The University of Maine

 

Calendar  |  Campus Map  | 

About UMaine | Student Resources | Prospective Students
Faculty & Staff
| Alumni | Arts | News | Parents | Research


division
 Contentsdivision
 President's Messagedivision
 Student Focusdivision
 Insightsdivision
 Lasting Impressiondivision
 UMaine Foundationdivision
 On the Coverdivision

November / December 2002 Cover


division
 Current Issuedivision
 About UMaine Today
division
 Past Issues
division
 
 
Subject Areasdivision
 UMaine Home
division

 



 

Charting the Course

Photo by Warren Roos


Charting the Course
From the helm of Maine's flagship university, Peter Hoff reflects on his first five years as president and talks about what's on the horizon

Sidebar

Lessons of life
Peter Hoff held the post of vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University Southeast, the University System of Georgia, and the California State University before coming to Maine.
 

Sidebar

Five years in the history of UMaine
A timeline charts the progress of the University of Maine since President Hoff's inauguration.
 

Links Related to this Story
 

Five years ago, Peter S. Hoff was named the 17th president of The University of Maine. In his inaugural address, he noted that leading UMaine was "the most demanding and the most welcome challenge" of his professional life. Hoff talked of the significance of UMaine being the state's land-grant university and he emphasized the responsibility it had to help Maine face the challenges of the 21st century as a social leader, a catalyst for economic development, and a place with enviable quality of life.

Access and engagement the cornerstones of a land-grant university are key to creating the "university of the future" that would address the current and future needs in Maine and beyond, he said.

Guided by that philosophy, much has changed in the past five years at The University of Maine enrollment, academic advancements, research and development (R&D), direct service to the state, institutional image. At the same time, challenges remain.

This fall, Hoff reflected on the last five years in UMaine's 137-year history and what lies ahead.

How would you characterize your first five years at The University of Maine?
Think of it in terms of the tripartite mission:
1. Righting the ship with enrollment gains made up of excellent students
2. Extraordinary gains in R&D activity
3. Engagement with the entire state

"Redefining the land-grant university" was the theme of your inaugural address. How has UMaine succeeded in doing that?
Recall our BearWorks (strategic action plan) themes:
1. A land-grant university with a Maine focus and a human scale
2. A strong and dynamic university
3. A collegial community of learners
4. Maine's college of choice

We have made solid progress toward all of those overarching goals. Our Maine focus is reflected in such things as the continued emphasis on in-state students (more than 80 percent, and a huge proportion of the state's valedictorians and salutatorians), compared to the universities of Vermont and New Hampshire, which balance the books with an excessive proportion of out-of-staters. Also the incorporation of the seven targeted technology areas in the state's R&D legislation translating to UMaine's R&D focus on Maine's economy for the heart of its funded research activities, and the development of new facilities such as the Target Center in the Tech Park, and the Advanced Manufacturing Center. Our New Media Program and our strategic initiative in Information Science coincide with what Maine employers say they want from our graduates. But we have not forgotten our Maine-focused emphasis on Maine arts and humanities witness the project to renovate Lord Hall and construct a new art studio for young Maine artists, and witness our prowess in the National Poetry Foundation (supported by the University and by Stephen and Tabitha King). New strength and dynamism are evidenced in the growth of a very able student body; and the rebuilding of the faculty with outstanding young professors and a solid core of star-quality faculty members who have already achieved distinction in their respective fields. You have to visit the campus to feel the atmosphere of learning and achievement here that reflects our human scale and our "collegial community of learners." The level of civility here is stronger than ever. Our small classes and caring professors promote a great learning community. And the Princeton Review ranked us No. 1 in the nation for "more to do on campus." Clearly the solid and sustained growth in enrollment has demonstrated that, more than ever, we are Maine's college of choice. The second most gratifying day of the year for me is Move-In Day, when Dianne and I join hundreds of UMaine volunteers in helping the new students and their families carry belongings into the residence halls. It makes me very happy when parents approach me, as they often do, to tell me how welcome we made them feel on this opening day. The most gratifying day for me is Commencement. Every student who walks across the stage and receives a diploma represents a special story. If we only had time to hear all those stories of challenge, overcoming hardships, unexpected discoveries and achievements, and final success, we would be touched beyond belief.

