One candidate to replace University of Maine President Robert Kennedy would only have to move his office four miles if selected and is the only one of four hopefuls with UMaine ties.
James Page, CEO of James W. Sewall Company headquartered in Old Town, has ties to the University of Maine System stretching back to 1975, when he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
Page went on to study philosophy at Harvard University, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his doctorate.
Page returned to the University of Maine System in 1998 as an adjunct professor in UMaine’s department of philosophy.
While he was an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Kansas, Page was recruited by Sewall Company to return to Maine and serve as the company’s senior vice-president and chief operating officer.
According to Douglas Allen, professor of philosophy at UMaine, Page negotiated a teaching schedule at UMaine as a stipulation of his departure from daily academia.
“He was going to be in the business world and all that stuff, but he did not want to give up his relationship to academia — to the university,” Allen said.
Since then, Page has served as president of Sewall Company and as principal and CEO, but he has continued to teach at UMaine every semester. His résumé shows he has taught UMaine courses from the 100- to the 400-level and has served on three Honors College thesis committees.
He has also served as a member of the university’s board of visitors, a body similar to the board of trustees but with less power; as a member of the University of Maine Foundation, which exists to elicit donations to the university; and as a member of advisory boards for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the department of spatial engineering.
Despite Page’s extensive ties to UMaine, he lacks the academic administrative experience each of the three other candidates possesses.
“Even though I’m in some respects sort of the non-traditional candidate, having not spent my entire career in academia, I certainly have a background in and appreciation for and respect for, most importantly, the academic enterprise, both from an educational and a research perspective,” Page said.
Allen addressed Page’s seeming lack of academic administrative experience and advocated for his selection due to his commitment to students at the classroom level.
“We used to think a president was an educator — then you had other people who did the fundraising. Now when you look at job descriptions, often being an educator is marginal,” Allen said. “I think that’s Jim’s toughest obstacle is that people don’t realize what a commitment he has to the university, to academic life… . If they talk to him, they can see that.”
Page is confident his business experience and philosophical background would be beneficial to the university but acknowledged his previous transition to management could be a drawback for some people.
“The best sort of corporate culture that can be brought into academia is … the problem solving,” Page said. “Businesses are faced every day with having to be thoughtful, very nimble in how they react to circumstances, how they deliver good services to their clients, et cetera, and those are the exact same challenges a president has.”
Allen echoed Page’s concerns, suggesting some could view his background in management as indicative of a hard-fisted, corporate-control model of a university. He rebuked that impression.
“He has a sense of what a university is, and it’s not a business,” Allen said. “It’s easy to look at him and say, just in a very narrow way, ‘Oh, he’s just a business person without a university background who’s … going to try to impose some corporate model on the university. He’s going to try to run the university the way he runs Sewall,’ and that would be completely false.”
“Over the years, most candidates we’ve had — for all their history of being vice presidents and provosts and all that — often they don’t have a sense of what a university is at all,” he said.
Allen continued to say Page is a valued faculty member of the philosophy department who is respected by both students and fellow faculty.
“He’s easy to work with,” Allen said. “He’s a very bright person, very intelligent. He’s a very rational thinker, very critical, very reflective. He really reflects on things in depth. He’s a very good listener. He’s very interested in hearing other people’s views.”
John Bricke, professor of philosophy at the University of Kansas, worked with Page during his time there from 1992 to 1998.
Bricke remembered Page as a “much-esteemed colleague” who “didn’t put on any airs” and as “a very collegial member of the department.”
“He had many students who were very keen on his classes,” Bricke said. “I and another colleague and Jim actually joint-taught a seminar one semester, and it’s difficult if you’re not in tune with one another and on good terms to do that type of thing.”
Speaking from experience, Page addressed financial issues facing the University of Maine System. The other candidates were not asked to give their positions on closing campuses or consolidating administrations.
“The partnerships and relationships that the University of Maine has with its sister campuses is critical and has to be investigated very carefully, but the idea of just closing and consolidating I don’t regard as probably a viable outcome or a desirable outcome,” Page said. “It’s a very simplistic view that one could simply cut and close and everything would be well.”
He clarified that the president of UMaine would only contribute an opinion on closures or consolidations.
Page, like the other candidates, was asked about his willingness to work with Gov. Paul LePage and his opinion on the recent Tobacco-Free Campus initiative.
Citing their shared business background, Page said he believed he would work well with LePage.
“We understand the challenges that Maine has in terms of its limited resources,” he said. “It’s a very, very important relationship and it’s at least a three-person relationship because there’s the governor, there’s the president of the University of Maine, but there’s the chancellor as well.”
Page said the relationship between the university’s president and its chancellor is the most important link to foster and maintain for the health of the campus.
On the issue of the campus’ new smoking ban, Page expressed his personal aversion to cigarette use and secondhand smoke but said he did not have enough information to give an opinion based on policy.
“I wonder if there should be some space somewhere for people who smoke, but I haven’t read enough of the background to the debate or looked at people’s input to it,” Page said. “From a health perspective, it’s good.”
Page said he is prepared to support UMaine’s research and manufacturing labs and will ensure the support they receive in terms of funding will not overshadow the university’s non-scientific endeavors.
Sewall Company is involved in the DeepCWind Consortium, a research entity based at AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center on campus.
Page said Sewall Company’s main involvement in the consortium, which exists to develop off-shore wind-energy capabilities in the Gulf of Maine, is work in geospatial areas and permitting.
“The state needs well-trained scientists, environmental scientists and others, engineers,” Page said. “At the same time, it would be a mistake to think of the University of Maine as evolving essentially into a technical school or a technical program.
“Whether or not somebody’s going to be an English major or a physics major or a forestry major, the university has a responsibility to ensure these people leave the university able to think critically, able to communicate clearly and being able to sort of situate themselves in where they find themselves historically and politically and socially in the wider context of the world,” he said.
The largest issue facing UMaine, according to Page, is the conflation of the university’s need for resources and its need for young students.
“It is like the ads say, they are in a great place,” Page said of UMaine students. “It’s like every institution … it’s undergoing its challenges and I would hope they would get involved in getting educated about what those challenges are and contributing.”