University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy (left) and chair of the board of trustees Trish Riley (right) attend the first board meeting of the new fiscal year in Belfast, July 11, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The University of Maine System is preparing for its pursuit of a new leader for its Augusta institution following a bungled search earlier this year that led to votes of no confidence in the system’s top official and the withdrawal of the man chosen for the job.

The university system so far has chosen a different member of its board of trustees to lead the search for a new president of the University of Maine at Augusta, but has yet to decide whether it will rely on an outside search firm to coordinate the process, according to Trish Riley, chair of the system’s board of trustees.

Trustee Roger Katz will chair the search committee, Riley said.

In choosing Katz, the system is relying on a trustee with deep ties to Augusta and UMA. An Augusta native, Katz served as mayor of the city from 2006 until 2010, when he was elected as a Republican state senator representing the area.

Katz ultimately served four terms in the state Senate, serving on the budget-writing appropriations committee and as chair of the government oversight committee. Gov. Janet Mills appointed him to the university system’s board of trustees last year.

Katz’s father, Bennett Katz, was a founder of UMA, and the library on the Augusta campus is named after him. UMA also has a campus in Bangor.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The University of Maine System was forced to restart its search for UMA’s next president after the system’s selected candidate, Michael Laliberte, withdrew from the job in May. He was set to start as president in August.

His withdrawal marked the culmination of revelations that Laliberte had been the subject of votes of no confidence at his previous institution in New York, and that those votes were never disclosed to the search committee, even though the committee’s chair and University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy were aware of them.

As part of Laliberte’s withdrawal, the university system could be on the hook to pay him his annual $205,000 salary and $30,000 housing allowance for the nearly three-year life of his contract, potentially amounting to nearly $700,000.

Interim president Joseph Szakas agreed to serve another year leading UMA.

Laliberte’s withdrawal prompted the board of trustees and Riley to restart the search and form a new committee, with the appointment of Katz as chair the first key step. Riley said the board is working to appoint a couple more trustees to the committee with the expectation that the new search would start by the end of the year.

The system relied on the executive search firm Storbeck Search to coordinate the last search. In the firm’s contract with the UMaine System, it offers to conduct another search for the position at no additional cost if the chosen candidate backs out.

However, the board of trustees has not yet determined whether it will rely on an outside firm in this next search for the UMA president, Riley said.

The botched search prompted outrage from across the university system, with faculty at three of the system’s seven universities casting votes of no confidence in Malloy’s leadership and professors at the other four issuing letters in support of their colleagues’ votes.

The board of trustees in July extended Malloy’s contract with the university system by one year. Over this year, Malloy will be held to specific objectives that the board will use to evaluate his performance.

Riley said she meets weekly with Malloy and has already seen some positive changes in how he leads the system. But she said the board has not yet decided on his future.

“It’s a personnel process, and we want to keep that confidential,” she said. “We’ll do an evaluation and make sure we get plenty of input before we make a final determination.”

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...