‘Right man, right time’: Cummings installed at USM

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GORHAM — The University of Southern Maine was struggling when Glenn Cummings took the reins last year. But the outlook appeared brighter when he was officially installed Dec. 2 as the university’s 13th president.

“I’m truly humbled,” Cummings told a packed crowd at the USM Field House. “I’m so happy to have this job.”

He has been on the job since June 2015, but was installed during last week’s ceremony.

The university has campuses in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. In recent years, the university has faced financial problems and sagging enrollment. Cummings follows interim presidents and one who was appointed full time, but opted out.

Community and university leaders showered praise on Cummings during the installation ceremony. With Cummings at the helm, the university has balanced its budget and is rebuilding enrollment.

“Glenn Cummings is the right man at the right time for USM and Portland,” said  Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who called Cummings a “true” friend.

The University of Maine System’s board of trustees last month approved a plan for temporary student housing in Portland’s Bayside Apartments, but the trustees are also expected to consider a proposal to build dorms on the Portland campus.

“My door is always open,” Strimling told Cummings during the ceremony.

On the Gorham campus, Cummings has initiated plans for an international high school to attract students from around the world.

David Cole, Gorham town manager, credited Cummings for fostering a “strong and constructive relationship” between the university and the town.

“We think of you as one of our very own,” Cole said, referring to the fact Cummings was once a Gorham High School history teacher.

The university once boasted an enrollment of 11,000, but numbers have skidded in recent years. Daniel Hartill, a university communications specialist, said Monday enrollment is now nearly 7,900, and has increased 1.5 percent over the past year.

Buster Neel, interim chief business officer, said Monday that when he arrived in January 2015 the university had a projected $16 million deficit; it was reduced by $4.5 million by the time Cummings arrived.

“While we are not where we want to be, we are balancing our budget with no supplemental assistance from the University of Maine System office,” Neel said.

Muhammad Khan, student body president and a Gorham High School graduate, said during the installation that Cummings has put the university back on the path to success.

“You and your team have turned USM around,” Khan said.

Cummings has taught at Southern Maine Community College and at USM. He was elected to the Maine Legislature in 2000 and also served as speaker of the House.

Later, Cummings was the deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

He subsequently was president of the Good Will-Hinckley School. Cummings was interim president of University of Maine at Augusta before being selected as president of USM.

“Today is a great day for USM,” James Paige, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said as he was officially installing Cummings. “Its a great day for this community and the state of Maine.”

Robert Lowell can be reached at rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.

Glenn Cummings speaks Dec. 2 in a ceremony on the Gorham campus after officially being installed as president of the University of Southern Maine.