University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow will step down July 18 and take a job in the University of Maine System as acting vice chancellor, working on a one-year “community engagement initiative.”

She will retain her current salary of $203,000.

The job requires Kalikow, who became USM’s interim president in July 2012, to develop a strategic plan that outlines how students, faculty and administration should engage with the community in education and public service. The plan would be implemented in July 2015.

Her title will be acting vice chancellor and president emerita, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Kalikow said community engagement, which includes student internships, volunteer work and public-private partnerships, has long been a passion of hers. Student volunteers in southern Maine alone contribute thousands of hours to the community each year, which represents millions of dollars in positive economic impact, she said.

And after two years as president in a difficult and contentious period in USM’s history, during which she was criticized for cutting programs and employees, Kalikow said she was ready for another assignment.

“This other opportunity came up with Vice Chancellor Hunter taking on another role, and it was too good a chance to pass up,” she said. Former Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Susan Hunter recently took a position as interim president of the University of Maine.

While the university system already administers various community-engagement programs, there has been no overarching plan to gauge the impact of those programs in order to develop ways to be more effective, Kalikow said.

Developing the strategic plan will require a lot of work, she said. Kalikow said she will seek input from students, faculty, staff, community organizations and the public at large. She also will devise new metrics for measuring how effective the university system’s current outreach efforts have been.

“It’s not a cushy job,” Kalikow said, adding, “I should be sitting on a beach somewhere. I’m 73.”

University system Chancellor James Page said he and Kalikow made a mutual decision that it was time for her to move into a different role.

While Kalikow has done an excellent job guiding the university through necessary changes in the wake of funding cuts, Page said it is time for “new faces and new energy.”

“She and I agree that she’s taken that change process as far as she could,” Page said. “We both recognize it is time for new leadership to address the university’s ongoing fiscal challenges.”

The acting vice chancellor position, which reports to the chancellor, opened up with Hunter’s move to UMaine.

Kalikow said she will take on some of Hunter’s former duties in addition to developing the strategic plan. The position will run through the end of Kalikow’s existing contract on June 30, 2015.

Kalikow has served as USM’s interim president during a difficult financial period for the university system, a position that has made her a controversial figure.

Under her leadership, USM has made plans to cut three academic programs – American and New England Studies, Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston campus and geosciences – and laid off more than two dozen non-faculty employees, with more downsizing anticipated later this year.

The cuts created upheaval on campus among students and faculty. A series of student protests in the spring resulted in Kalikow rescinding the layoffs of 12 faculty members.

Kalikow said in June, however, that more layoffs and program cuts are still necessary to bridge a $14 million gap in USM’s $134 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The university system trustees gave USM $7 million in one-time emergency funds, and Kalikow made $4.5 million in cuts, which included 26 staff layoffs, this spring.

USM senior Jules Purnell, one of the student protest leaders, said she was not surprised to learn that Kalikow was stepping down as president. She said the university needs a president who is more focused on USM’s long-term sustainability, who will “not just dismantle programs and fire people.”

Purnell, an organizing member of Students for USM, said it is frustrating that Kalikow will not leave the university system entirely and forgo the remainder of her salary.

“They seem to have no problem letting go of other folks without fulfilling their contracts,” she said.

Kalikow also said that USM still faced another big financial hurdle: a $12.5 million gap in the next budget, for the fiscal year beginning in July 2015. That means budget talks later this year will “necessarily include faculty and staff layoffs” and more cuts to administration positions and academic programs, she said.

Page said USM needs a permanent president to best position the university for long-term success.

University system officials are in the process of consulting with campus and community leaders on the selection of a new interim president for USM until the position can be filled permanently.

A search to fill the permanent position will begin this summer, by a committee that will include representatives from the campus, the board of visitors and the Chancellor’s Office.

The university system has been seeking ways to close a budget gap brought on by falling enrollment, a tuition freeze and flat state funding. In May, the board of trustees approved a $529 million systemwide budget for 2014-15 that closed a $36 million deficit. The year before, the budget closed a shortfall of $42 million, and the year before, a gap of $43 million. Since 2007, the system has reduced its workforce by more than 650 full-time equivalent employees.

Now the trustees have a draft five-year plan to close a projected $69 million budget deficit by 2019.

Before taking on the position of USM’s top administrator, Kalikow served for 18 years as president of the University of Maine at Farmington.

She took on the job of USM president after her predecessor, Selma Botman, asked to be reassigned in June 2012 in the wake of a no-confidence vote by the faculty and controversy over big raises she gave to top administrators, despite funding and program cuts.

Botman was given a one-year contract to be special assistant to the chancellor on global education, keeping the $203,000 salary she earned as USM president. In that job, Botman produced a 39-page report on how to recruit students from other countries to university system schools, even as the university system contracted with an outside firm to recruit international students to UMaine and USM, according to a 2013 report by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. Botman’s contract with the university system was not renewed.

Jerry LaSala, president of USM’s Faculty Senate, said it is too early to tell whether Kalikow’s new assignment will result in meaningful improvements to the universities’ community involvement.

“I think that this is very new and uncharted territory for the system,” he said.

LaSala said there was an expectation that Kalikow would take over the vice chancellor position when Hunter left. LaSala said she was a hard-working president.

“I basically want to thank her for the hard work she’s put in the last two years,” he said.

 

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson