Then-University of Maine President Robert Kennedy reacts to warm farewell wishes as he opens gifts from colleagues during a campus gathering at the Foster Center for Student Innovation on May 3, 2011. Kennedy, who recently died in his home state of Minnesota, stepped down as president the following month. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

A man described as a longtime champion for the University of Maine who led the university for six years has died.

Robert Kennedy, who served as president of the University of Maine from 2005 to 2011, died in his home state of Minnesota, UMaine’s current president, Joan Ferrini-Mundy, said Friday.

Kennedy worked at UMaine in Orono for 11 years, first serving as vice president and provost for four years. He then served as interim president before he was named the university’s president.

Under Kennedy, UMaine saw a wave of development, including the construction of the New Balance Student Recreation Center and the Foster Center for Student Innovation, the growth of the university’s offshore wind energy research program, and the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering.

Kennedy graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in 1968. After service in the U.S. Army, he earned a doctorate in botany from the University of California, Berkeley.

He began his teaching and research career in 1974 at the University of Iowa.

Kennedy came to UMaine in 2000 after eight years as vice president for research and associate provost for graduate studies at Texas A&M University. Before then, he was vice president for research at the University System of Maryland for three years.

In 2011, after Kennedy stepped down from UMaine, then-Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed Kennedy the interim president of the Connecticut Board of Regents of Higher Education. Malloy created the board that same year, consolidating four state universities, the state’s community college system and online college under a single umbrella.

Malloy now serves as the University of Maine System’s chancellor.

In an email to the UMaine community, Ferrini-Mundy described Kennedy as a champion for UMaine and said his legacy has shaped what the university is today.

“His leadership made a lasting impact and was part of our foundation in becoming an R1 research university,” she said.

The university’s R1 designation, which it received earlier this year from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, means that UMaine has had “very high research activity” in recent years. It’s a designation shared by less than 4 percent of post-secondary institutions in the U.S.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...