By Bradford Spurr/Free Press Staff & Troy Bennett/Bangor Daily News
Midway through the month of May in late 2015 it was announced that the university had found a more stable solution to the presidency as opposed to the revolving door of interims that has plagued USM for the past four years.
Dr. Glenn Cummings, former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, would replace President David Flanagan starting on the first of July. This was after a presidential replacement had already been announced but the candidate, Harvey Kesselman, was forced to withdraw his application due to unforeseen circumstances at his current university.
The change and decision was not welcomed by all, chief amongst the dissenters were the faculty members who felt particularly alienated and taken advantage of by the administration.
One of President Cummings’ first acts as Commander in Chief of USM was to hold a breakfast forum for the entire USM faculty where he asked those who decided to show up two things: the first was what would you tell the new president to do or to warn against doing and the second was tell me something that you are proud of. It was clear by the responses that community engagement in both Portland and USM was deeply important to them.
President Cummings also promised to dig into the coffers and “eat some reserves, give people a little time to rest but soon we will have to pick up our knapsacks and keep going up the hill,” when layoffs were put on hold for the 2014-15 academic year.
There is still a $3.9 million budget gap that USM is staring at moving forward so the same promise to job security could not be made at this time. All that President Cummings is able to commit to currently is the hope “to create the best strategy around filling that [budget] gap with the least impact on students.”
The University of Southern Maine finds itself at a crossroads where it is no longer tethered to snap decisions and hasty conclusions made by distant authority figures and is instead soldiering on with a President that it can hold accountable and who has concrete and attainable goals for this school.
President Cummings’ goals moving forward through the end of this semester are “to work through this budget, it is going to be a tough one and get ready for the ‘17 budget year and secondly is to begin to, now that the leadership team is in place, reach out to the top 20, 30, 40 chief executive officers in this area and begin to build this alliance.”
With 209 days under his belt the new President has made great strides to “repair and heal” the university, but we are only halfway up the mountain and only time will tell when a conclusion will be reached surrounding the fiscal crisis that the University of Southern Maine has found itself in.