Michael Laliberte, a man with short gray hair wearing a suit and red tie, is pictured in front of a natural-looking background.
Michael Laliberte, former president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine System

The University of Maine System has paid more than $200,000 to a man who has never worked for the state’s public university system. 

To date, the University of Maine System has shelled out $205,000 to Michael Laliberte, who was selected to be the next president of the University of Maine at Augusta before he withdrew from his contract last May, according to Tory Ryden, a spokesperson for the system. If Laliberte doesn’t secure another job, the University of Maine System could be on the hook for nearly $600,000 at a time when the system is strapped for cash.

System officials won’t say how they are holding Laliberte accountable for finding a new job to offset the cost of his salary, which the university system agreed to pay. 

Laliberte voluntarily withdrew from his appointment to lead the university system’s third-largest institution after neither he nor top system officials disclosed to the committee leading the search that faculty and staff at Laliberte’s current institution in New York cast a vote of no confidence in his leadership last year

university of maine system budget woes

The lack of that disclosure has since spurred no-confidence votes in the leadership of university system Chancellor Dannel Malloy from faculty at three Maine campuses, with staff on other campuses registering their support for those votes. 

Under an agreement Laliberte reached with Maine’s university system, he will receive his full  $205,000 salary for what would have been the first year of his appointment. After that, as long as Laliberte seeks employment or is employed, the university system will compensate him the difference to ensure he earns at least $205,000 annually.

The University of Maine System’s agreement with Laliberte — to pay his full salary despite stepping down from the position before he even started — is an exceptionally rare move in higher education, according to Judith Wilde, a researcher who has studied the hiring of higher education administrators for more than a decade.

If Laliberte had served his full 35-month contract as UMA president, he would have collected almost $598,000.

university leader under pressure

But system officials did not provide details as to how the University of Maine System is tracking and holding Laliberte accountable for his end of the deal valued at more than half-a-million dollars. 

“The University also has a clear process for regular communications with Dr. Laliberte to confirm that he is meeting his obligations to seek employment,” Ryden said. “However, we cannot comment on his specific activities or his progress at this particular time.”

At the end of last year, the University of Maine System kicked off a renewed search for the next UMA president, this time chaired by a different trustee — Roger Katz

For this search, the university system partnered with another search firm, ZRG Partners, to help the search committee with its work, despite Malloy blaming the system’s “overreliance” on an outside search firm for missteps in the previous UMA president search.

The University of Maine System is paying ZRG $68,000 to work on the new search, according to their agreement with the company. 

Avatar photo

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...