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Malloy, UMS Board of Trustees chair address controversies during education committee meeting

A decision about University of Maine System (UMS) Chancellor Dannel Malloy’s contract will come at a July 11 meeting of the system’s board of trustees. That information was shared by Trish Riley, chair of the UMS Board of Trustees, during a June 16 meeting of the Mane Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

Riley also revealed that Malloy’s contract, set to expire on June 30, has been extended several weeks to allow time for that decision to be made. 

Both Riley and Malloy addressed recent controversies surrounding retrenchment at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), the withdrawal of incoming University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) president Michael Laliberte following the revelation the university at which he previously served as president voted no confidence in his leadership, and subsequent votes of no confidence taken against Malloy by faculty at numerous UMS schools.

In May, faculty from four universities within the UMS–UMA, UMF, the University of Southern Maine, and the University of Maine at Machias–all approved votes of no confidence in Malloy’s leadership.

Addressing the controversies, Malloy told legislators that “mistakes were made, particularly around the UMA search.”

“The overreliance on the services provided by an outside consultant led to bad decision making. Because I believe people should be held accountable, I have accepted that obligation,” said Malloy.

Malloy referenced “overreliance” on Storbeck Search, the consultant firm UMS contracted with for the purpose of the presidential search, multiple times during the committee meeting. 

Malloy and Sven Bartholomew, chair of the presidential search committee, were aware of the no confidence vote taken against Laliberte and withheld that information from the broader committee. Malloy has said Storbeck Search told him charges related to the no confidence vote in Laliberte had been investigated and had not been substantiated.

“We beg to differ with the chancellor’s understanding about the advice he received from our firm,” Storbeck Managing Director Shelly Weiss Storbeck told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It is always our policy to present all relevant information to the hiring authority and the search-committee chair, which in this case was shared with the client in February. We leave it up to the client to determine how and when to share sensitive information before selecting a final candidate.”

Malloy said he will be making a series of recommendations to the UMS Board of Trustees about how to improve future hiring searches for positions such as university presidents and provosts.

During Thursday’s hearing, both Riley and Malloy also talked about broader challenges the UMS is facing. Riley noted that system-wide enrollment is down 11 percent over the past decade. Enrollment at the school’s Orono campus has increased nine percent, but other campuses have seen double-digit decreases in enrollment, a demographic shift Riley said is “only getting more dramatic.”

Also discussed were the difficulties facing UMF. According to Malloy, one of the challenges of the Farmington campus, which the chancellor said has seen a “marked decline in full-time equivalent population over a number of years,” is that it is one of few universities with a four credit-hour program. Malloy said this is an impediment to students entering the university and to those who wish to transfer into a program. 

Malloy said UMF faculty have agreed to move to a three credit-hour program. He also said that recent retrenchment at UMF, which left nine faculty members without jobs, will not affect students’ ability to graduate from their programs.

Malloy further said that the university is making arrangements for affected students to forward students to other universities and programs to complete their degrees, but that this plan might rely on UMS’ regional accreditors to approve it.

Multiple legislators mentioned the possibility of meeting with UMS officials in the near future to discuss accreditation.

Also discussed was the news that Laliberte’s decision to withdraw from his UMA contract will result in the university paying him $205,000 for the salary he would have earned in his first year, and may result in additional payments for two more years if he fails to find employment. 

Riley called it a “painful situation to be paying out for a mistake at the same time we’re reducing expenditures and faculty at another campus,” but said the university was not in a strong legal position to avoid the payout, which was written into the contract.

Malloy also noted the situation was a legal one and said he understood the driving belief behind the payout was that it was a way to limit legal costs that would have been incurred from disputing the contract.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include comment from Storbeck Search.