Roger Katz, shown in 2015 when he was a state senator, is leading the search committee charged with finding a new president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine’s public university system will turn to a new executive search firm to help it find a president for the University of Maine at Augusta, despite the system chancellor blaming overreliance on an outside search consultant for the previously failed presidential search.

The University of Maine System restarted its search for the next UMA president after a bungled search earlier this year led to votes of no confidence in the system’s top official, Chancellor Dannel Malloy, and the withdrawal of the man chosen for the job.

Now, the system is inking a deal with ZRG Partners LLC, a New Jersey-based executive search firm, to work with a new UMA presidential search committee that is led by trustee Roger Katz.

So far, the newly formed search committee has met twice, Katz said, and is already working closely with a ZRG representative who is assigned to the search.

The university system restarted its search for UMA’s next president after the selected candidate, Michael Laliberte, withdrew from the job in May. He was set to start as president in August.

His withdrawal followed 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 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.

The UMaine system chose to seek a different outside search firm even though the firm that coordinated the previous search offered to conduct another search for the position at no additional cost if the chosen candidate backed out.

A system spokesperson said information about the cost of the deal with ZRG Partners was unavailable because a contract is not yet finalized. A final contract is expected by the end of the week.

Katz said Tuesday that he and the rest of the search committee are committed to conducting as transparent a search as possible.

“There’s a commitment here to an entirely new search, so we’re starting from ground zero here,” he said. “We’ve already had two committee meetings, and every person involved from the committee, as well as our new consultant, is committed to making the entire process transparent and that’s part of my job as chair to make sure that happens.”

The names of people who apply for the position will be confidential, as well as the initial group of around 10 people who will be considered semifinalists, according to Katz.

Once a smaller group of finalists is selected, campus visits will be set up and their names will become public, Katz said.

“We will be as transparent as we can, recognizing the fact that at the beginning we need to protect the confidentiality of those applicants,” he said.

The University of Maine System has paid more than $1.1 million to executive search firms since 2011 to coordinate 13 searches for campus president positions as well as that of chancellor and chief human resources officer. That figure doesn’t include individual campuses’ spending on search firms, which universities have increasingly relied on in recent years.

The university system paid another $366,000 in 2020 and 2021 to a firm that supplies interim leaders for universities. That sum includes both the salary paid to the interim officer, the chief human resources officer and a fee to the firm, the Registry for College and University Presidents.

Last month, a team sent by the University of Maine System’s regional accreditor expressed concern about the system’s use of outside consultants. Similarly, Malloy earlier this year blamed the system’s overreliance on an outside firm for the initial bungled UMA president search.

“The consultant is an important part of the process — it’s standard operating procedures at universities around the country,” Katz said. “I didn’t participate in the last search. But all I can tell you is that there is an absolute commitment by everyone involved to complete transparency, about how the process is taking place, and how information gets shared.”

Similar to the last search, committee members signed an ethics agreement designed to protect the search’s integrity. The word “transparency” appears nowhere in this search’s code of ethics. However, the code emphasizes the search’s confidentiality, including a line that prohibits search committee members, except its chair, from speaking to the media.

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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...