University of Maine System prepares for new chancellor, board approves new degrees

Dr. James H. Page, current principal and chief executive officer of James W. Sewall Co., speaks at a press conference at the University of Southern Maine in Portland Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, during which he was named the next chancellor of the University of Maine System by trustee chairman Michelle Hood.
Dr. James H. Page, current principal and chief executive officer of James W. Sewall Co., speaks at a press conference at the University of Southern Maine in Portland Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, during which he was named the next chancellor of the University of Maine System by trustee chairman Michelle Hood. Buy Photo
Posted March 19, 2012, at 6:50 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Monday’s University of Maine System board of trustees meeting was Chancellor Richard Pattenaude’s last day as leader of the system and James Page’s last as a private citizen.

Page is set to take over the chancellorship on Tuesday.

He said Monday during a break in the meeting that he planned to travel to Augusta on his first day as chancellor to meet with Gov. Paul LePage to discuss the governor’s latest budget plan and how it would affect the university system. The budget includes a $2.4 million cut to higher education funding, and the University of Maine System would shoulder $1.8 million of that reduction.

The Caribou native has said he plans to spend many of his first hours on the job traveling Maine, meeting with officials, staff, students and industry leaders.

The board of trustees approved two new degree programs during its Monday meeting.

The first was a baccalaureate degree program in tourism and hospitality at the University of Southern Maine, a direct result of requests from business owners in the area seeking a pool of potential employees to draw from, according to Joe McDonnell, dean of USM’s College of Management and Human Service.

The second was a physical therapist assistant associate degree program at the University of Maine at Presque Isle — the first of its type in the system.

“It’s imperative that our students graduate with knowledge and experience that can match the needs of Maine’s employers,” said Greg Johnson, the board’s academic affairs committee chairman.

Page said one of his first priorities will be determining how to format the seven universities and their degree programs in a way that builds a new work force for Maine.

Page has left his position as CEO of James W. Sewall Co. and divested himself of all business holdings with the Old Town-based consulting firm. Page will continue to serve Sewall as an external board member, but will not receive any compensation, according to Sewall’s new CEO David Edson.

The geospatial, engineering and natural resource consulting firm has done more than $680,000 worth of business with the University of Maine in the past seven years, but M. Michelle Hood, chairwoman of the UMS trustees, said the system’s board is satisfied there is no conflict of interest that might prevent future business between UMaine and Sewall.

Edson said Monday that Sewall doesn’t have any deals with the university coming down the pipeline and would proceed with caution before making any plans.

“We don’t have a plan to pursue any future projects at this point,” he said.

The largest collaboration between the university and Sewall in recent years, according to Edson, has been the DeepCwind Consortium, a partnership between businesses, nonprofits and universities attempting to establish an offshore wind power industry in Maine.

Edson said he would defer to the university trustees’ opinions on whether they would be comfortable pursuing any future projects.

“I think it’s appropriate for Sewall Co. to take a wait-and-see approach,” looking to the university trustees to decide whether they feel a project would be appropriate, Edson said.

Hood said potential business dealings involving Sewall would be handled and reviewed like any other by the system’s board and that the system’s agreement with Page does not bar it from working with Sewall.

Outgoing Chancellor Richard Pattenaude said Monday he expected a “very smooth handoff” and that he would enjoy his first few days off by staying away from his email.

Pattenaude said he plans on teaching an American government course in the fall, returning to a faculty position after five years at the helm of the University of Maine System and 16 years as president at the University of Southern Maine.

Two of the most important pieces of advice he has shared with Page: “listen carefully” and “don’t be afraid to change things,” Pattenaude said.

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