Former NOAA head named to lead Maine Maritime

Dr. William J. Brennan will succeed Leonard Tyler as head of Maine Maritime. Brennan, who has a master’s degree in marine biology and a doctorate in ecology and environmental sciences, is considered an expert on marine environmental policy and maritime issues. (Courtesy Maine Maritime Academy)

Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) has selected Dr. William J. Brennan of Falmouth, Maine, to become its next president. He will succeed Leonard Tyler, who is stepping down after serving for nearly 15 years.

Brennan, who has spent his career working in marine and environmental policy matters at the regional, national and international level, was selected from a field of 50 candidates. He is expected to take office this spring.

Victoria Larson, chair of the academy’s board of trustees, said Brennan’s credentials dovetail well with MMA’s mission, given his “in-depth understanding of marine environmentalism, international maritime-based trade, and commercial fisheries.â€

Having served as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Brennan will be bringing an impressive amount of political expertise and practical experience to Maine Maritime.

He also will be bringing a personal touch based on long connections with the school and the town of Castine. His father, a member of the first graduating class in 1943, later served as commandant, equivalent to vice president today. Because of his father’s position at the school, Brennan grew up in Castine. Several uncles and a nephew are alumni, and his father-in-law served as the school doctor for many years.

“At this stage in my life and my career, I feel I have something valuable to offer,†Brennan said. “But in a sense I consider it payback time. I literally grew up on the campus … so for me this is not just about getting a new job. I consider Maine Maritime to be part of my heritage.â€

During Tyler’s tenure as president, MMA has built a reputation as a school that turns out highly trained graduates both for the merchant marine and marine-related industries. It was designated as one of the Northeast’s top baccalaureate colleges in the 2009 edition of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report. It maintains close ties with the commercial maritime industry and has a Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps unit. It offers both traditional regimented and non-regimented degrees and programs.

Nevertheless, Brennan believes MMA is somewhat undervalued by those outside of the maritime industry, especially in Maine and New England, and is hoping that his experience in both the public and private sectors can “provide some access and open some doors that will be beneficial to the academy over the years.â€

Academically, Brennan said, MMA will probably not change significantly.

The academy’s hands-on training program is its “hallmark,†Brennan said, noting that the academy has always offered humanities and science courses to help graduates succeed in a workplace that has grown increasingly complex. Many of the academy’s graduates, in fact, are finding they are qualified to work in non-marine industries.

One area that is high on Brennan’s list of priorities, however, is increasing the number of students who are women. Currently, 154 of the college’s 923 undergraduates are women.

“It would be good for the academy and good for Maine,†Brennan said.

Gary Randall

By Professional Mariner Staff