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July 6, 2020

Former CT Gov., UMaine System chief Dannel Malloy talks about fall classes, and grades himself

PHOTO / UNIVERSITY OF MAINE SYSTEM Dannel Malloy, at center in blue suit, former governor of Connecticut, is chancellor of the University of Maine System, whose seven member universities serve 30,000 students annually.

As former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wraps up his first year as University of Maine System chancellor, he chatted with Mainebiz, Hartford Business Journal's sister publication, via Zoom about the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the significance of getting a single, common accreditation for the System’s seven member universities, which it expects to implement in July.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during COVID-19?

Dannel Malloy: In late January, I recognized that this was a potential challenge to us as news was filtering out from China, and followed it through February. By early March, I felt that we were likely to have to send students home at some point and had a discussion with the presidents, which led to a decision on March 12 that we would not reconvene after spring break. We safely evacuated and sent home about 7,000 residential students who would otherwise have been living on campus, and thousands more who rent or share space.

These are tough times for all public institutions. What does that mean for the University of Maine System?

DM: If you want to talk about a long-term healthy Maine, you have to talk about a healthy public educational system that doesn’t end at 12th grade — it goes through community college, it goes through university-level learning, and that’s our return. It is also important that the public understand that during the pandemic, our ambulances were loaned, our buildings were pressed into service, and we made products that couldn’t otherwise be obtained on the open market — including hand sanitizer shipped to hospitals. We’re not just higher education, we’re your neighbor, we live next to you, we’re part of you, we educate your children, we grow the economy — that’s what a public education system does.

What’s your message to 2020 college grads looking for jobs?

DM: I think they’ll be more employable because they have that degree, and hopefully more employable in the state of Maine for that degree. We know our nurses will be fully employed, and engineers will be snapped up, as will people doing computer or data processing work or coding. We know our graduates get jobs, retain jobs and do so in the state of Maine.

What will be the biggest difference for students returning this fall?

DM: I think it will be a richer mix of experiences in some ways, as long as we keep our distance and wash our hands and wear our masks where we should. Until there’s a vaccine, we’re all going to be changed in how we live this experience out, but get the experience, come here, get an education. This is a terrible time to not go to school, or to waste the time in a particularly weak economy when you could have been working away at getting your degree, certification or license to practice in whatever field you want to practice in.

How does running a public university system compare to running a state like Connecticut or a small city like Stamford, as you have done?

DM: I have been blessed to have had five distinct careers. I like being busy, and I think I was probably well-prepared to handle the challenges that we have just been through with the COVID pandemic, but we have had other challenges — management, retention and admission challenges.

What’s on your to-do list in the coming 12 months?

DM: Implementation of unified accreditation is going to be very important, and making our students, faculty and staff as safe as possible and learning from the [pandemic] experience. We also need to get more of our students their degrees in a timely fashion.

How significant is unified accreditation?

DM: It will cause us to work more closely together as universities to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the people of Maine. It will give us opportunities to expand offerings at all of our campuses, because we can work together to do that. We’re going to be better organized, but a lot of it is also psychological. We’re going to see ourselves not as a member of a team that wears a different color, or has a different mascot, but that we’re on Team Maine, and we need to work together to bring the best results to Maine.

After a year in this job, what grade do you give yourself?

DM: Well, we switched to pass-fail — I definitely passed.

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