University of Maine at Machias president to step down

University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins (right), shown her life partner, Laurel Robinson,speaks with faculty and staff after announcing that she plans to step down at the end of the fall semester.
Tim Cox | BDN
University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins (right), shown her life partner, Laurel Robinson,speaks with faculty and staff after announcing that she plans to step down at the end of the fall semester. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 28, 2014, at 11:03 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 28, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.
University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins (right), her life partner, Laurel Robinson, speaks with faculty and staff after announcing that she plans to step down at the end of the fall semester. Huggins plans to join Robinson's freelance editing business.
Tim Cox | BDN
University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins (right), her life partner, Laurel Robinson, speaks with faculty and staff after announcing that she plans to step down at the end of the fall semester. Huggins plans to join Robinson's freelance editing business. Buy Photo

MACHIAS, Maine — University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins will retire at the end of 2014, University of Maine System Chancellor James Page announced Thursday.

Huggins, 58, is the fourth of seven presidents in the University of Maine System to leave the position during the past three months.

Earlier this month, University of Maine at Augusta President Allyson Handley announced that she would be leaving the presidency in September to become executive director of the Sanford Education Center at National University in San Diego, California. An interim has not yet been named.

Former University of Maine President Paul Ferguson announced in May he was taking a job as president of Ball State University in Indiana. He was replaced by Susan Hunter, the university system’s former vice chancellor for academic affairs. She will hold the position for two years.

Close to two months later, Page announced University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow would leave her post to take a position at the system office. She was replaced at USM by former Central Maine Power CEO David Flanagan, who will serve until a permanent president is selected.

A search process will take place for permanent presidents at the two larger universities.

It’s not only presidents who are leaving. Janet Waldron, UMaine’s chief financial officer, announced in April that she would become vice chancellor of finance at the University of North Texas. Her replacement, Judy Ryan, announced this week that she would retire, effective Sept. 12.

And at USM, Provost Michael Stevenson left his post for a job at the system office in July.

Page also announced in a prepared statement released Thursday that he would work with Huggins and her team “to develop an ongoing leadership plan for the university.”

When asked to clarify, Dan Demeritt, UMS public affairs director, said the chancellor plans to appoint an interim president this fall and will “meet with campus leaders and community leaders to talk about what’s the right course in the future for the University of Maine at Machias.”

“We don’t have a final plan,” he said. “We’re going to let the plan develop from the conversations with the campus and community.”

A search process for a permanent president has not been announced.

Huggins’ salary was listed as $131,480 in a university system salary report released in April.

University of Maine at Machias, the campus with the smallest population, had to cut 6.5 positions last fall and then find an additional $500,000 in savings in order to pass a balanced budget for this year. Those cuts are part of a $69 million budget shortfall that the university system expects to resolve by 2019.

Huggins first joined the University of Maine at Machias faculty in 1997 as an assistant English professor. She has served as president since 2005.

During her tenure, the university adopted an environmental liberal arts focus, created academic offerings in geographic information systems and book arts and launched new programs targeted for adult, online and middle and high school students, the statement said.

Huggins “plans to join the editing business owned by Laurel Robinson, her life partner, and finally finish writing a book manuscript that she set aside back in 2005,” according to the statement.

The manuscript she is working on is an epistemological biography of an uncle, a pilot in World War II who was killed in action on his first mission.

“It has been such an honor to serve as [University of Maine at Machias] president for the past decade,” Huggins said in the statement. “This is a very special university, with exceptional staff and faculty who care deeply about our students and consistently do everything possible to support and encourage them.”

Huggins informed faculty and staff of her departure at a breakfast meeting for employees Thursday morning. She told them two reasons for her decision, she said later.

She has been president 10 years, noted Huggins.

“So to me the symbolism of that is important,” she said.

The second reason, she said, was related to her love of writing, first nurtured in graduate school, which she wants to focus on at this stage of her life.

James Moreira, president of the Faculty Senate, said the decision by Huggins was a “complete surprise to some people.”

“I think people are still digesting it,” he said.

He responded to questions about a recent email to faculty about a meeting Sept. 3. Moreira confirmed the meeting was scheduled to discuss the leadership of the university and to begin the process of the faculty developing a plan of action.

The email was distributed by a group of faculty, Moreira said. He declined to identify them or say how many were involved.

“It was the result of some discussions going on over the summer,” he said.

“We just wanted to talk about some concerns on campus that faculty hadn’t been as [involved] as they should have been in the large development plans that are being initiated from the board of trustees,” Moreira said.

Faculty want to have a “greater say” and be more of a “shaping force” in the future of the university, he said.

The UMS campuses have been asked to develop plans to distinguish and market themselves, he noted, and the faculty wants to be pro-active in that process.

“There’s no sort of major insurrection or anything behind this,” he said. “It’s more about university process and making sure faculty’s goals for the university are fully taken into consideration in the planning process. And… staff as well.”

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