AUGUSTA, Maine — The University of Maine System board of trustees has named Paul Ferguson of Southern Illinois University the new president of the University of Maine in Orono.

Chancellor Richard Pattenaude, who unveiled his nomination of Ferguson early Monday afternoon to a subcommittee of the UMS board of trustees, said Ferguson’s accomplishments in starting new academic programs, his ability to attract students, and his fundraising prowess were all key reasons for his success as a candidate.

The board later approved Pattenaude’s recommendation with a unanimous vote.

Ferguson, 58, told the Bangor Daily News Monday during a telephone interview that though he has little in the way of a personal connection to the state of Maine, his admiration for the university is grounded in a long-term professional appreciation. Ferguson, whose academic background is in the field of toxicology, said he has been looking for a university whose goals are aligned with his own.

“University of Maine is that campus,” he said, adding that his goals aren’t unlike those of many higher education institutions: the expansion of course offerings, increasing enrollment and, perhaps most importantly, fundraising.

“It’s going to be a full-court press to see if we can come up with new funding strategies,” he said. “There’s no question that Maine, New England and many states across the country are facing real challenges.”

Those comments were tightly in line with Pattenaude’s priorities.

“Paul Ferguson has brought the kind of change to other institutions that we’re looking for at our institution,” Pattenaude told the BDN. “He understands the University of Maine’s mission for the state of Maine and will be able to carry it out on day one.”

Day one will be July 1 of this year. Ferguson will be paid an annual salary of $250,000 plus potential performance-based bonuses of $20,000 per year. He will succeed UMaine President Robert Kennedy, who announced last year that he will step down from his position at the helm of the university’s flagship Orono campus effective in June of this year. Kennedy earned about $210,000 per year in 2008 plus benefits, according to the website

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, welcomed Ferguson but acknowledged the challenging task he faces.

“UMaine has been an unending and unmistakable beacon of academic excellence and achievement in Maine, with an impact that reaches far beyond our great state’s borders,” said Snowe, a 1969 University of Maine graduate. “[Ferguson’s] depth and breadth of experience will surely prove vital as the university continues to face this challenging economic storm.”

Jim Goff of Hancock is chairman of the University of Maine Board of Visitors, which serves as an advisory body for university presidents. Goff, who also served on the presidential search committee, said there was strong support on the Board of Visitors for Ferguson and another candidate whom he wouldn’t identify. Regardless, he said, board members would be comfortable with the trustees’ choice of Ferguson.

“Paul brings an enormous amount of energy,” said Goff. “He’s a good listener. During the interviews he spent a lot of time asking about where we felt the university needed to go. He’s formed a plan to take the university to the next level.”

Neil Greenberg, assistant director of aquatic operations for UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute, said he met with all four finalists during their visits to Orono and that Ferguson was his first choice. Furthermore, Greenberg said the majority of the staff and faculty members he’s talked with favored Ferguson.

“It’s pretty much a consensus,” said Greenberg. “What I like is that he’s very approachable. He’s the kind of guy you’ll be able to run into on campus and be able to talk to him.”

A 14-member search committee culled through a list of 46 candidates and in January served Pattenaude with a list of four finalists. The finalists visited the Orono campus in January and February to meet with administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The other finalists were Donald J. Farish, Ph.D., J.D., who has been president of Rowan University in New Jersey since 1998; Daniel J. Julius, Ed.D., who is vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alaska System of Higher Education; and James H. Page, Ph.D., who has served in several leadership posts at James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town.

Ferguson holds a doctorate and has worked at Southern Illinois University since 2006, most recently as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Ferguson has split his career between the private sector and higher education. As a toxicologist, he has worked for Unocal Corp. and Pennwalt Corp., both of California, and has written numerous articles and studies in the toxicology field. He holds degrees from Whittier College in California and the University of California at Davis.

Ferguson said he and his wife, Grace, along with their daughter, Jenny, will move to the Orono campus in early July. Jenny, who will be a college sophomore, will transfer to UMaine with a double-major in political science and history and a minor in French.

Ferguson said he and his wife were most enamored with the “spirit” they witnessed at UMaine.

“We just fell in love with the place,” he said. “There’s a real sense of energy to move UMaine forward, and I look forward to working with every constituency.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.