Stockton University is losing a piece of its history.

Harvey Kesselman, 63, who was among the first students at Richard Stockton College in the 1970s and rose over a 35-year career there to become provost and executive vice president, is leaving to become president of the University of Southern Maine.

USM announced the appointment at a press conference this morning. He was chosen from among 80 applicants and will start July 1.

Kesselman said in a phone interview from Maine that he was recruited for the position and it seemed a perfect match.

“I will miss Stockton,” he said. “It is part of my identity. But this is a perfect time for me.”

USM is facing enrollment, retention and budgetary challenges. Those who know Kesselman said he is perfect for the job, citing initiatives he developed at Stockton, his energy and enthusiasm.

“He has an entrepreneurial vision,” said Peter Caporilli, a Stockton graduate who has been active in the Stockton Foundation. “His talents are what they need.”

As executive vice president, Kesselman was responsible for academic affairs. His move comes as Stockton prepares to open a new campus in Atlantic City.

Kesselman said he is confident that vice provost Susan Davenport, the deans and the faculty are prepared and can handle the challenges to come. He cited the cooperative nature of leadership at Stockton, and said it is something he plans to continue at USM.

Stockton president Herman Saatkamp said Wednesday that while it is hard to lose talented people, it is also an honor for Stockton that Kesselman was chosen and shows the college is a place where talented people are encouraged to grow.

“He has been a valued colleague,” Saatkamp said. “USM offers many opportunities for him and if anyone can help them it is Harvey.”

Saatkamp said a transition plan will be put in place at Stockton, with an interim provost during a national search that could take up to a year. He agreed that the dean and faculty are prepared and said it is likely there will be internal candidates for the provost position.

He said plans are already underway for a “soft” opening of the new Atlantic City campus with 20 to 30 summer courses starting July 1. He said the summer opening will give everyone a chance to see how the campus will operate.

Anne Pomeroy, president of the Stockton Federation of Teachers and a philosophy professor at Stockton said it has been a pleasure working with Harvey during her 15 years there.

She agreed that Kesselmans’s collaborative approach to leadership will contribute toward a smooth transition when he leaves. But, she said it is still a great loss to the campus, though an ideal challenge for Kesselman.

“It is the loss of someone at that level who is so tuned in to Stockton’s core and origins,” she said. “It is losing someone with historical memory. I think USM has chosen wisely, but I will miss him dearly, his energy, his enthusiasm and his optimism. It is like losing a member of the family.”

University of Maine Chancellor James Page, in comments announcing Kesselman’s appointment, said the search committee had listed five key tasks for the next president and Kesselman had already helped achieve them at Stockton.

During his tenure at Stockton Kesselman was a faculty member, dean of the School of Education, CEO of the Southern Regional Institute (SRI) and Educational Technology Training Center (ETTC); Interim Vice President for Administration and Finance; and Vice President for Student Affairs.

He served on the state College and Career Readiness Task Force, and as a member of the N.J. Higher Education Student Assistance Authority which oversees the state’s student financial aid program. He was active in the development of the NJSTARS community college scholarship program.

“His dedication to higher education and to the Stockton community over the years has made him a national figure in educational circles, and a Stockton icon,” Saatkamp said.

He added that Kesselman’s wife, Lynne, a teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School, will be an asset to his presidency. A reception for the couple is planned, but no specific date has been set.

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