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May 23, 2022

Newly named UMA president declines role amid flak over hiring process

Courtesy / University of Maine System Michael Laliberte has withdrawn from the role he was about to start as president of the University of Maine at Augusta.

The newly named president of the University of Maine at Augusta has withdrawn from the role before even starting it, as part of the fallout from the school's mishandling of information about his work experience.

Michael Laliberte received two votes of “no confidence” while previously serving as president at the State University of New York at Delhi. But the votes were not communicated to the entire search committee that vetted his hiring at UMA.

The 6,000-student university, which has campuses in Augusta and Bangor, last month announced that Laliberte would begin a three-year appointment on Aug. 1.

Under a voluntary agreement, Laliberte will not join UMA but will receive the $205,000 he would have gotten as salary in his first year as president. Over the following two years, Laliberte may receive additional pay for any amounts less than what he would have earned at UMA.

In October 2021, Laliberte received a vote of no confidence from the SUNY Delhi College Senate, followed the next month by a similar vote from the student senate. The College Senate records cited several concerns related to leadership, financial management, shared governance and an alleged "culture of disrespect and workplace violence."

Two members of the UMA search committee knew of the allegations and votes: University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the committee chair, Sven Bartholomew. But neither informed other committee members or faculty taking part in the search. 

“We all should have ensured that the entire UMA presidential search committee was fully informed, during the interview process, about the October 2021 SUNY Delhi College Senate vote of no-confidence. This was a mistake and has understandably caused a deep mistrust of the search process within the University of Maine at Augusta community. We regret this outcome, but believe that this resolution is the right decision for now,” Laliberte, Malloy and Bartholomew said in a joint statement over the weekend.

University of Maine System Board of Trustees Chair Mark Gardner also said, “We take responsibility for the lack of trust in the initial UMA presidential search process and will move forward to constitute a new search committee and seek new candidates with the guidance of a new search firm.

“We commit to a search process that is inclusive and transparent. It is critical that members of the University of Maine at Augusta and UMS communities have confidence in the integrity of the search process, and in the shared governance that must be the foundation of a successful search."

A new national search will be conducted for a UMA president, the school said. The interim president, Joe Szakas, will continue in that role until June 30, 2023. He stepped in last August when Rebecca Wyke, who had led the university since 2015, became CEO of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. 

The UMS trustees plan to review the UMA search process and make recommendations regarding future searches within the University of Maine System. 

“We accept the Chancellor’s accountability for the mistakes made in the UMA presidential search, and we are all committed to fostering confidence and trust from our faculty, staff, students and communities in future presidential searches. We thank the Chancellor for his leadership and accountability, and we look forward to working with him to ensure we conduct every presidential search in the future with the full confidence of the universities our presidents lead,” Gardner said.

Meanwhile, Malloy himself last week faced four votes of no confidence from the faculty at University of Maine at Farmington, UMA, the University of Southern Maine and University of Maine at Machias.

Established in 1968, the University of Maine System comprises Maine’s seven public universities, including 10 campuses and numerous satellite centers. UMS serves more than 30,000 students annually and has more than 5,000 faculty and staff.

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