FARMINGTON — Gov. Paul LePage abruptly walked away from the lectern Tuesday afternoon after two students raised signs critical of him at the dedication of a building at the University of Maine at Farmington.

LePage, who called the students “idiots” and said “not … in the mood” as he walked past the crowd on the way out of the event, was a featured speaker at the dedication of the Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center. Kalikow retired in 2012 after 18 years as UMF’s president.

The governor had just stepped up to the lectern around 4:15 p.m. and started to speak when the students held up the signs, one of which said, “LePage: Maine’s Shame.” The other sign was an environmental report card giving LePage an “F” and Kalikow an “A.”

About 15 seconds into his remarks, LePage appeared to see the signs and to have trouble delivering his remarks.

“It’s an honor to be here, uh, to be here on this rare occasion, at the university where it is named the Univeristy of Maine, which is part of our great state and has a great history, uh,” he said.

Then, after 45 seconds of speaking, he said, “I’m sorry, I’m done,” and then walked out in front of the lectern and through the back of the audience, saying, “Thank you, you idiots out back there with the signs.”

The students holding the signs were in the back of the audience that congregated outside of the new education center, so many in the crowd did not realize why LePage had left the lectern abruptly. Some people clapped as he walked away.

After LePage made the comment about the signs, the audience looked around and began to chatter, while LePage’s security detail guided him from the premises.

The governor was followed by several other speakers at the event, including UMF President Kathryn Foster, University of Maine System Chancellor James Page and Kalikow. None referred to his having walking away from the event.

Chancellor James Page stepped up to the lectern after about 30 seconds of silence and immediately went into his remarks about Kalikow on behalf of the University of Maine System board of trustees, which unanimously voted in September to approve the dedication of the building.

“When the history of UMS, and when the history of higher education, is written someday (in reference to) the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, Theo’s chapter is going to be very long – not just because of the 18-plus years, but because of the effect (on) the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Maine students and families that she moved forward in the most positive way, making education a center of their life,” Page said.

Page commended Kalikow for her dogged work at UMF in bringing the education center to life. In order to secure funding for the building, which was completed in 2007, Kalikow lobbied the Legislature to bring a $4.8 million bond before voters via a ballot referendum, which ultimately passed. Kalikow then formed the Education Matters Campaign to raise $3.2 million in private donations “to make the dream of this building and everything it represents a reality,” Page said.

After Foster formally dedicated the building, Kalikow, the last to speak, ended the event on a high note, with remarks that drew loud laughter from the audience.

“Thanks for coming today and saying nice things. My family is grateful because you just saved them the cost of a funeral. All they have to do when I pass on now is play the tape,” Kalikow said. “In any case, I am sensible of the honor, and close with the acknowledgment of all of you, all of us, who have worked for UMF, and for education, and the public good, and whose efforts have contributed so much to Farmington and our students and our state.”

The 44,500-square-foot building is home to UMF’s College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation. As the president who set the precedent for environmental stewardship on the UMF campus, Kalikow pushed for the building to be energy-efficient. The building features a geothermal heating and cooling system as well as recycled and sustainable construction materials.

The UMF junior who held up the environmental report card sign at the event, Nickolas Bray, said he was motivated to bring the sign because he thought LePage’s beliefs on environmental policy clashed with those of Kalikow and the event as a whole.

“This day is about Theo Kalikow, and she was a champion of environmental stewardship and activism here at UMF. And Governor LePage doesn’t represent that at all,” Bray said after the ceremony. “I did not think it was appropriate for him to be here supporting a building that he is fundamentally against in terms of its environmental features and what it stands for.”

Bray cited LePage’s recent resistance to a bill that seeks to boost solar power in Maine. LePage previously has said he would veto the bill, though he said on WVOM-FM, a Bangor radio station, on Tuesday that he was working with Democrats to make the bill “more palatable.”

Allyson Hammond, a freshman at UMF, was the second student holding the signs Tuesday. Hers said, “LePage: Maine’s Shame.” Bray said he saw that Hammond had posted on Facebook about her intentions to attend the event with a “protest poster,” and he decided to join her with his own sign.

Following the ceremony, people were seen approaching Bray and Hammond, thanking them for their actions.

Ann Arbor, a Farmington resident, commended Bray after the ceremony for using his right to free speech.

“I think people have a right to free speech, and I was stunned that the governor is this thin-skinned,” Arbor said.

The governor has been under fire this week after he poked fun at the accents of foreign workers at the Republican State Convention in Bangor on Saturday. House Speaker Mark Eves is also urging the Maine Attorney General’s Office to sanction LePage after the governor held a closed-door meeting of a special commission on education funding Monday, which the attorney general said was in violation of the state’s open meeting law.

Arbor, who worked with Kalikow in the past on developing a foreign exchange program involving Chinese students, said she thought LePage’s abrupt departure didn’t take away from honoring Kalikow.

“I’ve traveled with her and laughed with her. You can see that she is a real delight,” Arbor said. “She is just a woman who has done good work, and she knows she has and she’s sure of herself. It’s wonderful to be in the presence of that kind of confidence.”

Foster was at a reception after the event and wasn’t available for an interview. But when asked about the LePage incident by email later Tuesday, Foster said, “The University of Maine at Farmington is focused today on celebrating former president Theo Kalikow’s service to our university, its students and the people of Maine. We are pleased to dedicate the Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center in honor of her many accomplishments and that so many past and present members of the UMF community were able to join us at today’s ceremony.”

Kalikow – who lives in Scarborough and is retired, though is doing some consulting work – also couldn’t be reached for comment after the ceremony.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.