Longtime college administrator Harvey Kesselman doesn’t plan to slow down his fast-paced New Jersey ways now that he’s president of the University of Southern Maine.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic and I love it and I don’t know what else I’d do,” he said, speaking as he shuttled between meetings just hours after his appointment was announced Wednesday morning.

Kesselman, who is provost and executive vice president at Stockton University, will start at USM on July 1. He pledged to focus on student recruitment and retention, and work closely with faculty and the campus community to implement the college’s new identity as a metropolitan university.

“The very best days of USM are ahead of us and I am beyond inspired that you have asked me to be a part of this promising future,” Kesselman said. “We have much work to undertake and notable goals to pursue. We will toil, we will labor, we will sweat. But, we will do so together, pursuing a shared vision that we will have created together.”

Kesselman takes over as USM grapples with ongoing financial problems, spurred by declining enrollment, flat state funding and three years of frozen tuition. In the past year, 51 faculty positions and five academic programs were eliminated to cut costs.

The time is right for new leadership, Kesselman said.

“What I have picked up on in conversation with staff and faculty is that there is great enthusiasm to move forward,” he said.

Several speakers during the announcement praised his experience and enthusiasm.

“We thought he had passed that uniquely Maine test: He’s a keep-ah,” said system trustee Jim Erwin, who led the presidential search.

Kesselman, a Philadelphia native who has spent the past 35 years at Stockton University, said he was glad to land in Maine.

“I wasn’t born in Maine, but I got here as fast as I could,” he said with a laugh.

Because USM has gone through a string of short-term leaders, Kesselman was pressed during the campus interview process about how long he would stay – and whether he would leave, for example, if the president at Stockton University retires in two years. He wouldn’t even apply, he said.

“What I said is true. I wouldn’t,” Kesselman said Wednesday. “I believe in keeping my commitments and my commitment is to the University of Southern Maine. For eight years, then retire. I really want to end my administrative career at USM.”

HIGH TURNOVER PRECEDED HIRE

Kesselman is USM’s fourth president since 2011. He succeeds David Flanagan, who was appointed to a one-year term in July. Flanagan replaced Theodora Kalikow, who stepped down after two years as interim president. Kalikow had come out of retirement to fill the position after Selma Botman stepped down amid faculty unrest.

Critics have cited the changing leadership amid financial turmoil as one of USM’s biggest challenges.

Economics professor Susan Feiner, who has been a vocal critic of USM administrators, said she was glad Kesselman was selected and hoped “the board and chancellor get out of the way.”

“We can do great things here,” Feiner said after the announcement. “We can do that when there is trust and the agenda is clear.”

Faculty Senate President Jerry Lasala, who sat on the search committee, noted that Kesselman had held “every conceivable job” at Stockton, from the most junior faculty member to provost. As faculty, Kesselman taught algebra and college math courses; as an administrator he has taught courses ranging from “Schools of the Future” to “Controversy in Education.”

“He has been on both sides of the union, on both sides of shared governance,” Lasala said, alluding to tensions between some USM faculty and the administration. “I know he will work well with all the constituencies here.”

“He is the right leader for this university, its students and for Maine,” Chancellor James Page said.

Kesselman will be paid $235,000 annually, with a six-year contract.

Typically, University of Maine system presidents have rolling two-year contracts, and are guaranteed full pay through the contract even if they are removed. Kesselman can be removed at any time during his contract, but he would have to carry a full teaching load and would be paid two-thirds of his salary, or $172,500.

Page said they changed the standard contract in acknowledgment of the controversy after previous USM presidents left their posts but continued to earn full pay.

Kesselman and his wife, Lynne, will live in the president’s home on the Gorham campus. Lynn Kesselman is a former stock trader who had a second career as an educator, going back to school to get a master’s degree and teaching at an alternative high school.

The couple have three grown children: A daughter who works as a prosecutor, another who works for a private investment firm, and a son who is a senior studying philosophy and playing hockey at Princeton.

“We came up here (to Maine) a lot during his high school years when he played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs out of Manchester,” Kesselman said.

“We’re empty nesters,” he said. “This is the time in our lives to make this kind of move.”

Although Kesselman doesn’t expect to have much free time, he and his wife hope to be involved in Portland’s arts, food and hockey scenes. Kesselman said he planned to ask USM artists if they would consider providing their works for temporary exhibition in the president’s house.

“I want to entertain, I want to be involved in the community,” he said. “I think it’s really important to be visible.”

When they need a break, they’ll head to their condominium in Hollywood, Florida, for quick visits and “walks on the beach,” he said.

A PRIORITY: RECRUIT STUDENTS

On the job, Kesselman said he’ll focus first on increasing student recruitment and retention to boost enrollment and tuition revenue, he said.

“Our success will be based on student success,” he said. “By improving student success, so many other things will improve.”

He also embraces the metropolitan university model, and expects USM and its students will become more deeply involved in the local community, from internships to research.

“The blueprint has been laid out,” he said. “There’s a fundamental belief that the metropolitan university model for this university is the one that will catapult us over the next few years.”

Page said he selected Kesselman because they agree on what needs to happen next at USM, from implementing the metropolitan university model to focusing on student recruitment and retention.

“Harvey’s priorities tie in with what I think the priorities of Southern Maine’s need to be,” Page said. “We don’t have much margin for error to work with.”

At Stockton University, a relatively young college established in 1969, Kesselman oversaw a $75 million operating budget, 800 employees and 8,600 students. USM has a $127 million budget, 1,100 employees and 6,000 students. At Stockton, he said, they also faced changing demographics, drops in state funding and pressure to grow.

Kesselman said USM and Stockton were similar in many ways. Both are comprehensive universities that combine teaching and research, they’re about the same size, both offer Division III athletics and have multiple campuses.

Kesselman was selected over finalist Glenn Cummings, interim president of the University of Maine at Augusta and former speaker of the Maine House. A third finalist, Jose Sartarelli, chief global officer and dean of the business school at West Virginia University, withdrew his bid.

Cummings said Wednesday he plans to apply for the permanent presidency of UMaine Augusta.

“I respect the Chancellor’s decision in the selection of Dr. Kesselman and want to be the first to extend my hand in welcoming our new USM president to Maine,” Cummings said in a statement. “The future vitality of USM is of paramount importance to all of us. Dr. Kesselman’s work could not be more central to the success of the region.”

During his 35 years at Stockton, Kesselman also served as dean and professor of education, interim vice president for administration and finance, special assistant to the president and vice president for student affairs.

Kesselman has a doctorate in higher education administration from Widener University, a private university in Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in student personnel services/counseling from Rowan University in New Jersey and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stockton College.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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