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The University of Maine was founded in 1865 as the State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. The Board of Trustees for the State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts met for the first time in Augusta on April 25, 1865. The board contained 16 members representing all the counties of the state. The first clerk of the board was S.L. Goodale. The first elected president of the board was Hannibal Hamlin (who served as vice U.S. president to Abraham Lincoln), and the first treasurer was Phinehas T. Barnes. The first executive committee of the board was also formed in 1865.

At a special meeting in 1897, the Board of Trustees approved the State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts changing its name to the University of Maine. The first president of the University of Maine, Board of Trustees was Henry Lord.

The University of Maine System was created in 1968 by the Maine State Legislature "to develop, maintain and support a cohesive structure of public higher education in the State of Maine...unifying the University of Maine, Gorham State College, Farmington State College, Aroostook State College, Washington State College and Fort Kent State College.". The formation of the University of Maine System meant the Board of Trustees, in consultation with the Chancellor, became responsible for governing and planning for the System as a whole.

The Board of Trustees oversees the University of Maine System in areas such as academic programs, faculty tenure, tuition rates, and operating budgets. The Board currently consists of 16 members, 15 of which are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Maine Legislature. The trustees are all volunteers. The Maine Commissioner of Education serves as a member ex officio. Members are appointed for a five-year term and may be reappointed once. A student member of the Board is appointed for a single two-year term. The Board meets at the different University of Maine campuses across the state. Each of the seven universities also has a Board of Visitors. Each Board of Visitors consist of up to 20 members recommended by the campus presidents and confirmed by the Board of Trustees.

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