LEWISTON — One day before Dr. Glenn Cummings will be inaugurated the 13th president of the University of Southern Maine, a major university event with academic regalia, Cummings came to Lewiston to talk about the vital role higher education has for workers.

A former state legislator and University of Maine at Augusta president, Cummings’ message to staff and students was, “We need you.”

Cummings, who had also been a history teacher, told a room filled to capacity a story of how Mainers changed the course of the country.

Before the 1863 Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, Col. Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Regiment was to defend the eastern flank, Little Round Top.

A few days before the battle, officers delivered 30 soldiers to Chamberlain, telling him to shoot them. They had supposedly deserted, Cummings said. The men were angry; they had been in the U.S. Army longer than they understood they should have been. They were on the way home when they were arrested.

Chamberlain said he was not going to shoot the men, but said to “leave them with me.” Chamberlain told the men he didn’t know who was right, but he’d listen.

After talking to them, he said he’d do what he could to make things right, but not that day. One of the biggest battles was about to happen.

“He said to the men, ‘I need you. Our state needs you. America needs you. I don’t know if I can win this part of the battle without you.’” He asked them to stay and fight. With the exception of two, the men once again took up arms.

During the battle, “they came within inches of losing that eastern flank,” Cummings said.

The 28 Mainers made a difference, he said.  

“The 13th Alabama almost beat us at Round Top,” he said. If they had, that unit would have turned around and taken on other Union forces.

Chamberlain’s conversation with the men, the way he handled the situation, “may have changed the course of American history,” Cummings said.

And, Chamberlain said something that leaders don’t say enough, something Cummings repeated to Lewiston faculty and students: “We need you.”

USM has a big task ahead, he said. Maine and the country has a serious problem, workers don’t have the economic security they should. Education is key to ensuring people have the incomes to care for families.

“The bizarre political environment we find ourselves in is deeply connected to the fear Americans have of whether they can feed their families,” Cummings said. Whether someone voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, “that is a legitimate fear, given the trends.”

In the past 20 years, non-college educated people — white males in particular —  have seen a 13 percent drop in their income, Cummings said. Nearly 35 percent of non-college educated white men are in jobs related to driving a vehicle.

That’s important, Cummings said, “because we are within five years of having driverless cars,” which means some of those jobs will disappear.

“USM is the place where the people who don’t believe they can get an education, unless we tell them they can,” can get a degree and good-paying careers, Cummings said.

More educated workers “can make a difference in this country,” Cummings said. “We are the battle at Little Round Top, because we are the ones giving people hope, the pathway, the economic security they really need.”

Cummings acknowledged deep cuts in jobs and programs USM endured in recent years to bring spending in line with the economy, changes that have led to a growing student population and a healthier budget.

USM has been through “a great upset,” he said, adding he’s trying to make it right.

The work facing USM “requires all of us,” he said. “As I say, there’s no ‘I’ in USM, but there is an ‘us’ in USM. So let’s do it together.”

Introducing Cummings on Thursday, USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College Dean Joyce Gibson said Cummings “cares about what we do, what we think.” Cummings is with the Lewiston campus frequently, she said.

“That’s a sign of caring that we really appreciate,” Joyce said.

Ariel Shriner was one of the LAC students attending Thursday’s lunch. She lives in Portland and is working on her master’s degree in occupational therapy.

She said she likes what she sees in Cummings.

“He shows up on campus and meets students and faculty face to face,” she said.

In the past year, there’s been a culture change at USM, Shriner said. People seem happier, more hopeful. “He has a lot to do with that.”

Cummings: What’s needed at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College

LEWISTON — Incoming University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings, who will be officially inaugurated Friday, said he envisions a few improvements for USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

LAC needs more courses, more programs, “that means better integration with the Portland-Gorham campus,” Cummings said.

The original tight-knit design of the former tennis courts-turned-college is great, Cummings said, “but what we’re hearing from the business community and nonprofits is we need larger access to the full programs at USM.”

That means “we need to offer a university, not a college,” Cummings said.

Asked what kind of additional courses the Lewiston college would see, Cummings said it could include business, health sciences, biology and humanity.

Another change LAC needs is more visibility in the community, Cummings said.

“We need to build stronger pipelines at Central Maine Community College, at Tree Street Youth Center, at Lewiston High School and Edward Little High School.”

That could mean more dual courses that count for high school and college credit, and more frequent visits of LAC faculty to the high schools.

Inaugural details

PORTLAND — The formal installation ceremony for Glenn Cummings, the 13th president of the University of Southern Maine, will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, on the Gorham campus.

It will include a processional led by a bagpiper, faculty garbed in academic regalia, a unique recognition of many of USM’s top students, special guests and musical performances by students from USM’s School of Music, according to a USM news release.

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.