In her 18 years as president of the University of Maine Farmington, Theodora Kalikow helped the school earn national recognition as a top public liberal arts college. Under Kalikow's presidency, UMF was named a "Top Green College" by the Princeton Review and singled out as a model university for maximizing student potential by the American Association for Higher Education.
A Ph.D. in philosophy with a degree in chemistry, Kalikow began her teaching career at UMass Dartmouth and moved into administrative roles with the University of Northern Colorado and Plymouth State College in New Hampshire before becoming UMF president in 1994.
After nearly two decades at Farmington, Kalikow was ready to settle into retirement in her Mount Vernon home when new University of Maine System Chancellor James Page came calling, luring Kalikow back into academia to take over for outgoing USM President Selma Botman.
We sat down with Kalikow to discuss her new role at USM. An edited transcript follows.
Mainebiz: Coming from a smaller community, how do you plan on tapping the area's larger pool of resources to ensure student success and establish connections within the region?
Kalikow: The larger scale is exciting. One of the things I'm hoping for is that we reach out to more communities and alumni in southern Maine and get them to work with our students, whether it's through internships or volunteer work or paid jobs.
Do you see the role of president playing out differently at USM than it did in Farmington?
It's going to be different because the problems are different and the scale is different, but the principles are the same. The role of the president is to mirror in and out; my job is to translate the genius of this university to the big world and take input from that big world and tell the campus community 'This is what's happening out there, and this is what they need USM's help to do.'
Given your liberal arts background, how do you plan to drive USM's commitment to the STEM fields?
Well, let's go back to the fundamentals of what are the liberal arts. [They] include the sciences and they are the arts of being human, being civically engaged, the art of being creative; that's pretty applicable to any [field]. My own background started in science, I did my master's degree on the interpretation of quantum mechanics and my doctoral degree is in the history of behavioral sciences, so I pretty much cross all the disciplines myself. That gives me a unique perspective on what we are doing here.
You were barely retired when Chancellor Page asked you to take over the USM presidency. Is this a long-term move for you or more of an interim role?
[Page], who I like a lot, said 'I need you to go and do this. USM needs to be successful,' and I said, 'OK, I'll try.' As far as the long-term? I gave up making predictions. I don't know what will happen.
Have you been able to identify any weaknesses at USM that you plan to address in your new role?
The graduation rate needs to be improved, retention needs to be improved and I think there are people already working on those things. n