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Presidential Finalist: Dr. Amit Chakma

Chakma has been the president and vice chancellor at University of Western Ontario since 2009. He was previously the academic vice president and provost at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He studied at the Algerian Petroleum Institute, where he graduated first in his class. Chakma went on to the University of British Columbia, where he got his master’s and Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He has been given an honorary degree of science from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh and an honorary degree of engineering from the University of Waterloo. He was born in an area of Pakistan.

With his experience from University of Waterloo and Western Ontario, he has come up with three main areas that he would like to work with if selected as president.

The first is making sure that the model of education is student-centric. He believes that all public universities should be student-centric, including his current university and UMaine.

“Whether it’s globalization, technological changes, massive disruption in the job market, the list goes on. There is no easy answer to some of those and that’s why it requires careful evaluation and discussion as to how to prepare our students better,” Chakma said.

His second area would be ensuring that resources are available to accomplish what is necessary.

“In my current role and in my future roles, I have no choice but to pay attention to the resources. I do that by taking a longer-term view, which means to make longer-term relationships with the governments, with other partners, with donors, to raise money for endowments, for scholarships, for this or that,” he said.

The third issue he spoke of was enrollment, specifically in terms of international and out-of state students.

“The university is already doing so, but more out-of-state students in my mind is a good thing. More international students, in my mind is a good thing.”

He added one more area based on what he had seen at the university, which was interdisciplinary initiatives. He praised the 15 interdisciplinary research institutes that Maine has compared to the two at Western.

“Graduates will increasingly need background from different disciplines so they are invariably educated,” Chakma said. “A more interdisciplinary approach to teaching, learning, research, the better we are. And that may differentiate this university from many others.”

He was able to identify these common themes and experience them through his work at Western and Waterloo, giving him more background and practice, which he could apply to Maine.

“When you serve for a long enough time, you are able to initiate things and see how they work out. I didn’t see the results of those institutes after eight years at Waterloo, but now nine years after that, I can see them,” he said.  With this experience and time in the position, he was also able to see what didn’t work.

While Chakma has this experience, it is also at Canadian Universities and might not transfer to the United States. According to Chakma, the biggest difficulty with this transition would be the dynamics of the political system in which you are working.

“How do you relate to the governor? How do you relate to the elected representatives? What role the senate plays? That’s one part that would be new to me, but in all of those, at the end of the days, it’s about making your story a compelling one, that doesn’t change, and I’m familiar with that,” he said.

If appointed, he plans to take the time to get to know the way the politics in Maine work, while making many visits to the university to meet people he would be working with.

“So I’ll be asking the board of trustee, the chancellor and others, if they’re so willing, to please introduce me to key people. Not only politicians, volunteers, supporters, community leaders and whatnot. That process takes a little bit of time, but I’ve done it, in many different jurisdictions.”

In addition to understanding the dynamics of the political system, he would also want to familiarize himself with the UMaine campus.

“My interests are in the future and I would not have participated in this search process with my limited knowledge if I didn’t see a better future for UMaine,” Chakma said.

Based on what he has seen of the university, he thinks that it would be a good match for him and serve as a good final task for him to work on.

“We all get older and in my case I’m very conscious that I don’t have too much time left, so this would probably one of my last major tasks. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do anything, but I want to make sure that I’m taking on a task that will be rewarding for all parties, that one can really make a difference.”

Although this could be his last endeavor, he would have to wait because his current position legally requires at least six months’ notice. The earliest he said that he would be able to come would be October, possibly January, as Western is currently in the search for a new provost, which they will name this month.

“Short answer is I’m not available in July because I have to give six months notice, so we’ll just have to find a way of what is right for UMaine and what is right for me and Western. The last thing I want to do is leave Western in a situation that is not good for the institution,” he said.

Chakma was on campus March 1 and 2 and similar to the other candidates, he also traveled to Machias on March 2 to visit the facilities and have an open session there.

“There are many ways of evaluating potential candidates, and still projecting a very positive image of the community and the people I have met so far have done exactly that,” Chakma said.

“People have been wonderful to me.”

The Presidential Search Committee will make a decision this month about who will take the office when Hunter leaves June 30, 2018. The committee is made up of 18 members from Machias, Orono, the board of trustees and the board of visitors. They accepted feedback on the candidates visits to campus until 11:59 on March 4.

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