Malloy responds to critics, but has the embattled UMaine chancellor’s time run out?

advertisementSmiley face

Since the position of chancellor was created at the founding of the University of Maine System in 1968, it’s often been a precarious perch.

The stormy history of the post, through 10 permanent and six acting or interim chancellors, includes two highly publicized departures – Michael Orenduff in 1995 and Joseph Westphal in 2006.

The question hanging over UMS after a trustees’ meeting May 22-23 is whether the latest incumbent, Dannel Malloy, will also make an early exit.

University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy. (Courtesy UMS)

The new chair of the board of trustees, Trish Riley, said a three-member subgroup will interview professors, students, and others about allegations that have so far produced faculty no-confidence votes at four campuses, and then consider what action to take.

Malloy, hired in 2019, has a contract expiring June 30. But Riley said consideration may extend longer; the trustees aren’t currently scheduled to meet until July 11. “We’ll take the time we need,” she said.

Orenduff served only two years as chancellor after pursuing a plan, approved by trustees, involving a major expansion of what we now call “remote learning” – a system-wide closed-circuit television network with instructors appearing live, but broadcasting to locations across the state.

It was too much, too soon, and after near-unanimous faculty protests, Orenduff resigned to become president of New Mexico State University, a job at which he also lasted just two years.

Westphal endured a bit longer after a fierce clash with legislative leaders, including Sen. Libby Mitchell, D-Augusta, who denounced Westphal’s plan for a system-wide series of mergers. The four smaller, former teacher’s colleges would have been administered together, and the University of Maine at Augusta would have merged into the University of Southern Maine, leaving just three campus presidents.

That plan too was scuttled. Westphal, an assistant secretary of the Army under President Bill Clinton, later served as Army undersecretary and ambassador to Saudi Arabia for President Barack Obama.

The Legislature later enacted a law requiring seven campuses, so that even though the smallest campus, in Machias, lost its president in 2016 and is administered by the University of Maine, it remains open.

At first glance, Malloy didn’t seem to have proposed anything quite as ambitious as Orenduff or Westphal.

As a former two-term Democratic governor of Connecticut from 2011-2019, he was no stranger to controversy: Malloy pushed some of the nation’s toughest state gun laws after the failure of Congress to act in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre in 2012, and consolidated administration at some of Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, similar to the merger of Maine campuses in 1968.

He did make two immediate decisions after he was hired following a search led by former trustee Chair James Erwin Jr.: He granted independence to the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, which has previously been administered by USM, and he pushed for system-wide accreditation, rather than the campus-by-campus system that existed previously.

But it was a botched search for a new president of the University of Maine at Augusta, following the departure of popular campus leader Becky Wyke that became the flashpoint for a university and media controversy that became entangled with other grievances – particularly the layoffs of nine staff members at the University of Maine at Farmington, some of them tenured professors.

To help untangle the narrative, the Phoenix obtained the first interview with Malloy since the controversy began. The paper also spoke with Riley and Lydia Savage, who chairs USM’s geography-anthropology department and is chapter representative and state vice chair for the Association of Faculties of the Universities of Maine.

Trish Riley
Trish Riley, president of the University of Maine System board of trustees. (Courtesy UMS)

No confidence

Michael Laliberte, president of the State University of New York at Delhi, was hired as UMA president on April 7 and stepped down the next day at Delhi. Rumors began circulating he’d received no-confidence votes there, and the controversy burst into the open in early May.

It was inflamed by the fact Malloy and the president of the UMA trustees’ search committee, Sven Bartholomew, knew about the votes but didn’t tell the rest of the 14-member committee.

Initially, Malloy defended the decision, saying the Delhi votes were “unfounded,” but he quickly reversed course. After a two-hour trustees’ executive session on May 22, Laliberte withdrew, and he will be paid at least one year’s salary.

