President Kennedy to stay at UMaine

Posted Feb. 10, 2009, at 9:02 p.m.

University of Maine President Robert Kennedy said Tuesday that he and the Kansas Board of Regents mutually agreed that he would not become the next president of Kansas State University.

UMaine announced Tuesday afternoon that Kennedy would stay on as president of the Orono campus after he underwent an interview process for the same role at Kansas State.

Kennedy, who was traveling Tuesday evening from Manhattan, Kan., to Maine, told the Bangor Daily News in a written statement the decision was mutual between himself and his wife, UMaine biochemistry professor Mary Rumpho Kennedy, and the Kansas Board of Regents, which is coordinating the Kansas State president search.

“Processes like these are rather fluid, so it is difficult to characterize exactly how we arrived at this outcome,” he stated Tuesday evening. “Mary and I concluded that K-State was not exactly the right fit for us, and I believe the Kansas regents reached the same conclusion. The choice of a president is a major decision, and it’s critical that all involved are convinced that they have an appropriate match. This process [has] convinced me — more than ever — that UMaine is the place for me and I am very happy to be headed home.”

Kennedy was one of two finalists remaining. The other is Kirk Schulz, vice president for economic development at Mississippi State.

Kip Peterson, the director of government affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents, said the new president will be introduced in a press conference at 2:30 p.m. EST Wednesday in Topeka, Kan. Peterson declined to comment on the president search.

A third finalist, East Carolina University chancellor and former UMaine faculty member Steve Ballard, withdrew from consideration late last month.

KSU’s current president, Jon Wefald, is retiring July 1.

Kennedy had been in Kansas earlier this week for a second round of interviews with the board of regents. Carr said Kennedy called him between 2 and 2:15 p.m. to let Carr know he would be staying in Orono.

Kennedy, whose salary is $210,405, according to maineopengov.org, became UMaine’s president in April 2005, after he had served as interim president after Peter S. Hoff’s resignation. In a February 2005 Bangor Daily News story Kennedy acknowledged he had been a finalist for positions as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and president of a private university whose identification he would not reveal.

He said he had been approached by a headhunting firm for both of those positions. Kennedy said he was approached the same way for the KSU job.

Mike Trainor, chairman of the university’s board of visitors, said the fact that Kennedy has pursued other opportunities over the years shouldn’t be an indication of a lack of loyalty to UMaine.

“I think that’s the kind of thing that some people may wonder about,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a problem of any significance. I don’t think the fact that he’s chased by a much larger land-grant institution should be considered as anything but a compliment to the University of Maine and to Bob. I think mature people will view it that way.”

The board of visitors, which serves as an advisory group to the president, is pleased Kennedy will be back, Trainor added.

“We’re delighted, absolutely delighted, that Bob’s going to stay at the university and complete the important tasks that we have under way,” he said.

Kennedy, a plant biologist who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, arrived at UMaine in 2000.

He has served as provost, vice president of academic affairs, and later held a joint position as executive vice president and provost, until he assumed the presidency.

Faculty and student representatives were pleased to hear of Kennedy’s return, at least for the sake of continuity in the office of the president. That is important, said UMaine faculty senate president Dianne Hoff, as the university and UMaine System face rough financial times.

“I think it would have been a tough time for a transition, so from the faculty’s perspective this is positive news,” said Dianne Hoff, the wife of Peter Hoff. “I think most of the faculty would feel the same. … We have to look at the overall good of the institution and with the financial realities the state and the university are facing, it would have been a tough time to be with an interim president.”

Student government president Owen McCarthy said the news was spreading slowly through campus. Last week the student senate issued a resolution in favor of Kennedy staying at UMaine.

“Everyone I have talked to is really excited about it,” McCarthy said. “We’re excited about the stability. We are proud to have President Kennedy remain a Black Bear.”

Kennedy credited the faculty, students and others for working together despite the current dire economic issues. The UMaine System is facing possible furloughs for employees for the current fiscal year.

“Because of UMaine’s incredible faculty, staff, students and supporters, we have been able to move forward on several fronts, despite the budget challenges faced by our state and public higher education in general,” he said in an earlier statement. “More than ever, I believe that UMaine is the state’s best hope for the future.”

Gov. John Baldacci said he was pleased to hear Kennedy will be back.

“Bob has been a great leader and champion for the University of Maine in his nine years on campus,” Baldacci said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him over the next couple of years to continue to move the University and the state forward.”

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