PORTLAND, Maine — Former Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings said Tuesday his status as the only in-state candidate for the University of Southern Maine presidency gives him an advantage over two other finalists for the job.
Cummings is the second of three finalists to conduct a two-day visit to the school’s three campuses, following the visit of West Virginia University business college Dean Jose “Zito” Sartarelli last week.
The third finalist — Harvey Kesselman, provost and executive vice president at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey — is scheduled to make a two-day visit Thursday and Friday.
Sartarelli, with three decades of experience in major pharmaceutical corporations, cast himself as the candidate who could find major donors and drive up enrollment through nationwide and international recruitment.
Cummings said Tuesday the most successful candidate for the job will be the one who knows Maine the best.
“In order to be successful in Maine, you’ve got to know Maine people,” he told reporters following an open meeting on the university’s Portland campus. “In order to be successful, you have to know the landscape.”
Cummings is currently the interim president at the University of Maine at Augusta. He previously served as executive director of the Good Will-Hinckley school in Fairfield and as a deputy assistant secretary in President Barack Obama’s U.S. Department of Education.
A Bath native and former Democratic lawmaker representing Portland, Cummings was speaker of the Maine House of Representatives from 2006 to 2008.
He said Tuesday that, because of his background, he understands Maine students and knows many high school principals personally, familiarities that will aid in efforts to recruit and retain students at USM.
Cummings also said he knows donors with Maine ties and federal grant givers.
“Fundraising is a highly personal process,” Cummings said. “You have to know where the money is, but you also have to know those individuals and know what they care about.”
Cummings also said his experience working in education in Maine will allow him to be productive immediately at the university, while others coming from outside the state will take time to get acclimated.
“USM doesn’t have another 18 months for another strategic vision or for a new president to go have coffee with 200 people,” he said. “You’ve got to show up with your track shoes on.”
Whoever gets the job will inherit a university that has been under the dark cloud of deep budget cuts — current interim President David Flanagan proposed the termination of 51 faculty positions and five programs last fall — and strife between professors and administrators.
The new USM president will be the fourth person to hold the position since 2012. The previous three have had contentious relationships with faculty.
Cummings said he hopes his experience in the Legislature working across the political aisle has trained him to bridge divides like the one between professors and administrators at the university.
“That’s exactly the healing I think we need at USM at this time,” he said.
Cummings said he would consider developing a “university laboratory” charter school — in partnership with a public school system in the area — to better utilize the Gorham campus of USM. Under that model, he said, high school juniors and seniors from around the state could stay in the Gorham dormitories, which are nearly a third empty, and take college classes.
Cummings said such a program could expose students from all over Maine to USM and create an enrollment pipeline, as many of those students would likely consider continuing their educations at the school after high school graduation.
The university has a facility in Lewiston in addition to its Portland and Gorham campuses.
The three finalists for the position were selected from a pool of about 80 applicants by an 18-member presidential search committee made up of system trustees and staff, university staff and students.
The search committee will select one of the three finalists to recommend to University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, who is expected to bring that selection to the university system’s full board of trustees in the spring for final approval.