Two years into the push for a new graduate center for the University of Maine System, Eliot Cutler has resigned from his role at the helm of that effort.

The university announced the former gubernatorial candidate’s long-rumored departure on Thursday. George Campbell, president of the University of Southern Maine Foundation, will fill in as interim CEO of the fledgling center, according to UMS officials.

Cutler said Thursday that when he took this job, he planned on getting the center’s blueprint and business plan together, but that he didn’t plan to make a career out of running it.

“We have a strong plan and committed partners across the campuses and in communities throughout Maine,” Campbell said in a statement Thursday. “With their help we will hit the ground running with the launch of initial executive education programs and a business incubator and accelerator in early 2018.”

The graduate center would bring the following programs under one roof in Portland: The masters of business administration programs at the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine; the Maine Law School; and the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service graduate programs and its Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy.

Campbell currently serves as president and CEO of the USM Foundation, and vice president of advancement for that campus. He previously worked as commissioner of transportation for Maine and New Hampshire, served as Portland’s mayor, and president of the Maine Municipal Association.

“Eliot Cutler and his team have provided us with the aspirational plan we asked for,” UMS Board Chairman Jim Erwin said Thursday. “Now the Board and Chancellor [James] Page have charged George in this interim period with launching Maine Center Ventures and establishing initial relationships with the legal, professional, and public service communities that will make the Maine Center successful.”

UMS plans to hire a permanent CEO in 2018.

“It is no secret that the Maine economy is in trouble. Low unemployment masks chronic

underemployment,” Cutler wrote in a letter released Thursday. “A vibrant tourist economy obscures deep and enduring troubles in our manufacturing sector.”

Cutler and system officials have long argued that having multiple similar graduate programs separated by distance and discipline prevented those programs from being nimble enough to respond to the changing needs of Maine and its employers and industries.

“The traditional and still prevalent models of American graduate professional education — with siloed faculties and remotely relevant course content — don’t adequately prepare students for the challenges that they will face in the 21st century,” Cutler wrote.

In July, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced $7.5 million in support of the effort, bringing the total support the Alfond Foundation has offered for planning and creating the center to $9.25 million.

The center would be based in a yet-to-be-built $94 million building in Portland, and its digital courses will be offered in Orono and other campuses within the University of Maine System.

The Maine Center would become the largest feather in the cap of Chancellor Page’s One University initiative, an effort to drive cooperation and collaboration among campuses, focus institutions on their strongest programs, decrease duplication and make the system’s schools more competitive.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.