USM’s executive director of public affairs Robert Caswell has announced that he will be retiring this June after working at USM for over 34 years. He responded to an inquiry from the Free Press reminiscing on his time at the university, and talked about some of his fondest memories.
After graduating USM in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Caswell set out to become a newspaper reporter in Maine. After working six years in the industry, he became interested in public relations and decided to see what job opportunities were available. Caswell first applied to USM in hopes of getting a job in public relations. Due to the fact that there was no such job title, he continued working as a newspaper reporter. Six months later, Caswell received a letter from the university inviting him to apply for an opening that had just been created, where he began his work in February of 1980.
“When I started here at USM, a career in public relations meant primarily that you worked with the news media. People who are in this career now are dealing with community relations, legislative relations, and internal/external communications,” Caswell said.
In 1980, USM was transitioning from a school of education to a five year teacher program baccalaureate. The program they were piloting was designed specifically for individuals who had already attended a four year program for another career, but wanted to become teachers, regardless of what their first degree was in.
Caswell believed the transition was a newsworthy topic. After a constant effort to promote the university’s transition through the Portland Press Herald with no result, he decided to talk to a writer for the New York Times.
Not long after, a huge feature story on the university ran in the newspaper. “The fondest memory I have while working at USM is picking up the Portland Press Herald and seeing that they had run it on the front page. After all the effort I had put it, it was nice to see they finally publicized it. That was just mind-blowing,” he said.
When asked what he would miss the least, Caswell replied, “I’m not going to miss the communication challenges associated with budget problems and issues. I’ve welcomed that challenge time and time again, but I’m not going to miss that. I will, however, miss working with people across USM, who despite what we’re going through right now, are incredibly dedicated to this university.”
Over the years, Caswell has seen a lot of change happen on campus. “Working at USM has given me a much deeper appreciation for the value of higher education in terms of what it can do for individuals.”
Upon retiring, Caswell says he has no definite plans. “Well, the short honest answer is that I don’t have a clue. When I retire I will be almost 62 years old, so I’m still relatively young. My wife is also retiring, so I’m sure we’ll do something. It’s exciting and sort of scary at same time, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Caswell has a few words of wisdom to give to students before he retires in June. “Don’t give up on USM,” he said, “because you can really get a great education here and you can have the opportunity to work with faculty and staff who are deeply committed to their subject and this university.”
Although he is sad to be leaving, Caswell says he is ready for this next chapter in his life. “For all the challenges facing USM, someone once told me that working in public higher education is a privilege. Even though it was difficult at times, I’ve spent a wonderful 34 years here, and I’ve had a really good run.” As of right now, no decision has been made as to who will take his place.