The University of Maine System trustees looked past academia and business and hired a politician for the most important job in public higher education.

Former Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been chosen to become the next chancellor of the University of Maine System. Photo by Bob O’Connor, courtesy of UMaine

The system’s new chancellor is former Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has been a prosecutor and a mayor but has never run a university system, certainly not one with the challenges he will find here.

Maine has the lowest rate of educational attainment in New England, and as the oldest state in the union, a dwindling population of traditional-age students. While the system struggles to keep up with maintaining crumbling buildings on its seven campuses, it also needs to nimbly respond to the need for a skilled workforce in a changing economy.

And it needs to build on partnerships with business and philanthropic organizations by maintaining a commitment to higher education from state government, showing that Maine is willing to do its part.

That’s no job for a rookie, but political skills may be more relevant that experience with running a university. The system needs a strong advocate who can make the case for public higher education, even to the people who never see themselves as enrolling in a four-year program. People need to understand how access to public higher education expands opportunity, and how everyone benefits when more of us are working in productive jobs that pay well.

Outgoing Chancellor James Page started the reform process with the “One University” initiative, which worked to make it easier for students to transfer credits among the various university and community college campuses, while cutting back on duplicative administration. By selecting Malloy, who initiated systemic reforms during his eight years as Connecticut governor, the trustees have signaled that they are not ready to stand pat, but want to continue the work Page started.

Malloy is a bold choice, and not necessarily a popular one.

He was the kind of governor who didn’t always worry about being diplomatic and pushed reforms that gave him some powerful enemies. Among his programs was a merger of the Connecticut university and community college systems, which is opposed by the institutions’ faculty.

But here in Maine, where lawmakers discuss dipping into the higher education budget to increase revenue sharing to help fund local governments, it’s clear that too few Mainers feel the benefit of having a university system that builds their local economy and makes their lives better.

Experience in the political arena could be just what’s needed to build support for the kinds of changes that Maine’s public higher education system needs to keep making to meet the challenge of a changing economy.

 

 

 

 

 


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