From left, Jason King, chief compliance and ethics officer of the University of Texas System; Jennifer Cushman, chancellor of Penn State Beaver; University of Maine at Presque Isle President Raymond Rice; and Roxanne Gonzales-Walker, provost and vice president for academic affairs of New Mexico Highlands University are finalists for the position of University of Maine at Augusta president. Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine at Augusta president search committee

Four finalists will visit the University of Maine at Augusta’s two campuses next week as part of the renewed search for the institution’s next president.

A new search committee led by University of Maine System trustee Roger Katz has whittled down the search to four finalists: current University of Maine at Presque Isle President Raymond Rice; Jennifer Cushman, chancellor of Penn State Beaver; Roxanne Gonzales-Walker, provost and vice president for academic affairs of New Mexico Highlands University; and Jason King, chief compliance and ethics officer of the University of Texas System, Katz said in a press release Thursday.

The University of Maine System was forced to restart its search for the next president of UMA after the selected candidate, Michael Laliberte, withdrew from the job in May 2022.

Laliberte’s withdrawal followed revelations that he 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 Chancellor Dannel Malloy were aware of them.

In December, the system signed a deal with a new search firm, ZRG Partners LLC, and gave the company close control over how the search plays out and limits the role of the search committee made up of students, faculty members, trustees and community members.

Katz said the four candidates will meet next week with various members of the UMA community, and the search committee will reconvene April 5 to decide who they will recommend to Malloy, who will make the final selection.

Laliberte’s withdrawal from the position before his contract started has cost the university system $205,000 so far. As part of Laliberte’s departure he struck a deal with the system that guaranteed him the full payment of his three-year salary if he could not find other suitable employment.

In an interview Thursday, Katz said the search committee worked “really well together” and interviewed 10 semifinalists before selecting four. Katz has deep ties to Augusta and the UMA campus. He served as the city’s mayor 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.

Katz said he could not speak to how different this search process was compared to last year’s bungled one as he was not on that committee. However, Katz said he feels confident in the finalists selected.

“Each one of them is being fully vetted by our consultant in terms of background checks, reference checks, checks with other people,” he said. “We’re very confident that there’s not going to be anything which would cause a concern with whoever gets chosen. We are being very diligent about making sure that those background checks get fully completed.”

Each of the four candidates has extensive higher education leadership experiences, Katz said.

Rice, the likely most familiar face for the UMA community and current president of UMaine Presque Isle, has worked at the Aroostook County university since 1997. Rice worked his way up from assistant professor of English to the role of president and provost over the last two decades.

Under Rice’s leadership, UMaine Presque Isle’s student enrollment has continued to grow for six consecutive semesters, while the rest of the university system has struggled to recruit and retain students.

Gonzales, of New Mexico Highlands University, has held various leadership positions since 2007 when she was the dean of Park Distance Learning at Park University in Missouri.

She has been the dean of the College for Professional Studies at Regis University in Denver, Colo.; the president of Granite State College in Concord, NH; a higher education consultant; and the executive dean of Venango College at Pennsylvania Western University, Clarion.

Cushman, who is currently the chancellor of Penn State Beaver, has been the director of international and off-campus study at the College of Wooster, in Ohio; dean of international education at Juniata College, in Pennsylvania; and the campus dean at Ohio University Zanesville.

King, from the University of Texas System, is a licensed lawyer. He started his professional career with the Texas Ethics Commission, an agency focused on ethics, campaign finance and lobby law.

King has also worked for a law firm specializing in the representation of public entities throughout Texas. He has been with the University of Texas System since 2012 working in multiple capacities representing the system’s legal interests.

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...