The Randall Student Center is a hub of student activity at the University of Maine at Augusta. Employees have made assertions about a newly hired dean of students that highlight a lack of policy about reviewing negative information about finalists. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Some employees of the University of Maine at Augusta told administrators they lost faith in the integrity of search processes for senior officials in the state university system after the hiring of a new dean of students in the fall, according to a review of internal documents. 

University officials have continued to back the selection of Jennifer Davis as dean of students following assertions by unnamed staff members about her being “favored unjustly,” mischaracterizing her professional experience and not receiving the endorsement of the search committee. 

Employees also voiced concerns over the transparency of the search and process of reviewing negative information received about finalists. The remarks raise questions about what it means to have a fair, unbiased search when there is no concrete policy in place to follow, unlike with searches for certain higher-ranking positions or ones that involve consultants or executive recruitment firms.

The issues build on concerns from last year’s UMA presidential search, when faculty were enraged that Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the search committee chair did not disclose that the person they hired had received no-confidence votes by faculty at his former university. The situation cost up to $600,000 of public funds in a payout deal to Michael Laliberte, who agreed to step down before his contract started. 

Meanwhile, as the university is poised to announce a new president in the coming days, an effort is underway in the state Legislature to pressure officials to apply all policies governing hiring processes equally to all positions and to add oversight by an independent group. 


Davis’ role as dean of students was officially announced to the UMA community Sept. 28 following what Interim President Joseph Szakas described as “a successful nationwide search.”


About a week later, in an email sent to the chancellor and other top officials at the university system, an employee who claimed that Davis was their direct supervisor — and said they were shielding their identity out of fear of retaliation — called for an investigation into the hire.

A separate letter, which a university system spokesperson said had been slipped under the doors of UMA administrators, requested clarification about “how the final decision was reached.” The document, obtained by the Kennebec Journal through a Freedom of Access Act request, was anonymously signed by “UMA employees” who also wrote that they feared retaliation. 

“Other departments have echoed our sentiments and utilized the feedback forms to convey their reservations,” states the letter. “We feel as though it is possible that most feedback was not taken into consideration. It is blatantly obvious that she was favored unjustly only because she was an internal candidate. Our faith in the integrity of these search processes is lost.”

Three people with ties to the university departments Davis has worked in voiced similar claims separately to the Kennebec Journal and in written correspondence to administrators provided to the newspaper but said they did not know who sent the anonymous notes.

One person filed a formal grievance over the search, university officials confirmed.


Szakas has not addressed the concerns publicly, but wrote a memo to the chancellor in response to one of the messages saying “the search committee conducted a rigorous review of the finalists, including community feedback,” and had “identified no viable concerns.” 

Davis has been an adjunct faculty member at UMA since 2012. Prior to being hired as dean in September, she served as director of student support and development at the school’s Bangor campus for five years and interim conduct officer for less than one year. 

The other finalist, Shane Long, has been the assistant dean of students at the University of New England in Biddeford since 2021, and was the director of student conduct for more than four years before that. He also held administrative roles at Southern Maine Community College, including as its director of residence life and student involvement for more than three years, director of student development for eight years and enrollment advisor for over a year.

“I made the final decision and offered the Dean of Students position to the candidate that I felt was most qualified and demonstrated the best fit for this critical leadership position at UMA,” Szakas wrote in the Oct. 5 memo obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request. “As may be typical with some searches, there is the possibility that some UMA community members may be disappointed regarding the final selection.”

Szakas did not indicate whether the search committee had recommended Davis, and university spokespeople declined to comment on who the committee had backed, saying it was a confidential personnel issue.

“Other concerns raised in the anonymous communication are not germane to the integrity of the Dean of Student search and will be reviewed separately,” he wrote.


Brent Wooten, a UMA spokesperson, said Monday that the University of Maine System’s human resources office “conducted multiple reviews of the search process — at both the campus and System level — and found that there was no evidence of procedural violations during this search process.”

“There is no evidence that the successful candidate was favored unjustly by UMA officials over other candidates for the role, or that she misrepresented her qualifications for the position,” he added.

Szakas praised Davis’ performance during her first year in the role.

“I am very pleased with the strong leadership and experience that our Dean of Students, Jennifer Davis, has brought to UMA this academic year, as she continues to work hard with her team to plan and deliver engaging student success programs and services,” Szakas said in a statement Monday.

Nina Lavoie, the senior associate of general counsel for the UMaine System, said in January the university did not respond to the anonymous letters. 

Davis declined to comment for this story.



Faculty Union Representative Lisa Botshon and Faculty Senate Representative Cindy Dean were not aware of the assertions made against Davis, or the reaction from staff members over her hire. 

Though Botshon was not aware of the letters, after reviewing them, she said the staff’s distress over the hiring is “concerning.”

A sign hangs on the door at the Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Maine at Augusta in February. Staff Photo

In Szakas’ memo to Chancellor Malloy, he wrote that the process followed “the prescribed search protocol as outlined by UMS Human Resources.”

When asked for copies of such protocols, university system officials sent sections of its policy manual created by the board of trustees, a faculty handbook and UMA’s guide for recruiting faculty and staff. While there is a specific board policy outlining procedures for hiring a campus president, there is no specific guidance about hiring deans or reviewing negative information about finalists for any position.

