Michael Laliberte, the new president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine System

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

It’s human nature not to want to share bad news. However, it should also be well understood that bad news can’t be hidden forever.

The University of Maine System found this out the hard – and costly – way with a recently mishandled search and hiring of a new campus president.

The imperative now for system leadership is to ensure better transparency in its search and hiring practices by clarifying what information must be disclosed and shared more broadly with not only search committee members but also the public.

Last month, the system announced that it had hired Michael Laliberte to be the new president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Laliberte, the former president of the State University of New York at Delhi, was tapped by the UMS trustees after a national search.

Shortly after Laliberte was named to the post, the Bangor Daily News reported that he had been the subject of a no-confidence vote by the College Senate at SUNY Delhi in October 2021. Laliberte was criticized for his financial management and for creating a hostile environment at the campus he led since 2016.

After these revelations, Laliberte withdrew over the weekend as the new president of UMA, a job he was set to start in August. Under the terms of his contract, he will still be paid the annual salary of $205,000 for the first year and possibly two more if he does not find a comparable position.

Both the University of Maine System’s chancellor, Dannel Malloy, and the chair of the search committee, trustee Sven Bartholomew, were told in February about the no-confidence vote and dissatisfaction with Laliberte at SUNY Delhi. But neither Bartholomew nor Malloy, nor the consultant hired to help with the search, shared this information with the full 14-member search committee.

The BDN has reported that a second member of the search committee also knew of the no confidence votes against Laliberte but also did not speak up. This happened even though the members of the committee signed a code of ethics to “guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias, and distortion made through either emphasis or omission of information” and pledged “to be fair, accurate, honest, and responsible in my management of information.”

This was clearly wrong. Any, or all, of these people, including Laliberte himself could have, and should have, more broadly shared this information. Instead, Laliberte is out of job, although the university system will pay him at least $205,000, and Malloy is facing a growing no-confidence crisis of his own.

During an interview with the Bangor Daily News editorial board, Malloy repeatedly said that not disclosing the no confidence votes at Delhi was a mistake and that he takes responsibility for that mistake. It was also a mistake, he said, to rely on the advice of the consultant that the votes were a small matter and didn’t need to be shared.

The consultant Jim Sirianni of the firm Storbeck Search said that the allegations against Laliberte raised in the no-confidence vote were never proven. No-confidence votes in campus leaders are on the rise across the country.

As part of review of UMS hiring practices that Malloy has requested, new written policies will be developed to make it clear that any adverse information will be shared immediately. Both search committee members and candidates applying for UMS jobs need to be aware of this, Malloy said.

This debacle at UMA was a preventable mistake that may have lasting repercussions. However, trying to score political points from this fiasco is misplaced. Yet, the Maine Republican Party is trying to pin the blame for this mess on Gov. Janet Mills, saying that she “handpicked” Malloy, a former Democratic governor of Connecticut, for the chancellor post. This simply is not true.

Malloy, who was hired in May 2019, was picked for the position by a search committee chaired by then-system trustee Sam Collins, the brother of Sen. Susan Collins. The hiring of Malloy was unanimously approved by the university system board of trustees, most of whom were nominated by governors before Mills took office.

Malloy, who was governor of Connecticut from 2011 to 2018, said he met Mills only once, during a training session for new governors. He had no conversations with her regarding employment with the University of Maine System. Gov. Mills’ office also said she had no conversations with Malloy about the chancellorship.

The failure to disclose Laliberte’s full record was a big mistake. Chancellor Malloy has admitted that – repeatedly. And, he’s put measures in place to avoid similar mistakes in the future. The damage, and its financial costs, can’t be undone.

The resolution is likely unsatisfying to everyone.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...