University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings is stepping down at the end of the academic year after leading the Portland, Gorham and Lewiston/Auburn campuses since 2015 – including the last 18 months during the pandemic.

Cummings informed University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the board of trustees of his decision in writing and announced it publicly on Tuesday. The 60-year-old former state legislator has asked to return to a faculty position as professor of public policy and educational leadership but didn’t rule out another leadership opportunity down the road.

“Together, we accomplished what I promised. We brought back USM as a thriving asset for Maine and beyond,” Cummings said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

He will leave his post in June 2022, giving the board of trustees nine months to conduct a nationwide search for a new president.

“I respect President Cummings’ request to leave the USM presidency on a high note and return to the faculty. He can be proud of the legacy he’s built throughout his presidency to position the University of Southern Maine for further success in the University of Maine System,” Malloy said in a statement.

A native of Bath, Cummings has been a fixture in the state’s educational landscape for decades. He started his career as a high school history teacher in Gorham and then as a faculty member at Southern Maine Community College and at USM.

Before he was picked to lead USM, he served as interim president of the University of Maine-Augusta, and before that, he was president of and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, one of Maine’s first charter schools.

University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings has been praised by the academic and business communities for transforming USM, which was struggling before his arrival. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

He also served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives from 2000-08, including one as House speaker, and as a deputy assistant secretary within the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

His wife, Leslie Applebaum, is a longtime educator as well, currently at Casco Bay High School in Portland.

Cummings was not the first choice to lead USM back in 2015. He was a finalist for the post, but the trustees initially offered the job to Harvey Kesselman, who had been acting president at Stockton University in New Jersey. Kesselman pulled out two months before he was supposed to start and the job went to Cummings instead.

Since then, Cummings has drawn praise from the academic and business communities for transforming USM, which was struggling before his arrival. Enrollment – from out-of-state students, especially – and fundraising have both grown substantially during his tenure.

The Promise Scholars Program, for instance, has built an endowment of nearly $9 million to help first-generation students graduate from college in four years without any debt.

Cummings also launched the largest construction project in USM history – a $100 million, 580-bed residence hall and 42,000-square-foot Career and Student Success Center – that will be completed in 2023.

More recently, Cummings announced in June a $5 million gift from the Crewe Foundation to support construction of a Center for the Arts on the Portland campus, which would include both a recital hall and visual art gallery.

USM President Glenn Cummings said, “Together, we accomplished what I promised. We brought back USM as a thriving asset for Maine and beyond. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

That was followed just last month by a $10 million donation – the school’s largest ever – from philanthropist D. Suzi Osher, to help establish the USM School of Music on the Portland campus.

During his time, enrollment in the school’s Honors Program has increased from 50 students to more than 400. The Early College program, under which high school students can earn credits, also has nearly tripled in size since 2015.

“His achievements to create a team and lead them to record success in recruitment, retention and degree completion has been extraordinary,” said Rebecca Swanson Conrad, vice chair of USM’s Board of Visitors. “Combined with an increasingly strong financial position, Glenn advanced USM throughout an especially turbulent time in American higher education and not only stabilized but deeply strengthened USM’s position as a choice public university.”

Dr. Shelton Waldrep, chair of USM’s English Department and of the faculty senate, said Cummings took over “at a difficult time and has succeeded by almost every measure.”

“Under his leadership, more students choose USM for college and more graduate,” he said. “His hard work with the Legislature and donors has transformed the Portland campus and raised the school’s profile in the city and the region. Most importantly, his clear competence, persistent optimism and genuine respect for others have won the trust of faculty, staff and students.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, a 2008 alumna of USM’s graduate school, called him a “visionary leader.”

“I live in the USM neighborhood and get to see daily the positive changes he and his team have made as the campus becomes more open and integrated with the city neighborhoods around it,” she said. “One of the biggest accomplishments underway is the addition of new, quality student housing. Not only will this make the city more affordable for USM students and create new energy and vitality on Forest Avenue, it also means that more apartments in the city will remain available for people who want to live here.”

Cummings also advocated for renaming USM as the University of Maine at Portland, a move that was criticized by students and others and that was eventually put on hold.

“I believe it just wasn’t the right time for the name change, but eventually I do think the college will be renamed,” he said.

Cummings said when he took the job officially in 2016 after serving more than a year in an interim role, he envisioned staying for five years. He said he believes USM is well-positioned for the future.

“I think today we believe in ourselves again,” he said. “We’re a confident university and we have a vision that excites people.”

As for his own future, Cummings said he’s always thought of himself as an educator first and he feels comfortable moving back to a faculty position, at least for now.

“I am looking at any options that are exciting and of interest,” he said. “I think I have one more big contribution as a leader.”


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