Electing to teach
Richard Pattenaude (PhDPolSci’74) may be chancellor of the University of Maine System, but his first love is teaching — teaching political science, to be more precise. But he almost became an economist.
In 1968 Richard was a candidate for a doctorate in economics at CU when he was drafted. A stint in the Army changed his focus.
“While I was in Vietnam I found myself increasingly drawn to political science,” he says. “So when I returned to CU in the spring of 1971, I came back as a political science major in the political science department doctoral program.”
Richard has fond memories of professors Dennis Eckart, Horst Mewes and Conrad McBride. He wrote his dissertation on “the role of experts in organizational decision-making.” Richard found that engineers are everywhere, but politics ultimately drive decision-making.
“That has served me well to this day,” he says.
After stints at universities in Iowa, New York and Connecticut, Richard landed in Maine. He served as president of the University of Southern Maine for 16 years before becoming chancellor of the University of Maine System in 2007. At each post Richard served as an administrator and taught a course every year with just two exceptions — his first year at University of Southern Maine president and his first as chancellor of University of Maine.
“I taught as a provost, as a president, as a chancellor,” he says. “I keep in touch with what brought me. I do not mythologize the classroom as some wonderful place where magic happens. Magic does happen, but it’s hard work and I can have a more honest conversation with faculty.”
Richard will step down as chancellor in June 2012. He says he is proud of cutting the operating budget and having the lowest tuition hike in 10 years in 2011.
“We are a much healthier system than we were five years ago, and I feel real good about that,” he says.
And after decades of being in administration, Richard says he is looking forward to full-time teaching in 2013.
“I always thought I’d be a faculty member in a tweed coat, you know, Mr. Chips,” Richard says. “Now I’m the CEO of a $650 million corporation with 5,000 employees. It’s a long way from the emotional and intellectual things that brought me to higher education. So being a faculty member keeps me in touch with my roots.”