Dr. James Page talks with reporters today after being named head of UMaine's seven-campus system.
Page, a former full-time philosophy professor, is CEO of the James W. Sewall Company, a global business consultancy based in Old Town. Speaking at a Thursday morning news conference on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine, UMS Board chair Michelle Hood said the vote to select Page was unanimous.
"Dr. Page's experience, both in academic settings and in running a multi-faceted Maine business, make him an ideal choice as our next chancellor," Hood said.
Hood says the board recently adopted a new action plan to move the university system forward in the key areas of student success, workforce development and cost control. "And Dr. Page is the right type of leader to move Maine's public universities to this next level."
Page could be called a true son of Maine: Born and raised in Caribou, he took his undergraduate degree at UMaine Fort Kent. He earned a PhD in philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his dissertation was titled "On The Metaphysics of Numbers."
He went on to teach at Harvard, Dartmouth and the University of Kansas, among other places. Since 1998, he's also been an adjunct professor with the University of Maine's philosophy department.
Page says the skill sets he developed as a philosphy professor transferred readily to the world of business.
"My philosophical training--or philosphical training as I experienced it which is in an area which is technically called analytic philosophy--is essentially very complex problem-solving," he says. "It's almost content neutral, so the skills in terms of thinking through complex problems, organizing those around, are exactly the kind that you would want in a business situation."
Page says he aims to make the UMaine System more aligned, more nimble, more innovative and more accountable. He declined to give specifics on what kind of action he might take, but providing a high quality university education at an affordable price is clearly a priority.
"If we price a university education out of the range of Maine families, we'll fail," he says. "Private instututions can do what they want in that area, we don't have that luxury. We'd be failing in our responsibility."
The other two finalists for the job were Meredith Hay, a special adviser to the chair of the Arizona Board of Regents for Strategic Initiatives; and Rebecca Wyke, the UMaine System's vice chancellor for finance and administration.
"The faculty members I've talked to, mostly, candidly, favored Dr. Page for this job," says Michael Shepherd, a fourth year Journalism and Political Science student at UMaine, and editor-in-chief of The Maine Campus, a twice-weekly student newspaper.
Despite the good feeling about Page's appointment, Shepherd says there are a number of concerns among faculty members.
"There are a lot of people in smaller departments that are concerned that the trustees will tie funding to some sort of performance, whether it be the number of people enrolled in the department, the number of graduates,"Shepard says. "So going forward that's going to be something that Dr. Page has to address."
Page will also have to deal with ongoing contract negotiations with faculty members and other system-wide employees. USM Sociology Professor Ed Collom is president of the local branch of the faculty union. He says union members have been working without an employment contract now for nearly eight months.
"The faculty, and indeed all the employees, including the staff unions, the clerical, the grounds crew, etcetera, all the major units across the system, have been without collective bargaining agreements since June 30th," Collom says.
Collom says the big sticking point is the salary. "Our previous contract did not have any cost-of-living adjustments, so our salaries have not kept up with the rate of inflation, and already our salaries are lower than national standards."
Collom says he hopes Page will bring a fresh voice and perspective to these issues when he takes up his position.
James Page starts his new job March 20, following the retirement of current chancellor Richard Pattenaude. His annual salary will be more than $277,000.
In the interest of full disclosure, outgoing chancellor Richard Pattenaude has a seat on MPBN's board of trustees.
Photo by Tom Porter.