Finally! A Mainer as university chancellor.

It’s about time. A Maine native and university alumnus has been selected to serve as the university system’s next chancellor.

Two years after I graduated in 1966 from what was then the University of Maine (with a degree in marketing and intramural basketball), the University of Maine system was created with seven “unique universities.” Apparently it took 45 years to find a Mainer capable of leading that system.

I’ve been irritated ever since that my University of Maine had to forever after be called the University of Maine at Orono. Seemed like a demotion.

Other irritations through the years kept me from participating in alumni events, joining the alumni association or donating to the university. But two years ago, at the urging of my friend Amos Orcutt, the president of the University Foundation, I became a member of the alumni association.

This year Amos is retiring, so the likelihood of my continuing as an alumni association member was unlikely. Then it became a certainty that I wouldn’t renew my membership, when Jim Page, part owner and CEO of Sewall Co. in Old Town, was passed over last year to be the new president of the University of Maine (OK, at Orono) — in favor of a person from away, no less.

I had been excited by the prospect of Jim’s presidency, and I know I wasn’t the only alumnus who was disgusted when he wasn’t selected to lead our university.

But wait, the Jim Page who was passed over for the president’s position at University of Maine at Orono is — YES! — the same Jim Page who was just selected to lead the entire university system. Ironic and serendipitous.

To the folks at the Alumni Association: Please know that my membership renewal check is in the mail, and you have Jim Page to thank for that.

Jim’s business partner Dave Edson is a good friend of mine, but I didn’t know Jim until he served as the facilitator in discussions between Roxanne Quimby and those of us who were her sharpest critics. I was impressed with Jim’s listening and leadership skills, and will he need those in his new position.

A Caribou native, Jim earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, a master’s degree in philosophy at St. Andrews University in Scotland, and a doctorate in linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He taught philosophy at the University of Kansas from 1992 to 1997, then returned to Maine to lead Sewall Co., a consulting business with offices in six states that works throughout the Western Hemisphere, specializing in forestry, engineering and mapping.

Jim told Kelley Bouchard of the Portland Press Herald that the university system “must become more aligned, more nimble, more innovative and more accountable.” He’s right, on all counts.

In fact, we desperately need to turn the university system into an economic engine. They’ve been doing some great innovative work up there lately, from developing strong wooden bridges to leading the way toward offshore wind energy. Jim will expand that effort.

Equally exciting for me, he’ll harness the engine of University of Maine alumni who have been sitting on their hands — and bank accounts — and get us involved in building a university system that serves our students and our economy.

If he could bring together Roxanne Quimby and her harshest critics in a collaborative process with significant achievements, I can’t wait to see what he can do with the disparate interests embedded in today’s dysfunctional university system.

That system hasn’t worked right since it was founded. It’s got a budget of more than a half-billion dollars, 5,000 employees and more than 40,000 students. Few, however, would suggest that we’re getting the most we can out of the money or that today’s students are emerging with the skills and knowledge needed in today’s fast-moving world.

Page knows this. He told Bouchard, after touring the seven campuses recently, he’d “met no one who expressed satisfaction with the status quo.”

Facing budget problems, a dwindling population of students, and seven campus presidents (including the guy who beat him out of the UMaine presidency) who jealously guard their funds and prerogatives, I can only wonder why Jim didn’t go in the other direction — up to his family’s camp on Katahdin Lake, facing the magnificent Katahdin — and apply his skills to catching wild brook trout.

Good for us he didn’t. Nice job trustees! Good fumble recovery!

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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