According to the policy manual, the chancellor has the authority to set requirements for reviewing and approving decisions to “create and fill positions, appointments, and initial salaries and subsequent salary adjustments,” including for deans.


Malloy has not modified the procedures that have been in place since 2013, which discuss criteria for stipends and additional compensation for various roles but do not include a process for reviewing hiring decisions and appointments. 

The university system’s Office of Equal Opportunity hosts search committee briefings, which Szakas said the dean of students hiring committee attended. The presentation and “Faculty Search Guidelines” on its website discuss practices concerning diversity, equity and inclusion but do not contain codes of ethics, like the one a consulting firm provided for the presidential search that resulted in the hiring of Laliberte.  

In a review of hiring policies after Laliberte stepped down, officials recommended to the Board of Trustees that all executive searches that involve a search firm include a statement of integrity standards. That review also recommended that community feedback be considered in the final selection process, and that candidates for president and provost positions declare whether they have been subject to no-confidence votes.

“There has to be the checks and balances, and if (there is) negative feedback that is substantial about one candidate or another, that should be taken into account and fully verified and considered,” said one source close to the recent search for the dean of students. 

Szakas’ letter to Malloy spoke on the steps the committee took hiring Davis, which, consistent with UMA policy, included a first round of interviews in July and on-campus interviews for the two finalists that included staff, teachers and other members of the UMA community. The search committee reviewed feedback from the campus visits and compiled a list of “strengths and concerns” about both Davis and Long. 

The committee was co-chaired by Brenda McAleer, a UMA professor and Jonathan Henry, vice president of enrollment and marketing. The other members were state Sen. Chip Curry, director of the UMA Rockland Center; BJ Kitchin, executive director of academic services; Sheila Crowley, assistant to the dean of students; and Susan Baker, a faculty member. 



Experts said it can be difficult to ensure transparency, especially if there is no policy in place. 

“There is never full transparency with hiring; you have the search, and they hire candidates and generally, some of that process can be public and it’s not unusual for there to be an open forum to interview the candidate within the community. … There is not usually a prescribed policy how it goes,” said Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. 

Kruger said transparency in a search can also mean sharing information about the scope of how the position was advertised — if it was a local or nationwide search, as well as where the job ad was posted.

At other state university systems in New England, the University of New Hampshire and University of Massachusetts have outlined processes for hiring a dean and grappling with ethical concerns around internal candidates. At UNH, an additional background and resume check is required if an internal candidate takes a new position in the university within 180 days of their original hire. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a policy that says when there are internal candidates for a position, the search committee must “take great care not to engage in a false search, that is, a search with a predetermined outcome. Such a search is both unethical and violates federal laws.”

While new employees of the University of Maine System are subject to background checks, internal candidates who apply for a different position within the system are not subject to a second screening to validate their credentials.


“It is not university policy to conduct additional background checks upon a promotion,” said Wooten, the spokesperson for UMA.

The role of dean of students at UMA is a high-level position that falls under the president, the vice president of academic affairs and the provost, and works closely with student services. The position oversees student conduct, such as Title IX complaints and resolves student complaints. The dean of students also oversees athletics, student life and housing.

Davis is one of four deans at UMA — the other three are the dean of academic services and the College of Professional Studies, dean of the Bangor campus and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

UMA is the third-largest university in the UMaine system and enrolls around 4,500 students. Nearly 70% of students are online learners, whereas 30% attend the Augusta, Bangor and other UMA centers across the state.

Davis is stationed at the Bangor campus, where 7% of in-person UMA students attend, according to 2021 data.



A bill going through the state Legislature this session, L.D. 897, would require the university system to update its hiring practices, by eliminating non-disclosure agreements, applying all hiring policies equally to all positions and adding an independent review system. 

UMaine System officials called the bill a “gross overstep of the legislature.” 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, introduced the bill in 2021 before the UMA president search. It died after a legislative committee split on whether to support it, with a majority recommending its passage and the full Legislature later voting it down. Collings said he was told by system officials they would review its hiring policies and he said he reintroduced the bill this year to keep them to their word.

Samantha Warren, the director of government and community relations for the UMaine system, spoke on behalf of board of trustees Chair Tish Riley on March 15, in opposition to the bill. 

Quoting a statement from Riley, Warren said the trustees are “reviewing our personnel policies — including those pertaining to hiring and promotion — and assure they adequately provide fair, transparent and effective processes that include accountability and oversight.”

The final report will be presented at the trustees’ July meeting, a spokesperson said. 

“We think this bill ought not to pass,” Warren testified. “We think it’s a gross overstep of the legislature getting involved in the hiring and personnel policies of the university. (It’s) certainly not doing that for the community colleges, for Maine Maritime or any other state agency, but again, we are committed to providing that to you, because … the desire for more transparency and ensuring that things are consistent, the board shares.” 

Both Collings and a source close to the UMA dean of students search said they understand some parts of the search has to be private due to “personnel issues,” but Collings said it should be explained why a portion of the search is private, if that is the case. 

“It would be better off to say the University System will create concrete policies of operations on how to conduct searches that are fair, unbiased and without conflict of interest,” the source said. “That would hold water because personnel matters are confidential.”

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