AUGUSTA — The University of Maine at Augusta announced Thursday the hiring of Michael Laliberte as the college’s new president. 

Laliberte, 60, has been president for the past six years of State University of New York at Delhi. He said that as a first-generation college student, his parents emphasized the value in hard work and importance of dedication in education. That’s a message he hopes to instill in students at the university as well. 

“I am really grateful for my work in higher education and most importantly, I like working with students who are first-generation and help students on what they want to do,” Laliberte said in an interview. “I see it as a way to provide social mobility, like it provided for me and my family.”

Laliberte, who will start the job on Aug. 1, is being appointed UMA’s president after a nearly six-month-long national search. The announcement of his appointment was made Thursday afternoon by University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy in a ceremony at UMA’s fireside lodge. Malloy introduced Laliberte, who was joined at the announcement with his husband, Tom Pauken.

The search for the president started after UMA’s former president, Rebecca Wyke, resigned in August from the role to take a new job. UMA’s longtime provost, Joe Szakas, stepped up to serve as the interim president after Wyke’s departure and in late September, a 14-member committee was formed to search for new prospect.

Laliberte was chosen unanimously by the University of Maine System board of trustees and signed a three-year contract March 28. He will be paid an annual salary of $205,000. 

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University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy introduces new University of Maine at Augusta President Michael Laliberte on Thursday in the campus’ Randall Hall. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Laliberte said he was drawn to UMA and University of Maine System not only because the university is in “beautiful Maine,” but also because of how the university is innovative and accommodating for higher education students in Maine.

“The unified accreditation makes a huge difference in higher education,” he said. “The state is really being supported by higher education and through some of the initiatives proposed by the government, like the loan forgiveness model. I think it’s really innovative and something we all have to look at. These are ways to bring people to the state by also supporting economic growth in industries and economic growth in the state.”

Originally from Rhode Island, Laliberte said his parents worked to make sure he and his siblings could attend some form of higher education. His parents were first-generation high school graduates and his father worked in a textile mill while his mother worked as a telephone operator.

Laliberte received a doctoral degree in educational leadership in higher education from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, a master’s degree in college student development and counseling from Northeastern University in Boston, and a bachelor’s degree in human development, counseling and family studies from the University of Rhode Island. He also holds an advanced certificate of fundraising management from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

He has served since 2016 as president of SUNY Delhi, where he added 19 new degree programs and oversaw $42 million in capital projects, according to UMaine.

At UMA, he wants to emphasize on the “distanced model” the university has done for nearly 30 years.

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New University of Maine at Augusta President Michael Laliberte, left, and his husband, Tom Pauken, listen to a speech Thursday in Randall Hall on the University of Maine at Augusta campus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Through the university offering online courses, in addition to having centers across the state, the college can make obtaining a degree more accessible for a working person, Laliberte said. More than half the students at UMA are over age 25, according to UMaine.

The model is especially important, he said, for students who used the pandemic to “re-skill” themselves, switch careers or for those trying “to figure out the next step.”

“Now students are trying to balance work, and one of the things UMA is providing is they don’t have to come onto the campus, they can do school remotely, they can do it while working and traveling and taking care of family, and other instances because they can make it (school) fit in,” he said.

But coming back to Maine and New England, Laliberte said feels like a “full-circle moment.” When he was younger, he would spend summers in Old Orchard Beach with his family and later on, as an adult, frequently would go to Ogunquit.

Maine is a place he has “always wanted to live in” and is currently in the process of finding a home in the Augusta area with his husband. In around a year, their 21-year-old son, Paul Laliberte, will join them in Maine. Laliberte said his son is in the National Guard and in the process of finishing up a nursing degree.

“It’s really like a homecoming for us,” Laliberte said. “My son was born in Fall River (Massachusetts), we used to live in southern Massachusetts, and being back in New England really feels like being back home.”

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