Retired at Last, and in a New President's Post Just Days Later

April Mulherin

Theodora J. Kalikow
September 03, 2012

Theodora (Theo) J. Kalikow, 71, retired recently from a longtime presidency at the University of Maine at Farmington. Just days after her position there ended this summer, Ms. Kalikow abandoned her retirement plans and took on another presidency, at the University of Southern Maine, where the resignation of an embattled leader left the institution in need of a new direction. Here's Ms. Kalikow's story, as told to Audrey Williams June.

I'd been president at the University of Maine at Farmington for 18 years. I wasn't ready to slow down, but I thought the university deserved a chance to have some new leadership. I'd already heard everything 15 times, and I'd already done everything I set out to do there. I announced about a year ago that I was going to retire. I gave away my books, the family china, and the silver. I gave away half my furniture that I wasn't going to need now that I wasn't going to be in the president's house. Then I retired to my house on the lake, not far from Farmington.

I was just going to have a nice life. I had been planning to do a little consulting for the University of Maine System after I retired. The system got a brand-new chancellor in March, James H. Page, and I scheduled a couple of meetings with him to get to know to him, and we batted around a couple of ideas. The next thing I knew, he said, "Would you like to be the president of Southern Maine?" And then the board voted on my coming to Southern Maine.

It's been totally berserk. It's like my head exploded. Everyone who asks me how I'm doing, I say, "I'm crazy." I started on July 10, and I'm still drinking from the fire hose. But it's OK. I've had a career already—I'm not building a career. At this point, I can do what I want. I can give back. I have a certain amount of social capital, and why not use it?

This university is a little bigger than where I was, but it's not qualitatively different. Portland is only about an hour and a half southeast of Farmington. It's the same state, the same system, and, after 18 years, I find that I know a heck of lot of people in Maine. The most important thing is they know me. I bring a reputation for forthrightness and fairness and experience.

I'm not in this for any selfish reasons. I'm not proving anything. I'm not looking for another job. What I'm trying to do is make this place the best that it can be and that, in some ways, it already is, or at least get it on the right path. As president you get a chance to build a team and to get everybody working to make the institution be what they think that it can be.

At 71, I think I need to take a little bit more care with the pace I keep on the job. But the good outweighs the bad. My preferred mode is to talk to people and gather information. People are telling me that they're grateful I'm here. I'm trying to inspire them to do their jobs. There's nothing I need to rush and change. I just want to show them that I'm paying attention to them and I care about the institution.