By Elle Gigi
The most influential man in the Maine Community College System (MCCS), and one of the most influential advocates for our rights and needs, happens to be someone you, as a student, will probably never see or talk to. That person, for the last 4 years, was Derek Langhauser.
As the Maine Community College System’s president, his leadership positively affected every aspect of our student life. From tuition, facilities management and workforce development with regional and national companies to finding private investors for the MCCS and lobbying the State Legislature for appropriate funding, Langhauser saw the MCCS survive and grow through difficult times.
The Beacon was able to schedule an interview with President Langhauser, who spoke openly about the challenges and successes the Maine Community College System experienced while he was at the helm.
According to Derek Langhauser, during his tenure as President of the MCCS, he fought to “secure funding, retain authority and attract new leaders for the system.” Derek Langhauser landed the job of system president as a result of political bullying by then governor Paul LePage. As Langhauser transitions back to his love, the law, we should learn a little bit about what Derek has done for us, because, honestly, it has been profound.
“People were quite uncertain about how it was going to play out, but we not only ended up surviving, we actually ended up thriving.”
In 2015, Governor LePage used strong-arm tactics against prior MCCS President John Fitzsimmons by “flat funding” the system — meaning he refused to give the college the typical 3 percent annual increase to compensate for inflation. “What that translates into is about a six-and-a-half million dollar cut.” Additionally, the governor’s administration withheld about 1.5 million dollars by not allocating the money. In other words, “the system was about 8 million dollars in the hole.”
The MCCS was scrambling. Paul LePage was essentially extorting it. The board refused to fire President Fitzsimmons, seeing the requested change as a highly unnecessary challenge. But in order to keep the Maine Community College System up and running with as few hitches as possible, Fitzsimmons decided to retire.
It seemed so bleak. The LePage administration’s power-play was testing morale throughout the community-college system as financial uncertainties strained the mission of the MCCS.
Down 8 million dollars and a competent MCCS President, the board of trustees asked Mr. Langhauser if he would fill in as system president. Langhauser further explained that in the 13 months that he served as interim President, “We ended up winning 9 and a half million dollars. So that’s how the story ended. And it was not easy, because at the time my lobbyist had broken his leg and wasn’t able to do the work. … I was president, legal council and lobbyist for the system in 2015. It was a fairly challenging year.”
While students on all seven campuses of the MCCS were busy with classes, school life and work, Derek was there protecting and advocating for every one of them.
Mr. Langhauser definitely never expected to find himself as the MCCS President. As a kid, he wanted to grow up to become a teacher like his parents. Through amicability, skill, and happenstance, Mr. Langhauser was swept into the position of MCCS President.
Some basic background information about Derek Langhauser can be found with a quick Google search. He graduated from Bates College, then the University of Maine School of Law. He spent all of his time working as a lawyer prior to the MCCS president position — even serving as Special Counsel to Senator Olympia Snowe for 14 years — and spent 20 years as legal council for the MCCS before this turn of events. It’s interesting to see how valuable his adaptability has been to whoever he has worked with.
Around 24 years ago, on his very first day as the MCCS legal advisor, a friend gave him a tree as an office-warming present. That tree has thrived, and is now so large that when remodeling happened in his office, they had to renovate around the tree. There is more than could fit in this entire newspaper about what an interesting person and how personable Derek Langhauser happens to be. But all you really need to know is that he had our backs throughout his time with us. From keeping tuition rates low to keeping professors and instructors happy with their positions, and keeping the MCCS on target with its mission, Mr. Langhauser was unequivocally on our side.
Langhauser has kept the parts of the system that are working well, while modifying other aspects in order for the system to be as effective as possible. His bipartisanship, eloquence and legal mastery have set him up for his current position as Janet Mill’s Chief Legal Advisor. When he was little, he really wanted to be a teacher, but being flexible enabled the entire Community College System to thrive, helping where it was needed and not where it was enjoyable. He is moving back towards a position that is more suited to his particular interests. When speaking of his new position, it is obvious that he is quite happy and relieved to be returning to his first passion; Deservedly so.
The Beacon reached out to Kevin Sweeney, the chair of SMCC’s English Department, for his thoughts on Derek Langhauser’s tenure as system president. Professor Sweeney summed up Langhauser’s presidency this way: “Derek Langhauser reminds me of three people: Mariano Rivera, Nick Foles, who won the 2018 Super Bowl, and Aristotle. Like Rivera, he came into the game at a crucial time and saved us from losing. Like Foles, he came off the bench when the MCCS desperately needed a leader who knew the game plan and could perform under pressure. Like Aristotle, he understood the notion of practical wisdom and being a person of good character. In short, we who work or take courses in the MCCS owe him a lot.”
One could argue that Mr. Derek Langhauser’s life got sidetracked by the opportunity to lead the MCCS, or that he was exactly where he needed to be. Regardless of whether he was in the right place at the right time, or wrong place at the wrong time, we should all be grateful for the time he gave us. Thank you, Derek Langhauser.