide policy for students wishing to use a name other than their legal name was adopted in 2018, and student data management systems and learning management systems are regularly updated to reflect a student’s preferred name and pronouns.
UMS and university student-facing programming addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion, LGBTQ+, racism, sexism, mental health first aid and suicide prevention, Title IX and gender-based violence, bystander empowerment, and substance-abuse prevention and intervention. Most UMS universities do not have dedicated staff in the areas of prevention education or diversity and inclusion, resulting typically in a committee-based approach to delivering programming in these areas.
Recognizing the well-documented disparate impact to a number of populations, including BIPOC, low socio-economic status, and persons with disabilities, UMS has elected to stop asking applicants questions about their criminal or disciplinary history as part of the admissions process. As needed, these questions have been redirected to student housing applications or prior to entry into clinical programs.
Any UMS employee with access to FERPA-protected materials must complete an annual training on how to maintain a high level of student data security and privacy. UMS employs Information Technologies staff to keep university hardware and software up to date, promulgate best practices in security and data management, and investigate data breaches, malware, and phishing.
In 2017, a coordinated effort was undertaken to improve website accessibility across all websites and make data accessible to all stakeholders via the UMS site. That year, UMS established a Data Governance program to protect and use data assets for the benefit of all UMS universities and stakeholders. The Data Governance Council comprises UMS and university representatives working collaboratively in areas related to UMS and institutional data reflecting student, financial, and human resources information vital to daily operations, administration, and future planning. The Data Governance program ensures that all university websites are scanned at seven- to 14-day intervals to check for new content and report on quality assurance. The Data Governance annual report is available on the UMS site.
In 2019, UMS published a redesigned website based on requirements from the Office of Civil Rights and resulting from recommendations from a Web Accessibility Task Force with representatives from several UMS universities. In 2020, UMS hired a Digital Content Specialist to ensure that web content is of high quality, accessible, and written to meet the needs of audiences visiting the UMS site.
The Digital Content Specialist meets with stakeholders across UMS to ensure that webpages are upholding best practices for content curation and development, and link appropriately to university and Law School websites. The Content Specialist employs a range of strategies to achieve this, including disseminating information widely and redundantly across public UMS sites, authenticated web portals, print publications, and web-based social media tools.
Assuring catalogue access
Providing online versions of university catalogues is now standard as consumer preference has shifted from paper-first to digital-first formats. Acalog, a catalog management software, supports well-organized, interactive, and user-friendly online UMS catalogues.
Several UMS universities take the additional step of including information in catalogue course descriptions about when a course is typically offered (e.g. “in the fall” or “every other spring”). This is not the norm across all universities. Though not explicitly in the scope of the relevant NECHE standard, it may be advisable to include this information in future catalogues, especially as a universal visibility of catalogues is planned as part of the Unified Catalog initiative.
Responsiveness to the public
UMS universities ensure that information about how they transfer credit, charge fees, and showcase their academic offerings is easy to locate on university websites, and that the language and design of those pages ensures that the broadest possible audience can understand the content and make informed decisions based on it.
Prospective student communications are funneled through Admissions offices and their prospect-management systems so each contact is logged and consistent practices of informing students of decisions are observed. The same is true of alumni constituencies and the advancement or alumni and development offices that handle donor inquiries and networking requests.
Exploring greater consistency in student consumer information and related reporting
Under unified accreditation, it may be helpful to develop an aligned approach to formatting websites and catalogues. A single template would see all UMS universities use the same title(s) for these pages, standardizing where various materials are located on websites and indicating when they should appear both on university websites and in the respective catalogues.
Additionally, as an entity that serves students, UMS should feature specific information on its site about student discipline and appeals separate from the student code of conduct. Any updates and information developed by UMS for use by all its universities in student- focused contexts merit a similar degree of consistency and coordination across the universities and Law School.
Relatedly, making reports and data sets of all kinds publicly available in consistent and easily accessible formats will improve ease of use for UMS, university, and Law School websites.
Data and tables for Standard 9: Integrity, Transparency, and Public Disclosure are available in the campus Data First Forms linked below.
- Data First Form for University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias (Excel Spreadsheet)
- Data First Form for University of Maine at Augusta (Excel Spreadsheet)
- Data First Form for University of Maine at Farmington (Excel Spreadsheet)
- Data First Form for University of Maine at Fort Kent (Excel Spreadsheet)
- Data First Form for University of Maine at Presque Isle (Excel Spreadsheet)
- Data First Form for University of Southern Maine (Excel Spreadsheet)