I appreciate the spirit of the recently announced $1 million endowment to create the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature here at the University of Maine. The idea of promoting the exploration of literature and engaging in the craft of writing is a noble one. This action, however, does not address the true needs of the UMaine English department, its faculty, staff or students. It is yet another misguided and wasteful gesture that amounts to nothing more than a PR stunt akin to putting someone in a Statue of Liberty costume out on the road with a sign advertising tax services.

While King should be honored for his many contributions to the university and the greater Maine community, and the Harold Alfond Foundation should be thanked for its many donations to our school, in this particular instance, the $1 million could be better spent in areas that, while less glamorous, are of greater need and practicality.

This money could fully fund a number of positions within the department that are either vacant or staffed by adjuncts. We already have published authors, scholars and award-winning playwrights serving as underpaid, overworked instructors doing the very work this position would claim to fill. Some of us have been at this job for 10 or more years, and when we ask for full benefits, upper-level classes more in line with our areas of expertise, or job security, the answer is always the same — no money. Somehow, we almost live above the poverty line by working two or three other jobs while also researching and writing and raising families. Promoting and supporting the dedicated educators already in place would go a long way toward strengthening this university and its English programs.

If the university doesn’t want to focus on faculty, then how about the students? Let the endowment fund scholarships or internships so that our students don’t leave UMaine under a crushing amount of debt. Repair the classrooms they sit in so they can concentrate on their studies and not worry that a ceiling tile may fall on their heads. Give them greater access to printers and copiers and academic support.

The position the university would create addresses none of these real and urgent needs and is endemic of much of what is wrong with academia. Instead of nurturing and supporting our home-grown talent, we waste money and resources on search committees, travel expenses and lavish receptions. All of this to hire someone who will teach one or two classes a semester, serving only a very small percentage of the student body. But at least they’ll get to sit in their private office with a nice plaque on the door.

It is well past time that the University of Maine reforms the way it operates. We hire administrators and presidents, throw them a gala or two and watch them leave town after a couple years. We milk students for every dime we can, yet give them fewer and fewer academic options. Meanwhile, the student population declines, highly qualified local faculty candidates are shunned and both the image and reality of the value of the UMaine education dims.

I urge the university to reconsider the focus of this endowment. Put the money where it can do some actual good. Such an act may not make the front page of the paper, but it would actually do some good.

Travis G. Baker is an adjunct English instructor at the University of Maine.