What's been the biggest surprise for you in your five years at UMaine?
Not really a surprise, but Dianne and I have been deeply touched and moved by the warmth, friendliness, and supportiveness of the Maine people. There is a myth out there about how slow Mainers are to embrace "people from away." But we have not found any evidence of it. We could not have been treated better by any community in the world.

With a Ph.D. in English and Humanities from Stanford University, you know the importance of academic excellence and research in the liberal arts. How has UMaine's liberal arts core evolved in the past five years and what is its role?
Maine has extraordinary strength in the liberal arts. As the university that awards virtually all the Ph.D.s in Maine, our work in arts and sciences competes with the best universities at the highest levels. Our professors are known far and wide for the quality of their books and the impact of their teaching. A little-known fact is that we are one of the top liberal arts colleges in New England, as evidenced by the presence of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. These chapters are very hard to establish. In Maine only Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, and The University of Maine have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. I love our track record of sending out liberal arts graduates who achieve greatness as scholars and as professionals, and I am impressed that UMaine's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is embracing its role as a contributor to the preparation of teachers. It would be a huge mistake, however, to see me as a president fixated on fields of study close to my own, in spite of the deep love of the humanities that brought me to this profession in the first place. I believe one of the strengths I bring to the presidency is my ability to appreciate and promote the many fields of study that make land-grant universities the most exciting and relevant institutions on the face of the earth. Science, technology, and the professions all blend marvelously with the liberal arts in making us an extraordinary university that serves our society well.

How has UMaine, like other higher education institutions, been affected by 9-11?
Although most media coverage has seen the events of Sept. 11, 2001 as an attack on the United States, in reality I think they were an attack by the forces of unreason upon the forces of reason, enlightenment, and civilization. In other words, the values that universities stand for and defend came under direct attack on Sept. 11. It therefore behooves universities to engage in this battle by doing what they do best: promoting knowledge, enlightenment, and understanding. By doing this, they can help enlist a worldwide army committed to everything that is humane and civilized, and thereby make it less likely that unreasoning zealots can have any success. Worldwide understanding is vital to victory. Our curriculum should stress language and cultural studies, as well as deeper understanding of such phenomena as religious fundamentalism and the psychology of patriotism. Meanwhile, our powerful research and development capacity can aid homeland security and defense. Our expertise in areas such as chemical and biological sensors; monitoring oceans, rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere; emergency preparedness; and many other fields can contribute to a more secure nation. America's land-grant universities have contributed heavily to winning previous wars. This one is very different, but perhaps even more in need of university expertise.

During your high school visits throughout the state, what's been the most-asked question from students?
Maine high school students have very high aspirations. Almost all of them want to go on to college. But they want to know if they will be able to afford it and they want to know why they should stay in Maine rather than go out of state. Fortunately the answer to one question provides the answer to the other. UMaine offers a superior education at an affordable cost, and more and more of the state's high school students are catching on to that basic truth.

If you had to cite your most memorable moment at UMaine, what would it be?
It's hard to forget the overtime victory that gave us the National Hockey Championship in 1999. But there have been many quieter moments that have touched me and moved me literally to tears some happy, some sad. Losing (long-time men's ice hockey coach) Shawn Walsh was such a time. However, he was one of many from the UMaine community whom we have lost prematurely, and I have felt every loss. On the happy side, however, I am very moved by each Commencement ceremony and by each individual triumph.

What have been your biggest leadership challenges during your years at UMaine?
The biggest ones are the ones we still face, as you might expect. This University is like a race car speeding around the track, going very fast, but running on (fiscal) fumes and with many parts in need of repair or replacement. Pulling into the pit is not an option, because we must keep going. We simply need to find ways of taking on more fuel as we run, changing the spark plugs and the oil without stopping the engine, and reshaping the aerodynamic design to compete with the other cars. Our entire constituency expects nothing less of us.