But the issue of the Delhi no-confidence votes, Malloy now says, emerged much earlier – on Feb. 13, when he received a memo about it from two individuals. Malloy said he then contacted Storbeck, the executive search firm working with the UMA committee, and was told it should only be discussed if the issue was raised during interviews. It never was.

Storbeck has disputed Malloy’s description, and the chancellor said he couldn’t speak further because UMS may file a claim against the company. Meanwhile, Storbeck continued to list two open UMS searches on its website.

Malloy has apologized for what he calls a “grave mistake,” and said, “I’m usually not inclined to follow what the experts tell me, but this was the first time I’d ever dealt with a person in that situation.”

Events in Farmington are more contested.

Revelations about the UMA search coincided with student protests in Farmington over the faculty downsizing, with most of the nine positions eliminated coming from liberal arts classes, including women’s studies.

UMF President Edward Serna had also announced his resignation. During a 24-hour sit-in at the administration office on May 10-11, the protesters began demanding the cuts be rescinded and that the chancellor resign. Yet it was not until May 18 that Malloy’s office issued a press release explaining the cuts.

At the heart of it, Malloy said, is a 27 percent enrollment drop over the past decade at UMF – one of the largest among the seven campuses, where over the last decade the University of Maine has recorded the system’s only enrollment increases.

Overall, enrollment is down throughout UMS since the pandemic began. Next year’s budgets have also been pounded by a precipitous drop in the stock markets this year that reduced the system’s investment income.

Several smaller campuses, including Farmington, have drawn on reserve accounts for years, but Farmington’s new request – $4.5 million – was by far the largest. Although trustees have approved using $19 million from reserves system-wide, the cut in UMF’s request meant savings had to be found elsewhere.

Last winter, UMS launched early retirement incentives that have been accepted by 113 faculty members, including nine from Farmington. It’s the only campus with layoffs, even though only the Augusta and USM campuses are in the black.

Lydia Savage
University of Southern Maine professor Lydia Savage is state vice chair of the Association of Faculties of the Universities of Maine. (Courtesy Lydia Savage)

‘Bad management’

Lydia Savage at USM isn’t buying Malloy’s explanation.

If the outlook was so dire, she asked, why were two new tenured positions at Farmington approved by the system office – as required during the pandemic – one for the 2020-2021 academic year, the other for the current year? Both positions have been eliminated.

“I call that bad management,” Savage said.

Riley, the trustees’ chair, said the chancellor is taking the heat but doing what the board has directed him to do. “Our demographic problems, and thus our budget problems, are not going away,” she said.

Asked about Farmington’s more severe enrollment drop, Malloy pointed to a decision much earlier to introduce four-credit-hour classes, intended to help UMF compete with liberal arts colleges elsewhere in New England. “All the other campuses have three-credit-hour classes,” he said.

The change made it more difficult for students on other campuses to transfer to UMF, a shortage not made up by new students. As of 2023, he said, UMF will be returning to three-credit classes.

Among the strongest objections to the chancellor’s leadership are those from USM’s Faculty Senate.

In addition to spotlighting Augusta and Farmington complaints, the no-confidence resolution that passed 28-3 pointed to the departures of three campus presidents – Wyke, Serna, and USM’s Glenn Cummings – as signs Malloy’s leadership has been disruptive.

Cummings declined to speak on the record, referring to his statement on policy differences made at the time of his resignation.

He will be starting a new job shortly as CEO of the Glickman Family Foundation in Portland, which has $2.2 million in annual revenues. (The USM library was renamed for Albert Brenner Glickman in 2004 after the foundation helped fund renovations of the eight-story former bakery and plumbing supply building.)

Savage said the Farmington layoffs triggered bad memories of the 2014 downsizing at USM, which resulted in 52 faculty “retrenchments” divided equally between early retirements and layoffs. The faculty also objects to appointing Joseph McDonnell, who as provost oversaw the USM downsizing, as UMF’s interim president.

