New President: USM's Business Model 'Obsolete'

Jul 23, 2014

David Flanagan lays out his vision for USM at a news conference today in Portland.
David Flanagan lays out his vision for USM at a news conference today in Portland.
Credit Tom Porter

The University of Southern Maine has a new interim president.  University of Maine officials this morning named former Central Maine Power chief David Flanagan as the person to lead the state's second-largest university until a permanent replacement can be found.

Tony Payne, vice-chair of USM's Board of Visitors, chose a World War II analogy to herald the new appointment. "Today is D-Day - David Day," Payne said. "We have our generals, we've got our chief of staff, we've got all the people who have led this institution to this day and point in time where it's time to take the beaches."

But in this battle, Payne says the enemies are demographics and finances, and describes the 67-year-old Flanagan as the best man to lead the charge. "He's almost like Eisenhower - certainly the haircut is the same," Payne joked.

"David Flanagan is one of Maine's most trusted, experienced and accomplished business leaders and public servants," said James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, which comprises seven schools and which itself faces a $36 million shortfall.

"President Flanagan is tasked with shepherding this campus through a difficult budget process, to close what is currently expected to be a $12.5 million gap between revenues and expenses in the next fiscal year," Page said.

Flanagan will take up his new post July 28, and hold it until a permanent president can be found, which Page says should happen within a year.  Flanagan takes over from Theo Kalikow, who stepped down as interim president last week after overseeing a troubled two-year period at the university as it struggled with declining enrollment and flat state funding.

"It is a major change, but it's a change to unstick a process that had become increasingly bogged down and stuck over the last year," ???? said. "And in discussions with Theo, she said she'd taken it about as far as she could, given where she was, and it was time for a new team to come in and - I hate to overuse the sports metaphor - but to move the ball further down the field."

When it comes to crisis management, David Flanagan has a lengthy resume. As head of CMP, he led the response to the 1998 ice storm - Maine's largest natural disaster. He's also served as an assistant Maine attorney general. In 2005 he was appointed by Sen. Susan Collins to lead an investigation into the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

And he is the former chair of the UMaine System board of trustees who headed a task force that looked in detail at the structural and organizational challenges facing public higher education in the state.

As for the crisis facing USM today, Flanagan says step one is to recognize where mistakes have been made. "The reality is that USM's business model is obsolete," he said. "Outside forces have made it unsustainable."

USM, he says, must transform itself to ensure its future value to the people of Maine. "And this university with all of its strengths has the capacity to undergo such a transformation," he said at today's press conference.

Later, he said, "I would like to do three things: first of all, balance the budget; secondly, find efficiencies; third, transform the culture to be more student- and community-centric."

There is, he admits, an overwhelming amount to do. Flanagan says USM needs to submit a budget template to the trustees before their meeting in September, and have a final budget in place by the beginning of next year.