University of Maine
No-confidence votes are adding up in the University of Maine system, where leadership withheld information about Michael Laliberte in the search leading to his hiring as the next president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Now Dannel Malloy, the embattled chancellor blamed for the breakdown of transparency, is promising a prompt review of search policies and procedures.
Laliberte was himself the subject of two no-confidence votes during his presidency at the State University of New York at Delhi, where faculty expressed concerns about his leadership style.
Malloy and trustee Sven Bartholomew, both members of the search committee that hired Laliberte last month, knew about the no-confidence votes and opted not to share that information with the rest of the board. Now the Faculty Senate at the Augusta campus has declared no confidence in both the search—which it wants to begin anew—and the leadership of the chancellor. The vote at Augusta prompted a similar move against Malloy at the University of Southern Maine, where the Faculty Senate also cast a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Malloy has since promised to “restore confidence” in his leadership following the Laliberte fallout. And while the missteps in the presidential search triggered the no-confidence votes, faculty members note that their issues with Malloy’s leadership stretch well beyond a single incident.
Three Votes and a Sit-In
Three votes of no confidence have been cast across the University of Maine system in recent days. The first two came from the Faculty Senate at the University of Maine at Augusta on May 11. One declared the UMA presidential search a failure and requested that it be conducted again.
“Omissions from the Chancellor and a member of Board of Trustees have compromised the integrity of the search and damaged the reputation of UMA and the University of Maine System,” declared a Faculty Senate resolution that was reportedly approved by an overwhelming majority.
Others in the system share those sentiments, arguing that the search was a failure based on the lack of transparency, which some say will harm the new president at the Augusta campus.
“They basically invalidated the search and gave this new president shackles before he starts, because of the decision of the trustee who was the chair of the committee and then Malloy’s decision to make sure that the [search] committee never dealt with those no-confidence votes,” James McClymer, president of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine and a professor at the University of Maine’s main campus in Orono, told Inside Higher Ed.
The second no-confidence vote at UMA is more damning. It accuses Malloy of focusing more on protecting his reputation amid the search debacle than on the integrity of the process itself. It charges Malloy with stripping autonomy from individual universities in an effort to centralize leadership across the seven universities in the Maine system and undermining the institution by diverting attention and resources away from its higher education mission.
Beyond those no-confidence votes, students at the University of Maine at Farmington occupied an administrative building in a 24-hour sit-in last week to protest the system’s elimination of nine faculty positions. Some UMF students also demanded that Malloy resign.
A third no-confidence vote followed, this one at the University of Southern Maine, raising some of the same issues and focusing on Malloy’s alleged failure of leadership. But the USM document outlining the reasons for the no-confidence vote goes beyond those, charging him with allowing philanthropic organizations to dictate curriculum, sidestepping faculty input, making unwise investments, ignoring labor agreements and ramrodding through an unusual unified accreditation model in which all seven campuses are accredited together, not individually.
Faculty leaders at the University of Southern Maine said the vote was cast in solidarity.
“We felt that we needed to respond to what had happened at Farmington and at Augusta,” said Shelton Waldrep, an English professor and chair of the Faculty Senate at USM. “We could have taken other routes—we could have simply responded to those two actions, not said something about the chancellor, but it was clear from the conversation in the Senate that senators were distressed and felt that they needed to take a very strong stand, not just on what happened in Farmington and Augusta, but also in terms of the leadership of the system.”
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Malloy acknowledged that it was a mistake not to disclose the previous no-confidence votes in Laliberte during the search process.
Malloy added that Storbeck Search, the firm that facilitated the search, advised him and Bartholomew against discussing the no-confidence votes with the broader committee—advice he said he shouldn’t have taken and an error he takes responsibility for.
Going forward, Malloy said president and provost candidates will be required to provide information about whether they’ve been the subject of a no-confidence vote. Beyond that change, the system is “working as quickly as possible on a review of our hiring and human resources policies,” Malloy wrote.
Malloy said the system will also “undertake an immediate review of all UMS policies that apply to the conduct of employment searches and report within 30 days with recommendations as to whether changes should be made to any policies to ensure that UMS applies and is following best practices regarding employment searches and that all relevant information about applicants for employment is available to be carefully considered by those charged with responsibility for vetting candidates and making recommendations to a UMS hiring manager or authority.”
Malloy also noted that he continues to have “constructive conversations about how to improve our universities and prepare them to work better together to meet the challenges in higher education today. I’m committed to the work I have to do, and I believe our university leaders and faculty will move forward collaboratively with me in that effort.”
Certain faculty members suggest that conversations with Malloy have never been constructive. They accuse Malloy—a former Democratic governor of Connecticut who lacked experience in higher education before taking the helm at the University of Maine system—of operating with a lack of communication, transparency and respect for shared governance. They describe him as largely dismissive of the no-confidence votes in his public statements.
“Basically, he continued his methodology of belittling those who raised concerns,” McClymer said. “He essentially redefines their questions and their issues as they need assurance, that they’re anxious. That’s a common theme—if you have any questions or concerns, you just are afraid of change, and you’re anxious; you don’t understand. And that avoids legitimate discussion.”
So how will Malloy build trust with a faculty that has cast two votes of no confidence against him?
“One day at a time. By listening, by fostering communication and transparency, by demonstrating through my actions my commitment to the university system and the students we serve,” Malloy wrote to Inside Higher Ed. “Changing how our universities work together is not easy work, but I believe that our shared values and dedication to public higher education provides us with the foundation that we need to make sure the University of Maine System and our seven universities and law school continue to provide students with pathways toward success.”
Experts from outside the University of Maine system note the same things as the critics within—a glaring lack of transparency in a search that ultimately created unnecessary issues. They suggest that withholding information from the broader search committee was a mistake.
“I would always encourage them to share with the search committee,” said Sally Mason, a senior consultant and senior fellow for AGB Consulting. “The information is out there. And what you really need to do is try and verify just how accurate the information that you’re receiving is. And the only way you can do that is to be open and be transparent and to ask questions.”
Armand Alacbay, vice president of trustee and government affairs for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, offered a similar perspective on the importance of transparency.
“Not only should the search committee know everything that’s material about candidates, but the full board should know. Because it’s still the board’s responsibility to make this hire, no matter how they delegate authority,” Alacbay said. “You can delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility. So erring on the side of transparency is best practice, I would say.”
But would a no-confidence vote at a prior institution have tanked Laliberte’s chances? Probably not, experts suggest, noting that a search committee should consider the context of such votes.
“There are plenty of possible reasons for a no-confidence vote, but not all are disqualifying,” Alacbay said. “This should have been disclosed, because you want to have as much transparency as possible; you want to have access to all materials. A no-confidence vote is a material piece of information but not necessarily a dispositive piece of information.”
And now as Malloy works to gain the trust of faculty bodies that have issued two no-confidence votes against him, Laliberte—expected to start in August—must also win over skeptical faculty members who have declared the search that appointed him invalid.
Laliberte will start at a disadvantage, but it’s up to him to gain that trust, experts say.
“If I were in those shoes, I would immediately begin sitting down with shared governance groups, with faculty in particular, and having conversations with them and answering their questions as candidly as possible, trying to establish a rapport as well as build trust,” Mason said. “But it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of communication on the part of the president.”