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USM Seeks New Interim President in Wake of Kalikow's Departure

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Courtesy University of Southern Maine
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University of Southern Maine President Theo Kalikow, who has presided over a contentious budget crisis in recent months, is stepping down and taking a new job within the UMaine System.

Kalikow will become an acting vice chancellor, and lead a new community engagement initiative, as USM searches for an interim president to tackle another major budget shortfall looming next year.  

After serving as president of UMaine Farmington for 18 years, Kalikow agreed to be brought out of retirement and enter into a three-year contract to head USM through a difficult time. The school faced a $14 million budget shortfall this past fiscal year, and struggled to find half that amount. The school is facing another shortage next year, and Kalikow says it's time for someone else to tackle the problem.

"You know, in the last couple of years I've reorganized much of the administrative structure here and we've cut $7 million out of the budget, which wasn't easy," Kalikow says. "There's about $12 million left to cut, and perhaps somebody else will have more fun with it than I was going to have."

Kalikow will step down on July 18, take a brief sabbatical, and then serve out the last year of her contract by filling a vice chancellor position recently vacated by newly-named UMaine President Susan Hunter. Kalikow say the focus of the job will be on community engagement:

"I mean, that's what I've been passionate about for the last several years," Kalikow says, "and finally the opportunity has come to put that into effect across the state."

Kalikow is the third consecutive USM president to depart by sliding into a job at the chancellor's office. Her predecessor, Selma Botman, left two years ago after narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote, and was appointed to serve as a special assistant to the chancellor to lead an international education outreach intiative. She also kept her salary of just over $200,000.

Botman's predecessor, Rich Pattenaude, left USM in early 2007 to become chancellor of the UMaine System. Later that year, as a multi- million dollar budget shortfall emerged at USM, Chancellor Pattenaude accepted responsibility for not showing more fiscal restraint in the growth of the campus workforce.

Asked about the trend, Kalikow responded this way: "You know, I only know about me. And I think this is a really important job that I'm going to get to do. The old compact about higher education and the taxpayers' support and it's good for the state has evaporated over the last 20 years, and I think there needs to needs to be another way to show to people, and explain to people, the value of higher public education. And I think community engagement is it."

UMaine Chancellor Jim Page says the decision to move Kalikow into the vacant vice chancellor position serves a number of needs, including an aggressive strategic initiative to "rethink" the University System for the future.

"in this instance, President Kalikow meets some of those needs very, very well," Page says. "And for those who think this may be, on the cynical side, some type of golden parachute, I would invite them to watch over the next year the level of engagement and role she will take in working these through."

USM Faculty Senate Chair Jerry LaSala, who disagreed with Kalikow on some of her proposed budget cuts over the past two years, says her departure is not entirely unexpected.

"Theo came to USM at a very difficult time and I want to thank her for her hard work at that time," LaSala says, "And I and the Senate are looking forward to working with the chancellor in the selection of a new interim president, which should be happening in the next week or so."

Chancellor Page is in the process of consulting with campus and community leaders on the selection of a new interim president for USM, and that the search for a permanent president will begin this fall.