PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Southern Maine presidential search committee will forward the names of two candidates to the system chancellor after a third finalist dropped out of the running.

The University of Maine system announced Friday morning the committee will ask Chancellor James Page to offer the USM presidency either to former Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings or Harvey Kesselman, provost and executive vice president of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

A third finalist for the position, West Virginia University business college Dean Jose “Zito” Sartarelli, withdrew his name from the search process.

System trustee Jim Erwin served as chairman of the USM presidential search committee, which started meeting in late September.

“I think it’s fair to say it was a big field. We had about 80 candidates,” Erwin told the Bangor Daily News by phone Friday morning. “Within that 80, there was a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and it was a pool from which we were able to find a strong group of finalists.

“The chancellor was definitely expecting [the committee to leave him] a choice,” he continued. “Board policy for presidential searches calls for three or four candidates to be presented to the chancellor. What happened in this case was that we had three, and one of them withdrew after the campus visits. We felt the two remaining candidates were strong enough that it was not necessary to go out and find another third candidate to forward to the chancellor.”

Whichever of the two remaining finalists is chosen for the job will become the school’s fourth president since 2012, taking over for former Central Maine Power Co. CEO and acting President David Flanagan. The next USM president also will inherit a university less than a year removed from the controversial eliminations of 51 faculty positions and five academic programs, moves Flanagan said were necessary to overcome a $16 million budget shortfall but were passionately opposed by many professors and students.

Kesselman has worked at The Richard Stockton College since 1979, holding a wide variety of positions, including senior level positions overseeing finance, student affairs, administration, institutional research and education. He also has maintained a position on the faculty for more than three decades and still teaches courses at the school.

Cummings is the acting president at the University of Maine at Augusta and previously served as executive director of the Good Will-Hinckley school in Fairfield and as a deputy assistant secretary in President Barack Obama’s U.S. Department of Education.

Sartarelli boasted more than three decades of experience, working for major international pharmaceutical companies, and said he could introduce USM to more big donors and better recruitment opportunities abroad. But after visiting the school earlier this month, he decided to back out of the running.

During an open meeting with faculty at USM’s Portland campus, Sartarelli said he wouldn’t take the job if he felt the system office wouldn’t leave him with control over the university-level budget. The system’s central administration is exploring a plan to take more control over the individual budgets of the system’s seven universities.

“I did talk to him after [he withdrew] and thanked him for his participation,” Erwin said. “I think the campus responded well to him. … It’s my understanding that he just felt that this wasn’t the opportunity for him, and that’s the right of any candidate. After they get further along in the process, they might find it’s just not where they see themselves.”

According to a University of Maine System news release Friday, Page will “conduct additional diligence with the candidates and members of the USM community with the expectation of providing his recommendation to the board of trustees in March.”

The next president of the university is expected to be named in time to be on campus by July, which is the start of the next fiscal year.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.