Another Embarrassing Search by the U.Maine System

In the summer of 1986 I was preparing to move to Orono for an assistant professorship in History. I had never been in Maine before my December 1985 interview. Not surprisingly,  I  knew nothing about the governance of the University of Maine System.

What I DID learn at the time of my official appointment was that the University of Maine at Orono was being changed to just the University of Maine. This was to recognize that, as the flagship campus, the first among the seven campuses, the use of “at Orono” had sent the wrong message. The other six campuses would retain their “at” designations save for the University of Southern Maine, though even there the use of “Southern Maine” reflected a secondary status within the System.

Still, lots of persons throughout Maine  continue to use “UMO,” including many who was born long after the 1986 renaming. Ironically, of course, it might well make sense to  RESTORE “at Orono” as reflecting the relentless undermining of the flagship in recent years by  the powers that be. The latest and, in some ways most important, policy change here is the soon to be approved centralization of virtually all financial power in the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration and the elimination of most reserve funds previously allocated to each campus president for various uses. To be sure, this financial centralization is being applied to all seven campuses, notwithstanding pleas over the weekend from Orono deans, from senior professors, and from other Orono faculty and staff not to do so without further consideration.

So what has this go to do with the embarrassing withdrawal of Harvey Kesselman—the savior from Stockton University in NJ– from the presidency of the University of Southern Maine? It reflects the ineptness of the search committee and the waste of untold amounts of money on consultants as well, of course, on Kesselman’s visits, housing, and God knows what else. A decent person in his situation would refund to the System at least a chunk of those expenditures, given his belated withdrawal from the office he allegedly really wanted. I wouldn’t count on it. Maybe he got a better offer from Stockton? His stated rationale from remaining in Chris Christie’s kingdom is pathetically self-serving.

Back to the summer of 1986. The then Vice Chancellor of the huge University of Pittsburgh had been hired as the next Chancellor of the University of Maine System. Roughly two weeks after accepting the job he changed his mind–just like Kesselman. In his case, he belatedly recognized that the one-story System office near Bangor Airport was not quite the skyscraper Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh where he had his handsome office with great views of that city. Was he blindfolded when he visited the then System offices? Was does that say about the quality of the search to come up with such a “leader”?

Just as Glenn Cummings has now been hired and praised as the right person for the “permanent” Presidency of USM, so then USM President “Smiling” Bob Woodbury, the runnerup in 1986, was offered the Chancellorship and similarly praised as the ideal person for the job. In both cases it was as of the search committees hadn’t failed the first time around in selecting persons who didn’t lose any sleep over embarrassing USM and the System. The media spin in both cases could have used the help of the Clintons.

This is not to say that Cummings might not become an excellent president. Certainly he knows Maine even if, horror of horrors, he is a Democrat  and former Maine Speaker of the House. A blessing in disguise, let us hope.  I wish him only the best.

Finally, the Cathedral of Learning  man had resigned his job to come to Maine. An ordinary employee who had done that would not automatically get the job back, if at all. But, big surprise, he returned to his old post as if he’d never been away. And the money spent on his travels? The Maine taxpayers ate it up, just as they did for Harvey Kesselman.