October 11, 2017

Meet UNE's new president: Recruiting senior leadership, international students are early initiatives

Courtesy / University of New England
Courtesy / University of New England
James Herbert, formerly executive vice president and dean of the Graduate College at Drexel University in Philadelphia, moved to Maine in June and took the reins as president of the University of New England in July.

University of New England at a glance

  • Maine's largest private university

  • Home to Maine's only medical and dental schools

  • Campuses in Portland, Biddeford and Tangier, Morocco

  • 45 undergraduate majors

  • 33 undergraduate minors

  • 18 graduate and professional programs

  • 13,743 students (undergraduate, graduate and online) enrolled in the 2016-17 academic year


The school year is off to a busy start for James Herbert, who succeeded Danielle Ripich (2016 Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year in the nonprofit category) as president of the University of New England in July. Herbert, who grew up in Texas and spent a year as an exchange student in Switzerland, was previously executive vice president and dean of the Graduate College at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Below are highlights from a phone interview with Mainebiz.

Mainebiz: What are your immediate priorities?

James Herbert: Every university, like every big business, has a unique personality, so I'm spending a lot of time getting to know people, colleges and programs and faculty and students, getting to know the place much more intimately. I'm also getting to know the region and the state well and spending a lot of time making contacts with local and business leaders. Internally, I've got some key national searches to put my senior leadership team together, including a provost, deans of the Colleges of Pharmacy and Health Professional, and an athletic director. Another priority is the launch of our new strategic planning process, which I'll be managing personally.

MB: What's the significance of the strategic plan?

JH: Higher education has become very competitive for lots of reasons. To stay ahead of that, and to make sure you're vibrant, you've got to be very nimble and have a plan that allows you to be flexible as well as strategic.

MB: What has surprised you the most about your new job?

JH: The thing that probably surprised me the most has been living in Maine and the people. The reputation that Mainers have outside of Maine is that they are very reserved and laconic and not terribly welcoming. I have found the opposite — people have been incredibly friendly and helpful.

MB: On the academic front, what initiatives are you planning?

JH: Within our Health Professions program, we have a signature program we call Interprofessional Education, which focuses on team-based health care. We think we can take this strength and build on it to become a national model in showing how to use that approach especially in rural areas and in dealing with an aging population. We've just developed a task force to develop a plan for how we can take our IPE initiatives to the next level.

We are also looking at developing new programs that are highly aligned with market needs. There are real opportunities for us to expand the nascent programs we have in big data and data analytics. We also have a program in health analytics, but I see us moving more into that area in a very strategic way.

We're also repositioning ourselves more as a global university, by having more foreign students come to UNE to study abroad, and international students coming to get their degrees here. At Drexel we developed a lot of interdisciplinary programs that blurred traditional academic boundaries between different fields. I'd like to bring that to UNE, in areas like marine sciences and aquaculture.

MB: What can you tell us about UNE's incoming freshman class?

JH: We just admitted the second-largest class in our history (749 undergraduates), with the most geographically diverse class ever, from 33 states. The acceptance rate is still trending downward, as is our 'melt rate' of students who withdraw after making a deposit. I'm pleased with our recruitment.

MB: And your own recruitment goals?

JH: Part of my mission is to spread the word about UNE beyond New England. We're starting with all New England states but we're now also targeting Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. We are also for the first time recruiting students internationally, and we have our first-ever Moroccan student here as an undergraduate freshman.


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