March 26, 2019
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USM president resigns for system office job after spring ‘no-confidence’ vote by faculty

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman, who was the focus of a controversial facultywide “no-confidence” vote this spring, is leaving the school to take a post at the University of Maine System chancellor’s office.

“President Botman and I considered how we might best move the University of Southern Maine forward,” system Chancellor James Page said in a statement Thursday. “President Botman proposed to me that new leadership might be the best direction to go in and, in a characteristically selfless move, she requested reassignment. I agree with her appraisal of the situation, appreciate her dedication to USM, and support her request.”

According to an announcement by the chancellor’s office Thursday, Botman will lead an effort to expand the system’s international education programs, a job she said would involve recruitment of foreign students to the system’s campuses as well as the arrangement of overseas faculty exchanges, among other things.

Botman told reporters during a Thursday afternoon press conference her salary will remain $203,000 per year in her new position. While Page did not offer specifics, he said he anticipates being able to find money for Botman’s new job without adding to the overall system budget.

“The heartening thing about the investigation we carried out into this matter was the deep commitment and engagement on the parts of everybody involved — no matter how diverse their opinions on this subject were,” Page said Thursday. “It wasn’t a case of determining ‘right or wrong’ — I don’t think either side was wholly right or wrong — it was how to we capture that engagement and help the university move forward.”

Page is recommending Theo Kalikow, who recently retired from the presidency at the University of Maine at Farmington, to step into the USM position.

Botman said Thursday that system provisions allow hiring administrators for terms of as long as two years without posting the positions and turning to a search process. Near the end of each woman’s first two years in her new position, the system will be required to seek outside applications for those jobs. However, Botman said she has only committed to the chancellor’s office for one year.

Kalikow was the president at UMF for 18 years and was named to the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. While the top administrator at the Farmington campus, Kalikow was credited with creating five new majors and adding 16 faculty members while keeping enrollment steady around 2,000 students.

Page, in an email to USM students and employees, said the system board of trustees will vote on the personnel moves Monday and, if the board approves, Kalikow will take over at the Portland campus the next day. Board Chairwoman Michelle Hood said in a Thursday statement she anticipates board support of the moves.

“Dr. Kalikow is an excellent choice to lead USM,” said Hood. “She is a strong, well-respected leader who is known across the state for her commitment to students and institutional success.”

On Thursday, Mark Lapping, executive director of USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, welcomed the news of Botman’s departure and Kalikow’s proposed arrival. Lapping was among the faculty supporting the “no-confidence” vote.

“I am grateful that President Botman understood what was best for the university and acted upon that knowledge, that Chancellor Page worked diligently and tirelessly to set things right here at USM, and that Theo Kalikow, who I have known and admired for years, is willing to step forward to help guide this wonderful and talented university community,” Lapping told the BDN in an email. “For nearly two decades I have had a chance to observe and work with President Kalikow and all of us know her to be a hard-working, creative and generous leader. I am personally grateful that she is willing to defer her retirement plans for the sake of the people of the state of Maine who want and need a first-rate University of Southern Maine.”

A vote of no-confidence in Botman was held in early May. Although an overwhelming number of votes cast registered no-confidence in the president, the tally did not meet the two-thirds requirement to be considered the “will of the faculty.”

The vote was 194-88 in favor of the ‘no-confidence’ motion. Of the ballots cast over two days in the first week of May, 68 percent voted ‘no confidence’ in Botman, but because only about 75 percent of the faculty voted, the total fell short of the two-thirds threshold overall.

The no-confidence referendum was triggered by a group of senior faculty who circulated a petition in early April calling for the vote, receiving 53 signatures, more than the 10 percent of all faculty required for a petition to mandate a referendum.

Petitioning faculty members accused Botman and her administration of creating a negative atmosphere at the school and managing with “vindictiveness” toward faculty who questioned the president’s initiatives.

Lapping told the Bangor Daily News at the time that many faculty members felt Botman’s high-profile reorganization plan for the school, which called for departments with fewer than 12 full-time faculty to consolidate, left instructors overworked and did not free up money for additional classroom spending as promised.

Physics Prof. Jerry LaSala, another petition organizer, at the time referenced a survey of USM faculty union members, which found 77 percent of the respondents “disagreed with the way the university is managed.”

But not everyone at the school came out against Botman during the circulation of the controversial petition and subsequent facultywide vote. Outgoing Student Body President Chris Camire told the Faculty Senate in April he was “ashamed” by the petition effort and told those behind it they were “tearing this university apart.”

Associate professor of history Eileen Eagan told the BDN at the time Botman should be credited with improving relations between the university and surrounding community, and for diversifying the campus and curriculum.

On Thursday, Botman talked about what she believed her administration’s victories were during her four years in the position.

“Over the last four years I have had the privilege of leading USM, and I’m so proud of the accomplishments that we have made in this university,” she told reporters during a news conference. “It’s fiscally sound, it’s student focused, it has deepened its ties to the community, and it’s poised to take its next step.”

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