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UMaine President Calls for a Re-emphasis of the Public Good in Public Universities

ORONO, Maine — The public good inherent in the mission of the public university must be re-emphasized in an effort to recommit to the mutually beneficial partnership between citizens and their land-grant institutions, University of Maine President Paul Ferguson said Thursday morning at the Collins Center for the Arts in an address moments after he was inaugurated as the 19th president of the state’s flagship public university.

“There is much conversation — and confusion — in the popular culture today about the role of the public university, especially the public research university,” said Ferguson, speaking to an audience of more than 700 who attended the ceremony that highlighted Leadership Week, a series of events held in celebration of the inauguration.

“As we are preparing to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the historic Morrill Act that enabled the creation of the land-grant universities across our nation, it is most fitting that we take a moment, particularly during a presidential inauguration at a prestigious land-grant university such as the University of Maine, to remind ourselves just who it is we are and what it is we are expected to do,” Ferguson said.

Public universities have drifted from their visible, interconnected partnership with the public sector, and state and federal governments, as well as many citizens, have lost sight of the critical role that public research universities play, said Ferguson, who has been on campus since July 1, 2011, and was officially seated Thursday by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page.

The result of that drifting has been “an uncertain relationship of uncertain mutual benefits,” leading to a misunderstanding about the roles and impact of faculty and their workload, a limited understanding of the university’s operational challenges and the efficiencies it achieves, and, of critical importance, the loss of the mutual respect of the public and its university — both fiscally and emotionally.

Ferguson cited sociologist Craig Calhoun’s call for a “firmer sense of mission” in higher education, and on the part of public research universities in particular, when facing financial shortfalls, calls for greater accountability, and intense competition for students and faculty.

“I am not here to defend the status quo,” Ferguson said of his presidency. “I am here to defend this university’s importance to the state of Maine and to re-emphasize the public good inherent in the mission of the public university.”

Public universities prepare young people for successful careers, enhance quality of life, spur imagination through the arts and humanities, create new knowledge to fuel new technologies and businesses, and partner with their states to create jobs and promote ongoing economic development, Ferguson said.

“The future of this university, to be renewed by UMaine’s upcoming strategic plan, will be characterized by a focus on innovation, sustainability, stewardship, interdisciplinary study and renewability, furthering our distinctive capabilities to better understand and preserve our natural resources and the environment, our community and culture,” Ferguson said. “Maine and the nation can prosper by partnering with this university — one that is clearly committed to substantive preparation of our students, as well as committed to engaging the community and state that embraces it.”

Ferguson called for a recommitment to “the inherent, mutually beneficial partnership” between the citizens of Maine and their university.

“My pledge to you today as your new president is to preserve the legacy of this great university and to value its quality of people and place,” he said. “And also, based on a solid, fiscally sound foundation of excellence in teaching and research, to encourage our UMaine community to renew and enhance our engagement and service to our partners throughout the state, nation and world. In so doing, we will continue to affirm our relevance, mission and, yes, leadership, as a premier, engaged American research university,” he said.

During the inauguration ceremony, reflections on Ferguson’s path to the UMaine presidency were offered by Daniel Schlenk, professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at University of California, Riverside, and Julie Hopwood, who serves as Ferguson’s senior advisor.

Ferguson’s inauguration was commemorated with a series of leadership events, academic activities, student research expositions and campuswide celebration April 11-19. Leadership Week took its theme from Maine’s state motto, Dirigo, which is Latin for “I lead.” The theme recognized and celebrated the qualities of the UMaine community and the people of Maine, and affirms UMaine’s statewide leadership and commitment as Maine’s flagship university.

Leadership was the theme of a number of Leadership Week events, including the keynote address by renowned historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin on the eve of the inauguration.

More information, including Ferguson’s bio, is available online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207-581-3745


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UMaine News
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1110
A Member of the University of Maine System