Michael R. Laliberte, left, who was to become the president of the University of Maine at Augusta, shakes hands April 7 with Dannel P. Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine System, after being introduced at Randall Hall at the UMA campus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The University of Maine System chancellor was in the hot seat Thursday before a legislative committee, as members grilled the embattled leader over the recent search for a president of the Augusta campus that could result in a payout that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over three years.

UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the board of trustees chairperson Trish Riley were guests at the virtual meeting with the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, where one representative called the UMA presidential search the “most egregious” step ever made by the system.

The committee scheduled the meeting to ask about the system’s recent faults, such as three no-confidence votes against Malloy by faculty at different UMaine campuses, and how they plan to rebuild the trust of faculty and students. 

State Rep. Ed Crockett, D-Portland, a member of the committee, was the first to bring up the payout the University of Maine System agreed to with Michael Laliberte, who was hired this past spring to be the new president at UMA but then agreed to withdraw after it was revealed he was the subject of two votes of no confidence less than a year ago when he was president at the State University of New York at Delhi. The information about those no-confidence votes was not shared with the full UMA presidential search committee, though it was known and not considered credible by Malloy. As a result, faculty across the university system have held votes of no confidence in Malloy as chancellor and in the search process that led to Laliberte’s hiring.

After Laliberte stepped down from his position, the University of Maine System drafted a withdrawal contract that included a payout of $235,000, which includes a $205,000 salary and $30,000 housing stipend. He’s guaranteed to receive that amount this year, and could potentially be paid that amount for the next two years if he remains unemployed but meets conditions showing he’s sought a job. UMaine will also pay him the difference if he gets a new job that pays less than $235,000 during the next two years. 

“I’ve been in the fortunate and (unfortunate) position of negotiating payouts and the like, and I was frankly shocked, and appalled, to learn that the gentleman selected may get a payout for three years,” Crockett said. “It’s quite the common practice for an annual payout if you will, but anything beyond it, frankly, I’ve never seen before. … I think it was mishandled.” 


Trish Riley, chairperson of the University of Maine System board of trustees, addresses the state Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee over Zoom on Thursday. Screenshot via Zoom

Malloy said in response to Crockett that the decision to pay Laliberte for up to three years came from the “advice of counsel,” saying he “understands” Crockett’s feelings.

“This was not something that I designed. I want to be very clear: It was a legal decision by the leadership of the board,” Malloy said, adding that Laliberte was upfront with the search consultant, Storbeck Search, about his votes of no confidence. 

Earlier in the meeting, state Sen. David Woodsome, R-York, asked about the search as a whole and what went wrong.

“There was a recommendation made by the firm,” Malloy said, referring to Storbeck. He said Laliberte told Storbeck about his past vote of no confidence by faculty at the State University of New York at Delhi. If someone on the search committee  had raised the question “it would have been investigated and shared.”

Committee members did not ask any questions about the future of Sven Bartholomew, a UMaine trustee who led the search for UMA’s president on behalf of the board. Officials announced at the meeting that trustee member Roger Katz, a former Augusta legislator and mayor, would lead the next search for UMA president, which will begin in the fall. Joseph Szakas, vice president of academic affairs at UMA, will fill in for another year as interim president. 

Legislative committee members also brought up the faculty members at the University of Maine at Farmington who were recently laid off under a retrenchment process. Malloy said it was a decision made based on the budget at UMF, which has not been balanced since 2015.


State Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, also asked about the UMF’s interim president, Joseph McDonnell, who was hired without a formal search committee.

Malloy replied, “We were out of the cycle of the normal hiring process,” and that he did not go to UMF that day with the “assignment” to make McDonnell president, but rather to make a recommendation of having an interim president.

Ahead of the next search and for future candidate searches, Malloy said he will make recommendations based on a comprehensive review of the system recently performed for ongoing searches. System spokesperson Margaret Nagle said on Monday that the report and coinciding documents have not been released yet. 

Malloy brought up the UMA search as his first speaking point to lawmakers on the committee and spoke after Riley elaborated on how the system intends to rebuild trust with faculty members and students. They both highlighted areas the success Malloy brought to the system, like unified accreditation and keeping in-state tuition flat, like it has been for seven years. 

State Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, applauded the system for the work that has been done, but said he doesn’t understand why there is not officially a university system faculty member as part of the board of trustees.

“While we disagree with particulars of their (faculty) position on the board, we agree with you there is a need for more voices,” Riley said. “What we are going to experiment with is a faculty representative selected by each campus, to come to each meeting and sub-committee meeting and have a member at the table.” 

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