BANGOR, Maine — University of Maine President Paul Ferguson is leaving the Orono campus to head Ball State University in Indiana.
In a letter addressed to the UMaine community, Ferguson said, “Although Grace and I will deeply miss the friendships, partnerships and progress that we have so much enjoyed over these past three years, we also feel this is the most appropriate decision at this time.”
On Thursday, Ferguson, 61, attended a press conference at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where his new position was announced.
Ferguson told the audience that he would bring a “tremendous commitment to campus community,” from Maine to the school in Indiana.
“What has changed dramatically at Maine … is a real sense of building community,” he said, adding that the Blue Sky Plan, his five-year strategic plan for UMaine, was built by consensus.
“It’s now in a very strong implementation phase,” he said of the plan, which is in its third year.
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page released a statement soon after Ferguson’s announcement was made.
“His leadership will be greatly missed,” said Page in his prepared statement. “I know I speak for their many friends and colleagues in wishing Paul and Grace every success.”
“I will be working closely with the Board of Trustees and campus leadership to ensure a smooth transition that continues the success of Maine’s flagship campus,” he added.
Page said Thursday afternoon that no decisions had been made yet about a replacement for Ferguson, though that would happen quickly.
Ferguson was named president of UMaine in 2011. He leaves the university at a tumultuous time for the flagship campus.
On Monday, the system’s board of trustees approved a budget that cuts 157 jobs and pulls $11.4 million from the system’s reserve funds. The cuts have been spread across all seven campuses and are not expected to fully resolve a budget shortfall, meaning more cuts will likely take place next year, according to Rebecca Wyke, the system’s vice president for administration and finance.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it would grant a UMaine-led offshore wind project $3 million, far less than the $47 million the university had hoped for.
And in April, UMaine’s top financial administrator, Janet Waldron, announced she would be leaving for a post at the University of North Texas System. UMaine professors said Waldron was the most competent financial administrator in the university’s history.
Ferguson will be paid $450,000 next year in his new position, according to the Star Press. His annual salary as president of UMaine was $249,999.96, according to a salary report posted on the UMS site.
Faculty members praised both Ferguson and Waldron for the work they’ve done during a financially difficult time for UMaine.
“Anybody who has been close to and seen the decisions being made first hand would have to come away with both admiration for what they did and sympathy for the plight that they’re in,” said Robert Rice, UMaine’s faculty representative to the board of trustees.
While enrollment has dropped at other campuses, the student headcount at UMaine increased between this spring and last spring and is projected to rise further next year, Ferguson said earlier this year. The increase is because of an aggressive push to enroll more out-of-state students and will result in an increase in tuition revenue.
Still, the university cut about $9.7 million in order to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2015.
“It’s a very sad day for the University of Maine,” said history professor Howard Segal. He added that he’s concerned about the reputation of the university in light of all the media attention it’s gotten for budget cuts recently.
“What does that say to the public?” he said.