The man who recently stepped down as president of the University of Maine will be named as the president of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s newly formed Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s four regional colleges, 12 community colleges, and the Charter Oak State College.

Robert A. Kennedy, 64, will start out as the interim president of the Board of Regents in early September, but Malloy said he has a “very great hope that they’ll agree with this decision.”

The job pays an annual salary of $340,000, plus a performance bonus based on goals Kennedy and the Board of Regents will establish, Malloy said.

Kennedy stepped down in June after six years as president of the University of Maine and was to return to the university in 2012 to begin work on a systemwide curriculum on alternative energy, according to the Bangor Daily News.

But instead, Kennedy, said he will be moving to Connecticut to help move the state’s higher education system in a different direction.

“New direction and changes are good at times,” Kennedy said speaking about his decision to take the job in Connecticut.

Malloy said part of what attracted him to Kennedy was his ability to establish closer ties between the university’s curriculum and what the business community needs in its workforce. 

“I thought he had the right skill set and that certainly was part of it,” said Malloy.

Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said she was optimistic about Kennedy’s appointment because he’s someone with an “academic background.”

“I think college faculty and staff want to feel confident,” Willis said.

Kennedy has held positions at the University of Iowa, Washington State University, Ohio State University, the University of Maryland and Texas A & M University.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota where he grew up on the family farm, not far from Minneapolis. He has a doctorate in botany from the University of California, Berkeley and tended to his own garden at the UMaine, according to press reports.

He received some criticism according to Maine newspapers about his decision to focus more heavily on science, engineering, technology, and math than languages and the humanities.

He said he believes he found a “balance” as head of a public institution to serve the state, but he admitted “different people differ on their definition of what that correct balance is.”

He said he did move in a direction focused on science, technology, engineering, and math because he thinks it‘s something, aside from the classics most students need a foundation in. “I think it was the right move. It was highly respected by the legislature and the governor and highly supported by people across the state,” he said.

Kennedy is likely to face some skepticism amongst educators about the merger of the four year universities with the community colleges, and the online Charter Oak college.

Asked about how he will deal with the new role, Malloy stepped in front of Kennedy to answer the question.

“I think this appointment goes a long way towards addressing that system,” Malloy said. “I know a lot of other folks thought that there were other goals, nefarious or not, with respect to the combination of the system. Many people thought that I’d be looking for political hires and that sort of thing.”

“The quality of this candidate, the breadth of the experiences which he possess I think will go a long way to allaying what was a dramatic change. And change is very difficult particularly in the land of steady habits,” said Malloy.

“This is the kind of appointment I wanted to make from day one,” he added.

Malloy has the power to name a majority of the new board, but to date has only named six of the 15 board members, who will ultimately decided whether to hire Kennedy.

Malloy reorganized the institutions of higher learning into the Board of Regents to eliminate layers of management and administrative costs.

The budget assumes the merger will save $4.3 million a year and eliminates about 24 of the 200 central office employees.

Malloy said he was inspired to push up the appointment of Kennedy based on the poor decisions of the Community College Board, which will disband in January when the Board of Regents takes over.