Pit Stop #22: University of New England

Our final stop before we headed home was a visit with NECHE Commissioner and University of New England (UNE) President James Herbert. With 1,600 miles of road behind us and the fabulous city of Portland as our last rest stop, we were able to meet James in his office on UNE’s Portland campus.

Alumni Hall UNE building
The iconic Alumni Hall in Portland built in 1834.

Biddeford is the other UNE campus and you’ll enjoy Betty’s pictures of both. Although the two campuses are less than thirty minutes apart, they are dramatically different both programmatically and in their look and feel (not to mention wildly opposite weather on the two consecutive days of our visit). The UNE campus at Biddeford is focused on the liberal arts and such, and is a residential wonderland, while the Portland campus is keenly focused on the health sciences and grad programs. A couple months back, I first met James in his office of the Biddeford campus overlooking the Gulf of Maine. All I can say is that he’s got the best view of any president we met on our road trip — by miles!

Yeah, I know.

The University of New England has a fascinating history, combining St. Francis College (Maine’s only medical school), and historic Westbrook College (originally a women’s college). When I asked James how the school managed to grab the name University of New England, he smiled and suggested that while it was an ambitious (if not outrageously bold) ideal at the start, they have since grown into it, with an enrollment of nearly 8,000, almost evenly split between undergraduate and graduate students.

women health students
At first I thought they were in Halloween costumes. But they’re dental students, carrying big TEETH!

UNE is Maine’s largest private college, has the state’s only medical school and Northern New England’s only dental school, one of only two pharmacy schools in Maine, and once they move their medical school to the Portland campus (UNE just received a lead gift of $30 million to make this happen), it will have the largest geographical concentration of health science programs on a single campus in all of New England. Boston included. The university also has a burgeoning marine sciences program at Biddeford and owns its own island where students can motor out and do research, then motor back in for their next class. Pretty impressive.

Campus center UNE
Beautiful new buildings in Biddeford look smart.

James and I both spent many years toiling in the City of Brotherly Love (that’s Philadelphia, of course). He came to University of New England just a bit over three years ago from Drexel University and doesn’t appear to have plans to return. All Presidents have to be their school’s biggest cheerleader, but it is obvious that James loves his university. He’s about as high-energy president as you’ll come across – a runner, extreme enthusiast, and obviously a guy who likes to get things done. One of his favorite traditions is dropping & doing push-ups when the home football team scores, one push-up for each point. He cannily decided against doing cumulative push-ups for the total score in case the team has a blow out, revealing that his passion is only exceeded by his intelligence.

UNE college seal

Listen to our spirited discussion about higher education and managing two campuses below:

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