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Ferguson's Departure Takes UMaine Community by Surprise

University of Maine

After three years on the job, University of Maine President Paul Ferguson is heading west - to Indiana. The board of trustees at Ball State University selected Ferguson at a meeting this afternoon, bringing to an end what's been described as an "exhaustive" five-month search for a new president.

Ferguson has been the president of the University of Maine since 2011. Before that, he was provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology.

Ball State officials said they chose Ferguson in part because of his success in leading a comprehensive strategic planning process called the Blue Sky Project at Maine. Speaking at a press conference at Ball State Thursday afternoon, Ferguson described the aim of the project.

"To enhance the financial sustainability of the institution, move our academic programs forward, enhance the quality of the state of Maine," he said.

Ferguson said the project worked because the UMaine community came together.

"The University of Maine owns the Blue Sky Project," he said. "It's now in a very strong implementation phase, and it really does provide a guiding light to all kinds of decisions at the campus that help have great direction, whether it be in fund-raising or direction of academic programs."

Ferguson will replace Jo Ann Gora, who's retiring next month after 10 years as president of Ball State, which is in Muncie - north of Indianapolis - and has more than 20,000 students.

With reaction to the news today, Dr. Jeffrey Hecker joins us on the line from Orono. He's executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Maine.

Tom Porter: "Welcome Dr. Hecker."

Jeffrey Hecker: "Oh sure."

Tom Porter: "Your initial reaction to this news: Are you surprised, shocked, disappointed? What are people on campus saying?"

Jeffrey Hecker: "I was surprised, I got through that pretty quickly, because Paul Ferguson is a very strong leader and the way things work in higher ed these days I'm not surprised that there are other universities pursuing him."

Tom Porter: "It is a challenging, pivotal time at the University of Maine. Of course, there's the budget situation. How difficult is it to lose a president like Paul Ferguson at a time like this?"

Jeffrey Hecker: "Well it is challenging for us. As you said we're facing some significant challenges. On the other hand we have a well thought through and a fully engaged strategic plan. Paul Ferguson led us through the creation of that, he helped us to implement it, but it's really become part of a fabric of the university. So while it is hard to lose a leader like that, it's not as if we don't where we're going. We have a direction."

Tom Porter: "In fact we heard Dr. Ferguson talking about the Blue Sky project a few moments ago. Can you give us an idea of his contribution to that project and how important it's been?"

Jeffrey Hecker: "His contribution is very significant - he led the campus through a self-examination in his first year, he listened to all stakeholders and really bought us together to create this plan. And then he helped put together an organization to implement it. He's left us in a very good place to go forward."

Tom Porter: "I read that his salary is going to be $450,000 at Ball State. How does that compare to what he was earning at UMaine?"

Jeffrey Hecker: "Well I'd say I don't know exactly what he was making at UMaine, but I would suspect that's quite a bit more."

Tom Porter: "Dr. Jeffrey Hecker, many thanks for talking."

Jeffrey Hecker: "Thank you Tom."

Dr. Jeffrey Hecker is executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Maine. Published reports from 2011 indicate that Ferguson was hired at a salary of $250,000 a year, with extra bonus potential.

In a statement this afternoon, University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said he would be "working closely with the board of trustees and campus leadership to ensure a smooth transition that continues the success of Maine's flagship campus."