Officials with the University of Maine System announced Sunday that Michael R. Laliberte, the recently named president of the University of Maine at Augusta, had withdrawn from the position. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — The University of Maine System’s recently announced plan to pay Michael R. Laliberte a $205,000 annual salary for up to three years is drawing outcry from some faculty members and their families, who are reeling from recent layoffs.

Meanwhile, at least one higher education expert has said the UMaine System’s three-year payment arrangement with Laliberte, who withdrew Sunday as the newly named president of the University of Maine at Augusta, is unusual.

Laliberte was to begin at UMA on Aug. 1.

UMaine System officials announced Laliberte had withdrawn as president of UMA, the third-largest public university in Maine, after it was revealed he was the subject of two votes of no confidence less than a year ago at the State University of New York at Delhi, where he was president, and that information about those no-confidence votes was not shared with the full UMA Presidential Search Committee.

Faculty members at four of the UMaine System campuses — UMA, the University of Maine at Farmington, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Machias — have recently voted no confidence in the bungled search and in Dannel P. Malloy, chancellor of the UMaine System.

Although five of the seven UMaine System schools face a collective budget deficit of almost $19 million, the system has agreed to pay Laliberte $205,000, his contracted salary, for the remainder of the year and for up to three years, if he is unable to find a job.


Victoria Cohen, whose husband, Jonathan Cohen, was laid off from UMF in early May, said she is furious the UMaine System has agreed to pay Laliberte up to $615,000 “for not working a single day,” yet UMF has cut nine faculty members through a process known as retrenchment. 

“That $615,000 is a whole heap of salaries,” Victoria Cohen said. “Why wouldn’t you do everything you can to keep the faculty members?”

Jonathan Cohen, a philosophy professor who worked at UMF for 30 years, was informed by email of his retrenchment. He declined to take the retirement package offered as part of the deal because he wanted to continue teaching. Cohen’s job was one of the humanities positions to be cut.

Victoria Cohen, also a professor at UMF, said her husband has received support from colleagues and former students. 

“The point is, nine people were fired — they can use the word retrenched; they were really fired — and they devoted themselves,” Victoria Cohen said. “My husband worked there for 30 years, and he’s told at the end of 30 years to close the door behind him. Where is the celebration for 30 years of service? And those who are tenured, they told them to go on their way, as Laliberte never stepped a day on campus.”

Margaret Nagle, spokesperson for the UMaine System, said a withdrawal contract for Laliberte is being finalized. 


The money to pay Laliberte is to come from the UMaine System reserves, which total about $10.5 million, according to Nagle.

Faculty members at Monday’s meeting of the UMaine System board of trustees also spoke to Laliberte’s withdrawal agreement, with James Cook, a sociology professor at UMA, calling it an “unfortunate cost to extricate ourselves from the disaster.”

Ellen Chaffee, a senior fellow and consultant for the Association of Governing Boards, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that counsels higher education administrators and board members, said context is everything regarding Laliberte’s pay. 

“In higher education, the market for presidents is almost entirely in the spring,” Chaffee said. “You want them to be there before the academic year, and to wrap up the other academic year. If you get a job as a president and don’t follow through, then you’re in limbo until you can find something for the remainder of the year.”

Chaffee said while it is unusual the UMaine System would pay up to three years of Laliberte’s contract, it is not unusual for a system to pay the remainder of one year. She said this is done frequently in higher education and other businesses.

She added it would not be in a university president’s best interest professionally to be unemployed for three years.


In a presentation Monday to the UMaine System board of trustees, Ryan Low, the chief financial officer for the system, explained the budget for fiscal 2023, saying every school within the UMaine System, except UMA and USM, is operating at a financial deficit, with a portion of the system’s budget not funded by state revenue. 

The total budget gap across the state’s other public universities — UMF, the University of Maine in Orono, the University of Maine at  Machias, the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Maine at Presque Isle — totals $18.8 million.

Low said Monday that UMF has a $3.1 million deficit, which grew by $2 million over the year due to a decline in enrollment. 

To address the deficit, Low said the UMaine System used $2 million in federal funding and transferred $3 million from the system’s stabilization funds. Originally, system officials planned to transfer $1.5 million in stabilization funds to UMF.

The next UMA presidential search is expected to launch this fall and, in the meantime, Joseph S. Szakas is to remain interim president, making $159,028 in base compensation as provost, plus a $27,500 stipend for the interim position. 

UMaine System officials have said they will not use Storbeck Search again as UMA looks for a new president. Storbeck is the Pennsylvania-based firm that identified Laliberte for the UMA presidency, and its contract with the UMaine System stipulates the system is allowed a free search for up to six months, if the candidate pulls out of the contract.

In the meantime, Victoria Cohen said there is “repair to be done” within the “broken” University of Maine System, especially given the faculty votes of no confidence in Malloy as UMaine System trustees are considering whether to renew his contract.

“At the heart of UMF are the professors, so you do everything you can to protect the professors and the programs,” Victoria Cohen said. “Without them, you don’t have an institution.”

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