Michael Laliberte, the recently named president of the University of Maine at Augusta, speaks in April at Randall Hall on the UMA campus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The newly hired president of the University of Maine at Augusta was asked to resign from another university after students and faculty took votes of no confidence in his leadership, citing concerns over his ability to manage budgets, his lack of transparency, his enablement of a “culture of disrespect and hostility” and several other issues.

Michael Laliberte stepped down as president of the State University of New York at Delhi on April 8, a day after it was publicly announced he would be the new leader of the University of Maine at Augusta.

University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy introduces new University of Maine at Augusta President Michael Laliberte at Randall Hall in April. Malloy knew of the no-confidence votes at Laliberte’s former school, the State University of New York at Delhi, before appointing him to lead UMA. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Laliberte was hired in Maine after an almost six-month search, spearheaded by a 14-member search committee and Storbeck Search, a consulting company that helps identify candidates for roles in higher education.

The chancellor of the University of Maine System, Dannel Malloy, and the chair of the search committee knew about the no-confidence votes before Laliberte was hired, according to spokesperson Margaret Nagle. Storbeck brought the information to the two people in February, before Laliberte’s final interviews.

Nagle said Malloy did not discuss the issues at SUNY Delhi with the search committee because “his only involvement with the committee was to hear their report and assessment” of the final four candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. He ultimately approved the appointment.

“The UMS board of trustees and Chancellor Dannel Malloy’s decision to appoint Laliberte was based on his noteworthy experience over a long career in higher education and overwhelming UMA community support from his on-campus interviews,” Nagle said.

Advertisement

With Laliberte set to start at UMA in August, some faculty members on campus said they are upset they were not informed of the allegations.

“We are a little perplexed. This is concerning news,” said Lisa Botshon, a professor of English at UMA. “There are two things concerning us (faculty). One, that the system left us in the dark, and didn’t give us the big picture of what was happening or the background of the candidate, and the other thing that’s concerning — the person they selected as a leader seems to have a very vexed reputation among other university communities he’d led.”

 

NO CONFIDENCE

Tension between Laliberte and the faculty at SUNY Delhi, which he led since 2016, began to escalate more than a year before the school senates took votes of no confidence in him.

In September 2020, the faculty and staff senate voted to have a committee investigate feedback about “a lack of accountability, lack of fiscal responsibility, lack of shared government, lack of communication, lack of ethical behavior, human safety concerns and human resource concerns.”

Advertisement

The committee was also asked to recommend strategies to address the issues.

As part of that process, members of the faculty’s governance group interviewed 65 people and drafted a report. On May 10, 2021, the SUNY Delhi College Senate created a Workplace Violence Statement in response to the findings.

During that time, there was a report filed with the New York Department of Labor that cited “four serious and two-non serious” alleged violations on campus from the Public Employee Safety and Health Act of 1980.

A Campus Effectiveness Taskforce composed of faculty, staff and administration, excluding Laliberte, began to address the issues raised in the report, but faced challenges that included staff resignations.

“It was a year of fixing the problem before the no-confidence vote,” said Ericka Ericson, a former professional staff member at SUNY Delhi and faculty senate member. “There was no movement (from the administration), and it was increasingly difficult to take action on anything with so much pushback from leadership.”

The votes of no confidence were given to Laliberte in October 2021 by the Faculty College Senate and the Delhi Student Senate, about a week after the faculty’s vote. In November, the faculty called for Laliberte’s resignation.

Advertisement

He did not resign until April 8, 2022, a day after officials publicly announced he had taken the position at UMA.

The letter addressed to SUNY Delhi Chancellor Jim Malatras gathered 100 signatures in four days, with all academic departments of the university represented.

The letter cites 13 specific complaints, including allegations that Laliberte was fiscally irresponsible over a five-year period by depleting the university’s $20 million cash balances by more than half from September 2018 to December 2020. Laliberte and his planning team also changed the budget and planning process so “there is less oversight and a decrease in transparency,” the letter claims.

Meanwhile, “ensuring sustainable budget planning, execution, and revenue growth consistent with a sustainable and achievable university vision and strategic plans that advance (the University of Maine System’s) overall mission and strategic plan” was identified as one of the top three priorities and expectations for the new UMA president, according to documents related to the search.

Ericson said SUNY Delhi staff members who signed the letter were worried about retaliation from the university.

“People were so nervous to put their names on it and were scared of retaliatory actions,” she said. “We were discussing heavily at the union meeting what it looks like and what the steps are to report it and solve it.”

Advertisement

Ericson said she left her job at SUNY Delhi because of the administration.

Neither Elizabeth Frisbee, the presider of the SUNY Delhi College Senate, nor did Monica Liddle, a professor at SUNY Delhi who presented the letter to the College Senate, responded to multiple attempts seeking comment.

Nagle, the UMaine spokesperson, said the university system received no information about the reported New York labor violation during the search for a new UMA president.

“President Laliberte reports now that the New York Department of Labor reviewed general HR practices at SUNY Delhi approximately one-and-a-half years ago and recommended updates to HR employee rights postings,” Nagle said, “but that the matter did not involve any findings about President Laliberte’s conduct in any way.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE AUGUSTA

Advertisement

Members of the UMA faculty said they feel they should have been told about the claims made against Laliberte, especially as they became involved in the presidential search by voting on which of the final four candidates they preferred and by participating in public forums.

Nagle said the member of the search committee who found out about the no-confidence vote before Laliberte visited campus for an interview was “was free to discuss the matter with President Laliberte or committee (members) during final interviews,” but it is unclear whether he did.

Staff and faculty members at UMA had not heard anything as of Thursday afternoon from the University of Maine System, although Nagle said in her statement to the Kennebec Journal that “the Chancellor’s office will discuss the matter with any UMA faculty who wishes to do so, and President Laliberte has himself offered to discuss the matter with UMA faculty.”

Most of the faculty members heard about the vote of no confidence via a news story published by The Daily Star of Oneonta, New York.

“Now, to get information we thought should have been public, it’s discouraging and very confusing about how important this information is with the vote of no confidence, or whether or not the (presidential search) committee was aware of this information, or just dismissed it or evaluated it and determined it to not be substantial. It feels like something we should have known,” said Lorien Lake-Corral, a sociology professor at UMA.

Storbeck Search, the consulting firm, was paid $70,000 for its role in supplying candidates for UMA president.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.