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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The University of Maine will have its first female president, university system Chancellor James Page announced Tuesday.
Susan Hunter, who has spent most of her career at the University of Maine, will serve a two-year appointment leading the nearly 11,250-student Orono campus beginning July 7. The executive committee of the system's Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet on June 25 for a formal vote.
Hunter will take the reins as the university grapples with funding challenges and implements a long-term strategy to grow and become more financially sustainable.
She said Tuesday that her familiarity with UMaine and the state will allow her to fully embrace the job at what is an important time for the school.
"The consensus opinion was that we could spend the next two years with a pretty stable hand on the tiller," she said.
Since September, Hunter has served as the vice chancellor for academic affairs for all seven UMaine system campuses. Before that, she was executive vice president for academic affairs and provost for five years.
Her "depth and breadth at our flagship campus is unsurpassed," Page said.
Page chose Hunter to replace Paul Ferguson, who had served as president since 2011. He was selected last month to become the president of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Page said that the short-term appointment made sense because the university faces several high-priority tasks over the next two years that would make it challenging to simultaneously conduct an intensive search for a new president. He said the system will begin its search for a new president in the second year of Hunter's term. She had previously decided that she would retire in 2016 and doesn't intend to apply for the long-term job, she said Tuesday.
The university is in the midst of implementing its so-called blue sky initiative, aimed at focusing efforts on areas of distinction and launching new programs to better align with the state's needs. Established in 1865, it will also hold its sesquicentennial celebration and launch a large fundraising campaign next year.
The system also faces significant financial challenges due to flat state funding and declining enrollment. UMaine announced this year that it would cut about $10 million from its annual budget and lay off about seven non-faculty employees.
Hunter became a full-time UMaine faculty member in 1991 and has served in various roles since, such as assistant director in the College of Natural Sciences and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.
She will join five other women as presidents in the UMaine system. She said her colleagues are elated that the state's flagship university will also finally be led by a woman.
"It's substantial ... and I think people will say, 'It's about time.'" she said.
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