Michael Laliberte will become president of the University of Maine at Augusta in August. The chair of the search committee that recommended him as a finalist didn't inform other committee members that faculty members and students at Laliberte's current institution cast votes of no confidence in his leadership. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine System

The chair of the 14-member committee tasked with choosing finalists to serve as the University of Maine at Augusta’s next president didn’t tell the group that professors, staff and students at one finalist’s current college had called on him to resign and held votes of no confidence in his leadership.

The University of Maine System then hired that finalist for the job leading the 4,000-student university with campuses in Augusta and Bangor.

The search committee chair didn’t inform other committee members of the no-confidence vote although all members had signed an agreement stating they would not omit relevant information from the search process.

Michael Laliberte will become UMA’s president on Aug. 1, about 10 months after the College Senate and student government at the institution he’s led since 2016, the State University of New York at Delhi, cast votes of no confidence in his leadership.

The vote came after at least 100 faculty and staff members signed a letter to New York’s state university system chancellor saying Laliberte had been fiscally irresponsible and that he and his leadership team had “enabled a culture of disrespect and hostility.”

Sven Bartholomew, a University of Maine System trustee who chaired the UMA presidential search committee, learned of the no-confidence vote from a consultant the University of Maine System hired to assist in the presidential search, Jim Sirianni of the firm Storbeck Search. However, Bartholomew didn’t share the information with other committee members, university system spokesperson Margaret Nagle confirmed.

All committee members signed a pledge, called a code of ethics, stating they would, “guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias, and distortion made through either emphasis or omission of information.” Committee members also pledged “to be fair, accurate, honest, and responsible in my management of information.”

The Bangor Daily News obtained a copy of the pledge after requesting it from the University of Maine System. Committee members reached by the BDN referred questions to Bartholomew. Nagle on Friday declined to answer specific questions about what information Bartholomew was obligated to share with fellow committee members and declined to make him available for an interview.

She referred the BDN to a statement University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy issued Friday acknowledging that faculty senate votes of no confidence in college presidents are “a serious matter,” and that the search committee should have known about the vote against Laliberte.

On Saturday, after this story was posted, Malloy issued another statement saying Bartholomew “did not intentionally withhold” information about the faculty no-confidence vote from search committee members.

Instead, according to Malloy, Bartholomew relied on guidance from Sirianni about the no-confidence vote. Under that guidance, “it was understood that it was up to Mr. Sirianni or the candidate to bring the matter to the attention of the full search committee.”

Like Malloy, Bartholomew “regrets that the information was not shared with the full search committee and believes that it should have been,” the chancellor said.

While Bartholomew didn’t share that information with other committee members, a second member of the committee was aware but would have had to violate the committee members’ code of ethics to share that information broadly with the committee.

Under the code, committee members were obligated to first bring “reports of concern” about candidates to the chair “in order to allow for checks on their accuracy before sharing widely.”

Nagle has said the consultant helping with the search investigated the allegations behind the no-confidence vote before the search committee completed its recommendations for finalists.

That review turned up more “information and context” that the SUNY Delhi College Senate’s meeting minutes about the no-confidence vote and news reports in New York about it didn’t include, Nagle said.

However, the University of Maine System cannot share that specific information as it is confidential, Nagle said.

In voicing their displeasure with Laliberte’s leadership, faculty and staff members wrote that SUNY Delhi’s cash reserves of $20 million “were depleted” by more than 50 percent during Laliberte’s tenure, that Laliberte and his leadership team changed budgeting procedures to reduce oversight and transparency, and that a campus climate survey reflected the “culture of disrespect and hostility.”

Through the consultant’s check, the University of Maine System “learned that none of the faculty allegations referenced in the no-confidence vote materials were ever proven, and a specific reference check from someone directly involved with the SUNY Delhi faculty strongly supported President Laliberte’s leadership and integrity and provided credible information that the motivations for the faculty action were not well-founded,” Nagle said.

Malloy, the system chancellor, said Friday that he was sorry he didn’t ask that the search committee be informed of the no-confidence vote. However, the chancellor and other system leaders typically aren’t involved in presidential searches until the final stages, when the chancellor chooses the final candidate to recommend to trustees.

“The Chancellor and UMS leadership do not manage or get involved in the presidential search committee’s review and consideration of candidates,” Nagle said earlier this week. “The Chancellor did not discuss the matter with the search committee, as his only involvement with the committee was to hear their report of each final candidate’s strengths and weaknesses during a meeting on March 2.”

Malloy said Friday that he welcomed the UMA faculty senate to review the matter with Laliberte and that the chancellor would make himself available to hear faculty concerns. However, he reiterated his support for Laliberte.

“I moved forward with recommending Michael Laliberte’s appointment only after carefully reviewing the matter and concluding that the SUNY faculty concerns against President Laliberte were unfounded, and I am committed now to maintaining trust with the UMA faculty to ensure his and UMA’s success going forward,” he said.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...