Gov. Janet Mills arrives at a coffee shop during an informal walking tour Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Hallowell. Mills, who is seeking reelection, is being challenged by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

HALLOWELL, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills declined to say on Wednesday whether she had confidence in Maine’s embattled university system chancellor, adding that trustees will “do the right thing” as they consider renewing his contract.

Three university faculties have cast votes of no confidence in Chancellor Dannel Malloy since the system did not inform a search committee that the administration hired to be the University of Maine at Augusta president had faced a similar vote at his current job in New York.

Under an agreement with Michael Laliberte, the system may pay him nearly $600,000 even though he will not take the job. That came as the system also faced scrutiny for cutting faculty at the University of Maine at Farmington, citing budget shortfalls and dropping enrollment.

The Democratic governor, who is running for reelection against former Republican Gov. Paul LePage in November and was visiting businesses on Hallowell’s Water Street on Wednesday, said she was not pleased with the UMA presidential search or the recent cuts at the campus in her hometown of Farmington.

Mills said the system should market its smaller campuses more and said the failure to raise money that required it to dig into reserves was “not a happy circumstance.” But she declined to say whether she had faith in Malloy, adding that system trustees — most of whom she has appointed — would handle the situation correctly.

“It’s not my decision, it’s theirs,” she said.

The Augusta presidential search is another headache facing the system after it had to close a $18.8 million gap to balance its upcoming budget. Only two universities — the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Southern Maine — did not have to close budget gaps.

It is one of the few state agencies facing funding issues after Mills and the Maine Legislature approved a $1.2 billion surplus spending plan in April. That budget included $7.9 million for the university system to prevent tuition hikes during the upcoming school year on top of past increases in funding during earlier parts of Mills’ tenure in office.

In response to follow-up questions, Lindsay Crete, a spokesperson for the governor, nodded to the recent increases as a sign of state support for the system’s goals.

“The Governor and the Legislature have met virtually every ask of the University System throughout the budget process, and the Governor is confident that the UMS Board of Trustees will exercise its oversight authority with respect to the System’s budget and its shortfall,” she said.