FARMINGTON — Theodora J. Kalikow, the longest-serving chief administrator of the University of Maine at Farmington since it became a four-year college in 1945, announced Friday she will retire June 30.
Her legacy includes national and state recognitions for her educational initiatives, a strong commitment to strengthening students' academic excellence and being a role model for other women as a leader in public service,
“At UMF, we would always base our work according to a core set of values, and we made our choices based on doing the best job for students,” Kalikow said in an interview Friday.
“Our core values are taking care of students, putting an excellent education within their reach and having them aspire way beyond what they thought they could achieve,” she said.
Kalikow announced her retirement to the campus community Friday night at the annual employee recognition dinner.
Highlights of her presidency include five new majors, five programs in interdisciplinary studies, two master's degree programs and adding 16 faculty positions while keeping enrollment at 2,000.
Among her major accomplishments was the opening this month of the Emery Arts Center, a project she worked on alongside the campus and the community.
“Theo is irreplaceable," Town Manager Richard Davis said. "She has done more than any other person to really put UMF on the map, especially with the new Emery Arts Center. She has brought a lot of attention to Farmington and we owe her a debt of gratitude.”
Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair headed the UMF Creative Writing Department under Kalikow and is a UMF Professor Emeritus and writer-in-residence.
In an interview, McNair said that under Kalikow's leadership, the campus saw major changes in curriculum and in its physical plant.
One milestone he recalled was her strong advocacy, shortly after she was hired, to convince the University of Maine System Board of Trustees to support McNair's proposal that would bring the poetry publishing house, Alice James Books, to campus.
The move helped focus national attention on UMF as being a strong liberal arts college.
“She was really in charge of the renaissance at UMF," McNair said. "The college really became the highly respected institution it is today under her.
“Theo has been a very enlightened president whose style was always one of collaboration. It was never 'top down,'” he said.
McNair said Kalikow relied on the strength and resources of those around her to make the initiatives she envisioned a reality.
He described her as a "practical idealist" who always has her feet on the ground.
“Theo was never one to disappear in her office and delegate responsibility," he said. "She has been a great administrator and leader but is so modest, she is apt to give credit to others."
Kalikow said in the interview that during her 18 years at the university, the focus was always on students. What has changed has been the university's reputation, which has expanded far beyond Maine.
“I feel the campus now has a better sense of itself as a contributor to higher education. We are all proud and very conscious of the good work we are doing,” she said.
She said growing up, her father, an engineer, instilled in her and her brother that there wasn't anything they couldn't do if they put their minds to it.
“He would tell us that we should hope the experiment doesn't work the first time," she said. "He would say it is better you should fail. Then you have a chance to make it better. That has a tremendous influence on a child – the expectation that you are going to make a mark on the world."
She said she has been blessed to have terrific co-workers.
“I listen to what they say, and while a lot of times they don't agree with one another, that is a good thing. I am scared of 'group think.' I encourage disagreement,” she said.
“The key is being patient. I believe if you let people sit with an idea long enough, they can end up doing things with it you can't even imagine,” Kalikow said.
According to the press release, Kalikow was an early signatory of the American College and University President's Climate Commitment. In 2007, she was awarded the Green Building Leadership Award from the Maine Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council for her pioneering role in advancing environmentally responsible buildings in Maine.
Many facilities on the UMF campus feature advanced geothermal technology and the latest energy efficiencies.
The UMF Symposium, a university-wide day to spotlight original student research, has been celebrated at UMF since 1999. The Wilson Scholars Program, an undergraduate research program to promote the highest level of scholarship, has named close to 150 student scholars since 2006.
"It has been an honor to serve as UMF president; to work with our outstanding faculty, staff, students and alumni; and to be a part of what are often the most important years of many young people's lives," said Kalikow in the release.
During her time at UMF, the college has been recognized as "One of America's Best Colleges" by U.S. News & World Report for 15 consecutive years; as one of 20 outstanding colleges selected as national models of educational effectiveness; and by the U.S. Congressional Record for its efforts to make an environmentally sustainable campus a reality, according to the release.
In 2000, she received the University of Maine's Maryann Hartman Award from the Women's Studies program, which annually recognizes Maine women of achievement who are inspirations. In 2002, Kalikow was honored for the enduring value of her contributions to women as she was inducted to the Maine Women's Hall of Fame. In 2006, her exceptional leadership and public service were recognized when she was awarded the Deborah Morton Award by the trustees of the University of New England.
After leaving the presidency, Kalikow will continue to serve the University of Maine System, working on special projects for two years. These efforts will include concentrating on improving access to higher education for Maine students and collaborating with business leaders and UMS officials to expand economic development in the state.
University of Maine System Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude said in a statement, “It has been my pleasure and honor to work with Theo for nearly 20 years. She has done a wonderful job as president of UMF, leading it to new levels of excellence. She is a delightful and caring colleague who will be missed by everyone throughout the University of Maine System. I look forward to working with her on special projects in the next few years and am very pleased we will continue to have her talent, wisdom and irrepressible good humor available to us."