What is it that sets UMaine research and academic excellence apart from that of other higher education institutions?
Within the state we do more than 90 percent of the funded scientific research carried out by colleges and universities, and essentially all of the doctoral-level study. I am continually amazed, however, by how well our research-oriented faculty members attend to the teaching of undergraduates with care and commitment. Nationally and internationally, we make our mark in small but very important interdisciplinary niches. It's hard for any university to compete with UMaine in areas like Quaternary and climate studies, chem-bio sensor technology, advanced engineered wood technology, certain areas of speech and language acquisition, poetry, folklore, and lobsters.

What difference does UMaine make? Or to put it another way, if the state's land-grant, sea-grant, research institution was not here, what would we be missing?
Without the University, there would be no inexpensive access for Mainers to the kind of education you can only get at a state flagship the vast array of different academic programs combined with the challenge of attending college with other top students. Ninety percent of the university research in the state would no longer exist. Ninety-nine percent of the doctoral opportunities would be gone. And gone with those things would be any hope of joining the 21st-century economy. Cultural events in music, theater, dance, new media, and access to a huge art collection would no longer exist for people who live in most of the state's land mass. The friendly help that comes from University of Maine Cooperative Extension would be gone. And where would Mainers turn for the pride that comes with a national championship in a major sport?

Have there been disappointments during your administration?
I am pleased by how few real disappointments have occurred. Still it would be silly to suggest that we have succeeded at everything we have attempted. I was sorry we stopped short of constructing the retirement community literally at the University, because I thought the decision that was imposed on us represented a refusal to embrace new opportunities and take risks. The money at stake was minimal either way, and therefore not an issue. It was more a matter of the principle of being entrepreneurial and expansive.

How can the University continue to make progress in its recruitment and retainment of students, faculty, staff, and administrative leaders who contribute to campus diversity?
We have never been in a position where we can simply "buy" good people with high wages. We don't have enough money. We therefore have to attract people to Maine with a certain quality of life that many people value, with a friendly and inviting campus culture, and with a welcoming attitude. No matter what your race, ethnic background, gender, or culture, there is a good chance that you will find Maine a welcoming place that allows you to have a very attractive lifestyle. Sometimes, however, people who have never been here do not realize the attractions of life in Maine. So we need to do better at getting different kinds of people to come give us a look. We don't suit everyone's tastes. But many will find that Maine is a great place for them.

What is your advice to college students today? How has it changed through your years in higher education?
I have certain unorthodox beliefs about education. For example, I think the academic major is the most overrated aspect of a college degree. Not that it isn't important. It's just that we place too much emphasis on the major, to the detriment of the rest of the degree program, especially the liberal arts core that all students get, no matter what their major. Another unorthodox view I take is that liberal "skills" are more important than liberal "arts." That is, I care more about what you can do because you are well educated than what subjects you took. Properly taught, an engineering course can be as "liberating" as a course in the humanities, because the key is to learn to think, to express yourself, to see old issues through new eyes, to solve problems, to work with other people, and to appreciate life in its fullness.

Why is University-wide engagement in K-12 education a priority?
Mainers value education and want to see their children get a great start in life. UMaine prepares more teachers and administrators in this state than any other institution and we want to do it as well as we possibly can. We see teacher preparation as a University-wide priority. Almost all of our professors play a role. We are in a better position than most to recruit and train mathematics and science teachers, to prepare school administrators, and to offer master's and doctoral programs to school personnel. Our contribution to K-12 education and our partnership with the schools are among the most important things we do.

What are the UMaine benchmarks from the past five years?
The measurable benchmarks are things like strong, sustained enrollment growth, which includes the very best students from our high schools, the addition of key programs such as new media and the computer science Ph.D., the tripling of our external research funding, and the enthusiastic support of the legislature and the governor for R&D. I believe the best and most important measure of any academic leader's tenure is the list of people who came on board during his or her time. And that list which includes both students and faculty is a remarkable one here. Extremely able people people who would be stars at any university in the country have come to UMaine in the past five years. The University has taken a decided turn toward greater academic excellence and reconnected with a public that once saw it as an isolated place. Maine leaders have come more than ever to see the University not as a burden to the state's budget but as a vital resource crucial to economic growth and social enlightenment.

