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System Insider Chosen to Head UMaine in Orono

Jay Field

Dr. Susan Hunter will become the first woman to serve as president of the University of Maine in Orono. Hunter, currently the UMaine System's vice chancellor for academic affairs, replaces Paul Ferguson, who's leaving to become president of Ball State University in Indiana. Hunter takes the helm next month, and will serve for two years implementing a five-year strategic plan for the system's flagship campus.

After Paul Ferguson announced his departure, Chancellor Jim Page realized he had to find a new president for the Orono campus - quickly. "I mean, a full search takes 6 to 12 months," Page said at a news conference today. "We don't have the luxury of not having a president for 6 to 12 months."

So, in recent weeks, Page has had lots of meetings with faculty, staff, alumni and other key stakeholders with ties to the Orono campus. Page asked for advice on what to look for in an interim president. And what he heard was "as an interim, don't bring someone in who's going to have to learn how to spell Blue Sky."

In 2011, shortly after arriving, outgoing president Paul Ferguson launched the Blue Sky Plan - an ambitious, five-year project to put the University of Maine on more secure footing for the future.

Under the plan, the Orono campus is enrolling more out-of-state and international students to help it achieve greater financial stability. It's also reviewing and reorganizing its academic programs and working to commercialize more of the university's cutting edge research and technology and make it a key driver of Maine's economy.

As Page talked to more and more people, one name kept coming up.

"Dr. Susan Hunter will assume the presidency of the University of Maine effective the 7th of July, 2014, for a term of two years," Page said. "Dr. Hunter's breadth and depth of academic and administrative experience at our flagship is unsurpassed."

Hunter is a cell biologist who began her career in Orono as an adjunct professor in 1987. For nearly a year, she's served in the system office as the vice chancellor for academic affairs. Before that, Hunter spent five years in Orono, as the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

As president, Hunter says her first priority will be to continue all of the Blue Sky initiatives. She also plans visits to meet with her counterparts on the six other system campuses. While Hunter acknowledges some tensions between Orono and the other schools, she says the campuses also have one big thing in common and need to work together.

"We have a serious financial issue in the state," she said. "That's not a surprise. It's covered repeatedly. It's discussed at the board of trustee level. So we do have to figure out ways through this, and I think we will figure out our best way through."

The UMaine System has struggled with budget deficits in recent years due to a variety of factors, including declining enrollment and flat state funding. This spring, the Orono campus cut nearly $10 million from it's budget and eliminated 61 positions through a combination of cuts and not filling previously vacant jobs.

A big part of Hunter's new job will be to help Page and other system administrators make the case for more funding in Augusta. She'll also begin preparations for 2015 - a landmark year in the history of the Orono campus.

"The University of Maine was founded in 1865. It's the land grant campus. And so it's 150th anniversary is 2015," she said. "And so, the plan was to have a major fundraising campaign that somehow is connected to launching it around them, because you could sort of tie the two together."

That's a project Hunter will likely hand off to her successor, when the University does a formal search and names a new president in 2016.