"This place is special, and what we are doing here, with this partnership, is truly unique and I believe will have a lasting impact on the institution as well as the community." With those words President Sue Huseman places the capstone on a long career in higher education that will end at the University of Maine at Machias on June 30.
In an hour‑long conversation on June 1, Huseman shared thoughts about her beginnings, her passions in life and her hope for a bright future ahead for a university and a community she cares about deeply. "This is such an incredibly special place, and sometimes it's so hard to explain this to people," Huseman says. "Of course it's the context of the natural beauty, but it is the human context of how people are and how people treat each other that makes this place so unique."
After serving a number of years as provost and then acting president at the University of Maine at Farmington, Huseman became the first woman president of Monmouth College in Illinois. After four years at Monmouth she returned to Maine and served as vice chancellor for the Maine system and then managed Project Maine France, a partnership with seven French universities. It was in 2003 when she was first asked to be interim president of the UMM after then president John Joseph suffered a fatal heart attack. She arrived at a campus in crisis and with a financial burden the school and the Maine system had been dealing with for some time. After a year and a half of service at UMM and fulfilling her mission to provide stability, Huseman retired, or so she thought.
Called back a second time in 2016, she was asked to again serve as interim president. Upon her return she found a school struggling economically, with enrollment numbers dropping annually. In addition, she was asked to spearhead a newly developed partnership between UMM and the system flagship, University of Maine Orono (UM).
The partnership, set to officially launch in July 2017, will combine common services and positions, centralizing them at UM while retaining UMM's identity as a small public liberal arts college. Its goal is to strengthen UMM's unique brand and reduce costs while expanding student opportunities and increasing enrollment.
"I call this place the miracle campus. There are 67 people here that run this institution. We all wear many hats, and we treat each other as family," says Huseman. She believes the most interesting aspect of this partnership, and the most challenging, is the immersion of two completely different institutions, both academically and culturally. "Only in Maine can you have a small liberal arts college with public prices and the attentiveness and character of a private school now coming together with a much larger public research university."
Huseman readily admits that the two institutions are vastly different but sees it as an advantage and a unique approach to higher education. "This is a partnership to die for," says Huseman. "Imagine a recruiter saying to parents and students, we have a small liberal arts college with public prices and a larger land grant sea grant research institution. No one has to go anywhere else to find what they need."
A direct example of this unique collaboration will be a new nursing program scheduled to start next year. The Nursing Opportunities in Rural Maine (NORM) will bring an established degree program from Orono to UMM. Students will then participate in clinical settings with local hospitals. UMM already has 95 community partnerships established in which students at UMM and now UM in any field of study can participate.
But change can be tough, and she acknowledges that many within the community and on campus still remain nervous about the partnership. Is there a plan in place to prevent failure? "Face time and partnerships between people from both campuses is vital and will continue to develop," says Huseman. "Our fallback, or what I call our 'court of appeals' to an impasse, is that it will be referred to the vice chancellor at the system level whose area it is. They have the expertise, and it's that kind of support you get when you have a system office really committed to the regional campus. We have a vice chancellor in charge of every aspect and also the board of trustees, who are very passionate about this partnership and will not let it fail."
It is a grand experiment, and she knows many within the system and outside will watch it play out. "Am I still nervous about this? Sure I am, but I am leaving great people, and our model is totally unique," says Huseman. She also points out that current state statute requires seven universities, seven campuses in seven parts of the state serving the entire state. "Higher education is on the edge, so again, everyone is watching this merger, and when this works you will see more of these types of partnerships."