Stockton's acting president passes on Maine job, stays on to unravel Showboat campus mess

Associated Press

The acting president of Stockton University is giving up a university presidency in Maine to help unravel the New Jersey school's stalled deal to convert a former Atlantic City casino into a satellite campus.

Harvey Kesselman was named acting president on April 28, with the understanding he would leave Stockton to become president of the University of Southern Maine on July 1.

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But Stockton asked him to stay on indefinitely, and the University of Southern Maine agreed to release him from his contract.

Stockton is mired in a thus-far failed deal to convert the former Showboat casino into a satellite campus. President Herman Saatkamp, who engineered the deal, stepped down on medical leave last month.

"Stockton has been a part of me since its founding, and I cannot walk away now," Kesselman said. "With President Saatkamp on medical leave, the trustees felt they needed someone with thorough knowledge of the university, the region and the state to ensure continuity as we enter the next academic year and maintain our tradition of excellence in education."

Stockton bought the Showboat in December from Caesars Entertainment for $18 million. But a nearby casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, is enforcing a 1988 legal covenant prohibiting Showboat from being used as anything other than a casino hotel. Its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, fears students under the legal age of 21 will sneak into the Taj Mahal to gamble and drink, exposing the company to costly fines.

Saatkamp has said the university was aware of the restriction, but had been led to believe it had been resolved.

It had not, and the university has not said who made that assurance or when it was given. It has authorized an outside investigation of the Showboat purchase, even as it tries to get out of the deal, which Kesselman has termed "a mistake."

Stockton still does not have clear title to the building, which it has agreed to sell for $26 million to Glenn Straub, the new owner of the former Revel casino next door to the Showboat. That deal can be canceled until July 3.

Atlantic City's mayor recently convened a meeting of Stockton, Caesars and Trump Entertainment officials to try to resolve the situation; none of the participants would discuss the status of that effort on Wednesday, citing confidentiality agreements each had signed.

Kesselman told a state senate panel Stockton still wants to have a campus in Atlantic City, but probably at a different location.

James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said he understood Kesselman's need to remain where he is for now.

"Harvey Kesselman's long, capable service and dedication to Stockton University were among the qualities that made him such an appealing choice to join our leadership team in Maine," he said. "While we sincerely enjoyed getting to know Dr. Kesselman and looked forward to working together, we respect his decision and admire his devotion to Stockton. We wish Dr. Kesselman and the entire Stockton University community all the best."

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC