ORONO, Maine — The search for a new University of Maine president is down to four finalists, who will visit the Orono campus in the coming weeks, according to University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude.

The finalists, who hail from as far as Alaska and as close as Old Town, will make separate visits to UMaine between Jan. 24 and Feb. 9 for meetings with various groups in the university community. They also will meet with Pattenaude.

“With these challenging times, it is essential to have an outstanding leader,” the chancellor said in a statement Tuesday. “The university provides superb educational opportunities, critical research and tremendous support for Maine businesses. Therefore it is imperative that we select an individual who is ready to move this great university forward.”

The finalists are:

• Donald J. Farish, Ph.D., J.D., who has been president of Rowan University in New Jersey since 1998. Farish, who holds degrees from the University of British Columbia, North Carolina State University, Harvard University and the University of Missouri, is the author of five biology textbooks. He held several teaching positions at various institutions before becoming a biology professor at Rowan in 1998.

• Paul W. Ferguson, Ph.D., who has worked at Southern Illinois University since 2006, most recently as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Ferguson has split his career between the private sector and higher education. As a toxicologist, he has worked for Unocal Corp. and Pennwalt Corp., both of California, and has written numerous articles and studies in the toxicology field. He holds degrees from Whittier College in California and the University of California at Davis.

• Daniel J. Julius, Ed.D., who has served as vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alaska System of Higher Education and also as a professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks since 2007. Julius previously held numerous administrative posts at higher education institutions throughout the United States. He holds degrees from Ohio State University and Columbia University and did additional course work at Cornell and Stanford universities. His expertise is in organizational research, business and education.

• James H. Page, Ph.D., who has worked since 1997 at the James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town, where he has served as principal and chief executive officer, chief operating officer, president and senior vice president. Page, who has been an adjunct philosophy professor at the University of Maine since 1998, has held several positions associated with UM. He is an energy, infrastructure and natural resources consultant. His firm’s clients have included the ConnectME Authority; Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a land holdings firm owned by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby; and UMaine’s DeepCWind Consortium. Page holds degrees from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, St. Andrews University in Scotland and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he did additional course work at Harvard University.

The presidential search process began last spring after current UMaine President Robert Kennedy announced his plans to step down in June 2011. Peggy Markson, a spokeswoman for UMS, said the position attracted 46 candidates, from whom eight candidates were chosen for face-to-face interviews.

The presidential search committee, which was headed by Eleanor Baker of Cape Elizabeth, a UMS trustee and alumna of UMaine and the University of Maine School of Law, was composed of trustees, faculty, students, other UM staff members and one at-large member of the public.

Baker said Tuesday that there was strong support among the committee members for all four candidates.

“I think we have an interesting combination of candidates,” Baker said. “We were very pleased with the experience and the quality of the applicants. The University of Maine community should be proud to have attracted them.”

One candidate will be presented to the UMS board of trustees for approval. The successful candidate is expected to take over in early July.

One factor that could influence UM’s administrative structure is Gov. Paul LePage, who called for administrative consolidation during the campaign for governor last year. LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt said Tuesday that the governor has not made any specific proposals to date.

“We think we should look everywhere to find efficiencies, but we don’t have anything in the works that could affect this kind of decision,” Demeritt said.

Information about the four candidates and itineraries for their campus visits can be found at www.umaine.edu/presidentsearch/finalists/.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.