Finally, Savage said that even during the 2014 crisis, with numerous tenured faculty leaving, she was able to maintain respectful relations with James Page, Malloy’s predecessor. The faculty feels “disrespected” by Malloy, she said, and particularly objects to Malloy’s characterization of faculty, in his response to the no-confidence vote, as “anxious.”

“He’s treating us like children,” she said.

Nor is the faculty happy about the possible permanent move of Maine Law to the Portland waterfront, despite the construction of a $100 million student center that will provide the first residential housing on the Portland campus when it is completed next May. 

Savage praised USM’s new president, Jacqueline Edmondson from the Penn State system, as a good match for a diverse campus. “That search went the way it should have,” she said pointedly.

Trustees to decide

Malloy’s fate as chancellor will be determined by a board of trustees very different from the one that hired him just three years ago. Both James Erwin and Mark Gardner, his successor as chair, saw their terms expire on May 26.

Of 14 members appointed by the governor, only four were named by former Gov. Paul LePage. The 10 named by Gov. Janet Mills include three former Democratic officeholders – U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, congressional candidate Emily Cain, and state legislator Peggy Rotundo – and two former Republican state senators, Roger Katz and Patrick Flood.

“We take the faculty votes very seriously, know there are real problems, and that we will have to go through them very carefully,” Riley said. About the three campus presidents’ departures, she said, “Ultimately that’s an individual decision about whether to stay or go.”

Malloy declined to speculate about his future, beyond saying that his performance review was completed earlier and he awaits the trustees’ decision.

Asked if he’s a difficult person to work with, he said, “I think we all have difficult jobs to do. This is a small university system in the oldest state in the nation.”

And he conceded he could have been more prompt at sharing what he called “bad news” about the system’s finances.

Still, resource sharing, with the advantage of unified accreditation, he said, “will give us more tools to deal with the future.”

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator, and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books. His first, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now in paperback. He welcomes comments at [email protected].

Leigh Saufley
Leigh Saufley, dean of the University of Maine School of Law. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

Dean: Law school move to Portland’s Old Port may be permanent

A move by the University of Maine School of Law to the Portland waterfront – originally billed as temporary – may become permanent, Dean Leigh Saufley said, confirming a report by Mainebiz.

The law school will leave its distinctive but often derided circular structure on the University of Southern Maine campus for a 64,000-square-foot six-story building a mile east at 300 Fore St., previously occupied by the Council on International Educational Exchange.

The project, and the possibility of permanent relocation, drew the ire of USM’s Faculty Senate and was included in a no-confidence vote aimed primarily at University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy.

When the $100 million student center now under construction on Bedford Street in Portland was announced in 2019, it was paired with a $105 million Graduate and Professional Center to be constructed in the surface parking area now between the multi-story parking garage and the Glickman Library.

The idea was the fundraising would continue, and that construction would commence after the student center was finished. The law school would seek temporary housing.

Also targeted in the Senate resolution was the $13.5 million cost of renovations at 300 Fore St., more than twice the originally projected $6 million.

Saufley said it’s important to keep those figures in perspective: Mushrooming construction costs and the need for more extensive renovations to meet technology needs drove up the price.

But the four-year lease was half the going rate since the building owners were finding few takers for such a large space.

“This building will have everything we need,” Saufley said. “It’s a short walk to the courthouse, near all the big law offices, and in the middle of a growing downtown. The geography is really compelling.”

Another factor to weigh was likely cost increases for the on-campus building. “Running the numbers, it would probably cost twice as much to move back. It’s hard to justify that,” the dean said.

The new building, with the option to buy or renew the lease, should serve the law school’s needs for years to come, she said. Other programs housed there will include University of Maine graduate programs in business and professional education.

Saufley said a new clinic involving law school undergraduates will open this fall in Fort Kent and Presque Isle, extending the school’s reach in a long under-served part of Maine. Along with new capital investments and replacing aging dorms and classroom buildings, she said, Maine campuses should be more competitive in the years ahead.

— Douglas Rooks

Smiley face