January 17, 2020
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LePage: Trustees will ‘feel the wrath’ if community college president not ousted

Courtesy of Washington County Community College
Courtesy of Washington County Community College
John Fitzsimmons

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Monday reiterated his call for the resignation of Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons, saying the system’s trustees would “feel the wrath” if they didn’t take steps to ensure Fitzsimmons’ nearly 25-year tenure came to an end.

Speaking with reporters Monday after an unrelated news conference, LePage said he was contacting trustees to push for Fitzsimmons’ ouster, claiming the longtime president had been unreachable and unresponsive to LePage’s policy goals.

“I’m telling them my displeasure with the system,” LePage said. “I think there’s a lot of things that can be done or should be done. We just need to get it together.”

When asked how he would react if trustees decided to stick by Fitzsimmons, who has led the seven-college system since 1990, LePage said, “they’re certainly going to feel the wrath.”

A spokeswoman for Fitzsimmons said he was reaching out to LePage to “open lines of communication” between the system and the governor’s office and would not answer reporters’ questions until after he spoke with LePage.

The governor revealed that he was seeking Fitzsimmons’ resignation during a budget briefing with reporters on Friday.

Since then, he has cited the failure of the community college system to establish credit transferability or to adopt the Bridge Year program, which allows students to earn college credit before graduating high school. The community college system abandoned Bridge Year after a one-year pilot, while the University of Maine system is continuing with the program.

While they may not share the governor’s enthusiasm for Fitzsimmons’ departure, members of the Legislature’s Education Committee weren’t cheerleading for the besieged president to keep his job.

Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, Senate chairman of the committee, said in a written statement that Fitzsimmons is to be thanked for his quarter-century of service, but that it is normal for presidents to move on after several years to keep an institution “lively and vibrant.”

As of May 2014, roughly 18,000 students were enrolled at the seven campuses of the community college system. Officials with the system have trumpeted enrollment growth and tuition prices that are among the most affordable in New England.

Fitzsimmons oversaw that growth, as well as the transition of the system from one for technical colleges with a focus on trade skills to a community college system that provides general studies and liberal arts education as well as career-oriented training and certifications.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, is the House chairwoman of the Education Committee. She said Monday that Fitzsimmons had “poured his heart and soul” into the system for years and was largely responsible for its success.

The decision of whether he should keep his job is one for the trustees to make, she said, but she noted that the system is once again at a crossroads — one that could benefit from new insight.

“We are in a real period of transition, particularly around the area of affordability,” she said. “If you’re the person who created the current system, it’s very hard to change it.”

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, who also serves on the committee, said she’s never known Fitzsimmons to be anything other than attentive and available. She also said the initiatives championed by the governor require the cooperation and time of many individuals — not just the president.

Meanwhile, LePage said he’ll speak with Fitzsimmons whenever he makes himself available.

“Whenever he wants,” LePage said. “Anytime he wants to have lunch or dinner, I’ll meet with him.”

The Maine Community College System board of trustees next will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

 



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