ORONO, Maine — After more than nine months on the job, the University of Maine’s 19th president, Paul Ferguson, formally took office Thursday morning during an inauguration ceremony at UMaine’s Collins Center for the Arts.
Flanked by a stage full of colleagues and friends from his past and present, Ferguson stressed the importance of a strong university not just for the university’s sake, but for the sake of the state of Maine.
“The public university has drifted, in part, away from its disciplined, interconnected partnership with the public sector,” Ferguson argued. In turn, the state and federal governments, as well as Maine residents, have lost sight of the critical role the university plays in technological, economic and job development in the state.
“I’m not here to defend the status quo,” said Ferguson, who was chosen for the presidency more than a year ago and took office July 1, 2011. “I am here to defend this university’s importance to the state of Maine.”
Ferguson said he has spent his first months in office speaking with UMaine employees, students and stakeholders in an effort to find the best path forward. He said the university needs a push over the next decade to find ways to drive economic development in the state, maintain and improve campus infrastructure and re-engage the university’s partners across Maine, the nation and the globe, he said.
The culmination of Ferguson’s work and conversations during his early months in office — a comprehensive plan for the future of the university called the Blue Sky Plan — will become public in the next two to three weeks, the president said after the ceremony.
Speakers took turns before Ferguson’s speech to laud the president’s early work, his openness and his drive to improve the university and the state.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, sent a press release Thursday morning congratulating Ferguson on his new, now official, position.
“I look forward to working with Paul as he builds upon the tremendous success of this prestigious university,” Snowe wrote.
Ferguson thanked the people of Maine and the staff, faculty and students at the university for welcoming and accepting him and his family to the area. The Southern California native, who has spent his career working at universities in California, Louisiana, Nevada and Illinois, said his transition to life in Maine has been easier because of the people.
“You have embraced and supported us in every way,” Ferguson said. “We feel like Mainers.”
“We did get here from there, and it’s been a wicked good time,” he added, drawing laughter from the crowd.