ORONO, Maine — As he prepares to resign in less than five months as the University of Maine’s 18th president, Robert Kennedy is now on a narrow list of finalists for a seat on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.
Last March, Kennedy announced that he would step down from the presidency on June 1, 2011, and until now, he was expected to return — after a paid one-semester sabbatical — to UMaine as a member of the faculty to work on issues related to sustainability and alternative energy at UMaine and across the state.
But in December, he was named as one of 18 finalists vying for four spots on the University of Minnesota’s highest administrative body. The Board of Regents operates much the same as the University of Maine System’s board of trustees does, except that in Minnesota terms are for six years rather than five, and appointments are made there by the legislature, rather than the governor, as they are in Maine.
Kennedy, who graduated from the University of Minnesota and lists his permanent residence in that state, is now among a group of 12 nominees who have been recommended by an advisory council to the legislature to fill the four vacant seats on the board. In recent weeks, the announcement of Kennedy’s nomination has angered some applicants living in Minnesota who were not selected, prompting them to cry foul over the fact that Kennedy lives in Maine.
UMaine and UMS officials said that if Kennedy were chosen for the post in Minnesota, the move would not be uncommon in such a situation.
According to both Kennedy and UMaine spokesman Joe Carr, the president’s contract allows him to decide whether he will return to Minnesota or carry on at UMaine as a faculty member, meaning anything is possible at this point.
Kennedy told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that the situation has produced an unnecessary amount of controversy in recent days.
“I think I can contribute in a number of ways to my alma mater. It’s a way for me to give back, as we at UMaine would encourage in any case,” he said. “There are many variables to consider and it’s hard to say what my next move will be at this point.”
Kennedy noted that he has been working over the past several months on a number of sustainability and alternative energy initiatives at UMaine, in many ways already fulfilling the goals of his planned post-sabbatical work.
Carr said that if Kennedy needs to use the sabbatical, it would give him time to prepare for whatever move he makes next in higher education.
Kennedy said Friday that if selected for the position on the Board of Regents, he would move back to Minnesota, as he and his wife eventually planned to do anyway. He said UM officials knew that he planned to return to Minnesota.
“It is merely a matter of exploring my options, as anyone would after concluding a job,” Kennedy said of his application for the Board of Regents position. “But I do look forward to continuing my work in higher education, wherever that may be.”
It was not clear Friday when the Minnesota Legislature will act on the nominations to the Board of Regents.