AUGUSTA, Maine — The parking lot was mostly empty Thursday at the University of Maine at Augusta. Classes have generally ended until the fall semester.
But that has not stopped the controversy that continues to swirl within the University of Maine System about the hiring and then negotiated withdrawal of a new campus president.
That controversy was front and center Thursday with the Legislature’s Education Committee.
The lawmakers wanted to hear from Chancellor Dannel Malloy and UMS Board of Trustees chair Trish Riley about the controversial hiring of Michael Laliberte to be the new president of UMA. His selection was announced in April, and soon after, UMA faculty revealed Laliberte had been the subject of “no confidence” votes at his current job at the State University of New York at Delhi.
That information apparently was not disclosed to UMS trustees before they voted ion Laliberte’s appointment. It also was not revealed to the general public.
The controversy grew after the trustees negotiated a withdrawal of Laliberte’s contract, but at a price.
They agreed to pay him an annual fee of $205,000 for up to three years, according to published reports, in exchange for him withdrawing from the job.
University leaders said the money would come from UMS surplus, and not from the UMA budget. But it comes at a time when several campuses are having financial problems, and the University of Maine at Farmington is seeing faculty layoffs as a result.
Malloy told lawmakers he takes responsibility for the problem but said most of the blame should go to the hired consultant, whom Malloy said ”misled him” about the situation.
“There were mistakes made and bad mistakes. An over-reliance on the consultant and the transfer of information from that consultant to the system was clearly broken, but I accept that responsibility,” Malloy said.
A spokesperson for the University of Maine System said Thursday that the SUNY no-confidence votes for Laliberte were known to the search consultant, the UMA search committee chair, and the chancellor, before the vote by the trustees to hire Laliberte. The spokeswoman said one other, unnamed, member of the search committee also knew.
But Trish Riley, newly elected chair of the board of trustees, told lawmakers she and other trustees did not now.
“We were not aware. There was a judgement made that the information about the no-confidence vote wasn’t consequential. It was the advice of the consultant, and that information wasn’t available and became available after the fact,” Riley said.
The full details of who knew of the situation in advance were not explained to the legislative committee. Several lawmakers commented they have been receiving messages from UMS faculty and others, saying the chancellor should be fired.
Whether that will happen will be decided next month.
Riley said the board of trustees has already started a performance review of Malloy because his four-year contract is due to expire at the end of this month. She added the board has decided to give him a short extension, and the full board will decide in July whether to renew his contract or look for a new chancellor.
Riley said a number of good things have happened during Malloy’s tenure, and both she and Malloy said it was unfortunate the controversy had overshadowed those things at the end of the school year.
But the controversy remains, as does faculty unhappiness, especially at UMF over staff cuts.
Riley said those were a result of years of the campus experiencing budget problems and declining enrollment, and that changes are needed. She said the trustees are starting a new strategic planning process and are committed to involving faculty in it.
As for the presidency of UMA, she and the chancellor said a new search will begin shortly. Faculty and others will be involved. Attorney, trustee and former Augusta state Sen. Roger Katz will lead the search effort.
Katz also has strong family connections to the Augusta campus, as his late father, Bennett Katz, was a leader in establishing and growing the school.