What should Maine people know about the University?
UMaine is their university it exists to serve the people of Maine. And it does so by offering a world-class education at an affordable cost. But we don't stop there. It is equally important for us to help build the kind of state where well-educated people can find jobs and the quality of life they desire. That's why our research and our community engagement are so important. The University of Maine helps create
jobs and works hard to build a better Maine.

To UMaine students, we stress the importance of leadership and their active participation in their community. What is your definition of leadership and why is community involvement an important part of that equation?
While there are many different kinds of leaders, I have always been attracted to the ones who quietly (or even tacitly) said "follow me" by setting a great example. Community involvement represents a great example that a leader can set. I feel fortunate that a number of community organizations have welcomed me to their boards and to opportunities to be active in the community in a wide variety of areas from economic development to healthcare to culture and the arts. But I also enjoy doing things like getting a trash bag and a pointed stick and helping clean up the campus on Maine Day. Quite aside from anything I have done, I think our students set wonderful examples by participating in activities like Alternative Spring Break (volunteering to help people in need) and with a plethora of charitable organizations.

Who have been your sources of inspiration during your UMaine years?
I believe it would not be an exaggeration to say that (former Board of Trustees Chair) Sally Vamvakias and (former Chancellor) Terry MacTaggart "saved" the University System during their time in office. Their passion, their vision, and their leadership made an extraordinary difference, especially in the State House, and they laid the groundwork for the good things we have been able to accomplish at UMaine. Jim Dowe and Trish Riley led our new Board of Visitors as it worked to establish its identity and be an effective advocate for the University. I also draw inspiration from students more than any other source. They are, of course, why we exist.

In what way have you left your mark on The University of Maine?
I'd like to think that my years at Maine will be remembered as a time when the University took a decided turn toward greater academic excellence and reconnected with a public that once saw UMaine as an isolated place. I would like to think that my years were a time when the state's leaders came more than ever to see the University not as a burden to the state's budget but as a vital resource that is crucial to economic growth and social enlightenment. But I also would like to think that people remembered enjoying their University more that we truly transformed the nature of the total student experience and helped UMaine students come to love their alma mater and value the years they spent in Orono.

What are the UMaine benchmarks from the past five years?
The measurable benchmarks are things like strong, sustained enrollment growth, which includes the very best students from our high schools, the addition of key programs such as new media and the computer science Ph.D., the tripling of our external research funding, and the enthusiastic support of the legislature and the governor for R&D. I believe the best and most important measure of any academic leader's tenure is the list of people who came on board during his or her time. And that list which includes both students and faculty is a remarkable one here. Extremely able people people who would be stars at any university in the country have come to UMaine in the past five years. The University has taken a decided turn toward greater academic excellence and reconnected with a public that once saw it as an isolated place. Maine leaders have come more than ever to see the University not as a burden to the state's budget but as a vital resource crucial to economic growth and social enlightenment.

What should Maine people know about the University?
UMaine is their university it exists to serve the people of Maine. And it does so by offering a world-class education at an affordable cost. But we don't stop there. It is equally important for us to help build the kind of state where well-educated people can find jobs and the quality of life they desire. That's why our research and our community engagement are so important. The University of Maine helps create jobs and works hard to build a better Maine.

Where do you see this institution 10 years from now?
Within 10 years we will have assembled an even stronger faculty and student body. UMaine will be more than ever the college of choice for Mainers and will be attracting more students from across the country and around the world. We will be doing well over $100 million per year in externally funded research, and the number of spin-off companies making use of UMaine technology will be increasing rapidly. Maine will have found a way to provide scholarship support to all students who can maintain at least a B average in high school and college. And the combination of economic and academic growth in Maine will have made the state a strong contender for leadership in the knowledge-based economy.

by Margaret Nagle
November-December, 2002

Click Here for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.

 

UMaine Today Magazine
Department of University Relations
5761 Howard A. Keyo Public Affairs Building
Phone: (207) 581-3744 | Fax: (207) 581-3776


The University of Maine
, Orono, Maine 04469
207-581-1110
A Member of the University of Maine System