The University of Southern Maine has been welcoming new presidents so regularly it’s almost not news.

Since 2007, the university has introduced four new presidents, two permanent and two interim. The most recent, Stockton University administrator Harvey Kesselman, did not even make it to his first day, changing his mind about taking the job only weeks after his first press conference.

On Wednesday, the university introduced a fifth new president, former Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings. He said the usual things about the university’s great opportunity and many challenges that all of his predecessors have talked about when they held their first press conferences. But this one felt different.

Cummings, who had been serving as interim president at the University of Maine at Augusta, starts the job in southern Maine with knowledge that no previous president could match despite their impressive credentials.

He knows USM. He has taught classes at the university for years, in addition to teaching at Southern Maine Community College, which will be an important partner going forward.

He knows Portland. He lives in the city and represented it in the Legislature for eight years. He understands what an asset the city could be in attracting students and knows about its quirky politics.


He knows Maine. As House speaker, he forged relationships with colleges in every corner of the state. As the president of Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley, Maine’s first charter school, he understands rural poverty.

And he knows education. He has held just about every job in the field you can have, from teaching high school history to serving in the U.S. Department of Education.

And unlike the others, Cummings won’t have to spend a lot of time getting his bearings. That’s good, because there’s not much time.

The university has not been helped by the revolving door of leaders, but bad leadership has not been its only problem.

Enrollment has fallen 12 percent over the last five years and 25 percent since 2002. There were nearly 3,000 fewer students at USM last fall than the 11,382 who attended 12 years earlier.

Combined with a tuition freeze and flat state appropriations, the dropping enrollment has resulted in a financial crisis.

No institution can absorb those kinds of losses without restructuring, and the deep staff cuts that were implemented last year may not be enough if enrollments don’t bounce back.

So Cummings will have to show results quickly if he and USM are going to succeed. And as the higher education institution in the state’s population center and commercial hub, Maine needs USM to succeed.

Let’s hope this is the last new USM president to be introduced for a long time.

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