AUGUSTA — John Fitzsimmons, longtime president of Maine’s community college system, has resigned.

“Because the governor has flat-funded the community colleges in his proposed budget and threatened further harm if I remain in my post, I have informed the Maine Community College System board of trustees that I will be stepping down,” Fitzsimmons said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “I am simply not willing to put our colleges at risk.”

Fitzsimmons has said he will stay on as president until an acting president is named.

His resignation comes after several days of pressure from Gov. Paul LePage, who criticized the president for being unavailable and unresponsive to the governor’s priorities on higher education.

Fitzsimmons has served as president of the Maine Community College System for nearly 25 years. As of May 2014, roughly 18,000 students were enrolled at the seven campuses of the community college system. Officials with the system have trumpeted enrollment growth and tuition prices that are among the most affordable in New England.

Fitzsimmons oversaw that growth, as well as the transition of the system from one for technical colleges with a focus on trade skills to a community college system that provides general studies and liberal arts education as well as career-oriented training and certifications.

The governor revealed that he was seeking Fitzsimmons’ resignation during a budget briefing with reporters on Friday.

Since then, he has cited the failure of the community college system to establish credit transferability or to adopt the Bridge Year program, which allows students to earn college credit before graduating high school. The community college system abandoned Bridge Year after a one-year pilot, while the University of Maine system is continuing with the program.

Fitzsimmons does not answer directly to LePage, but to a board of trustees appointed by the governor.

On Monday, LePage said that if trustees did not take steps to ensure Fitzsimmons’ ouster, they would “ feel the wrath.” When asked by a reporter whether his displeasure with Fitzsimmons was the reason he flat-funded the community college system in his new budget proposal, LePage said simply, “He’s lucky I didn’t cut them.”

“I just think we’re stagnant,” he said. “We need to move in the community college system. We need to be more aggressive. There’s so much more we could be doing.”

Despite the criticism from LePage, trustees had backed Fitzsimmons. Robert Clark, chairman of the board, said Wednesday that the board accepted Fitzsimmons’ resignation with “deep regret.”

“As hard as this is for the board to accept, this very difficult decision offers a perfect insight into Dr. Fitzsimmons, who always puts the best interest of students and the colleges first,” he said.

Clark also offered a contrasting viewpoint to the governor’s criticisms, arguing that the Maine Community College System saw great progress during the past five years.

That progress includes tens of millions of dollars of grants and private funding secured, new academic programs and the opening of two new campuses in Brunswick and Hinckley, he said. He also said 92 percent of community college graduates during the past five years have either landed jobs or continued education.

One day before he offered his resignation, Fitzsimmons had defended his job as system president, saying the system had made “very real progress” toward full credit transferability with the University of Maine System and expected a full agreement to be in place by May.

He also said that despite uncertainty about how to fund the project, the system would once again participate in the Bridge Year program.

On Wednesday, Fitzsimmons touted the system’s 80 percent growth in enrollment during his tenure, its deficit-free fiscal record and its dedication to affordability. He said he decided to resign because it was best for the students and employees of the system.

Fitzsimmons is scheduled to speak with the media later this afternoon.Efforts to contact LePage are ongoing.

Statement by John Fitzsimmons

This is the statement issued by John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, in annoucning his retirement:

Over the last few days, I have had to weigh out what is best for the 18,000 students, 900 employees, and hundreds of businesses across the state that rely on our colleges. Because the Governor has flat funded the community colleges in his proposed budget and threatened further harm if I remain in my post, I have informed the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees that I will be stepping down. I am simply not willing to put our colleges at risk.

I believe that the community colleges are a true Maine success story. I am so proud of what they have achieved during my 25 years as President, including:

— Expanded educational opportunity. Enrollment has grown nearly 80%, to 18,160 students since 2003.

— An affordable pathway to higher education: The colleges have committed to holding the line on tuition, which is now the lowest of any college or university in New England ($3,400 in tuition and fees). They have done this even as state appropriations (as a percent of the total MCCS budget) have decreased from 46% to 32% over the past ten years.

— Strong fiscal health: For over 25 years, often during difficult economic times, the System has never run a deficit and has enjoyed clean audits.

I encourage all those who care about the community colleges to work together to build on their strengths and invest in their future.

I have been humbled by the many messages I have received over the last few days, and I want to thank all those who have reached out to voice their support and encouragement.

AUGUSTA — Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons has announced his resignation.

This is the statement from Robert Clark, chairman of the board:

It is with deep regret that the Board of Trustees of the Maine Community College System announces that MCCS President John Fitzsimmons has informed us that he will be stepping down as soon as an acting president is in place.

As hard as this is for the board to accept, this very difficult decision offers a perfect insight into Dr. Fitzsimmons who always puts the best interest of students and the colleges first.

It is very important to the board and to our colleges that the public understands the tremendous work that has been done over the past five years to strengthen our community colleges and expand educational opportunities for Maine people:

— The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges was launched and has raised $26 million in private investment, funding scholarships, new academic programs, and state-of-the-art instructional equipment and technology as state support as a percentage of our budget has declined.

— The colleges have also secured $48 million in grants, including a $13 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand and add programs and new educational pathways in computer forensics, network security, and other growing areas of information technology.

— New academic programs have been added in precision machining, veterinary technology, health information technology, and other high demand fields to meet the workforce needs of Maine employers.

— Two new college campuses have opened in Brunswick (SMCC Midcoast Campus) and Hinckley (KVCC Harold Alfond Campus), adding properties and facilities valued at $100 million.

— 92 percent of graduates have landed jobs or continued their education.

— Transfer activity has increased significantly: 42 percent of MCCS graduates in three recent classes pursued further education at over 223 different colleges and universities. Forty percent of those students (1,115) enrolled in the University of Maine System.

— 2,700 high school students are currently enrolled in community college courses, earning college credit and saving themselves and their families $800,000 in tuition and fees.

The board has asked President Fitzsimmons to stay on in a fundraising capacity through the summer to complete multi-million-dollar donor requests that he has initiated through The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges and in which we will need him to play a key role.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.