The University of Maine System is well run in much the same sense as Haiti or South Sudan or whatever cryptocurrency exchange went belly up this week. But unlike those institutions, UMS is content with its dystopian condition.
The latest sign that what passes for higher education in this state will continue to flounder for direction while simultaneously shriveling up like a garden slug in a hot frying pan came earlier this month when the university’s Board of Trustees announced that Dannel Malloy will continue to serve as chancellor, the system’s highest office.
Malloy is a former Democratic governor of Connecticut, where he was wildly unpopular, due in part to his tax policies and his unpleasant personality. In 2019, that résumé somehow convinced the trustees to hire him, mostly because Elon Musk wasn’t available. Since then, Malloy has compiled an impressive record of making his tenure in Connecticut look sort of competent.
Since taking over his new position, Malloy has earned the distinction of convincing faculty at four of the system’s seven campuses to pass votes of no confidence in his leadership. He’s forced out several campus presidents who expressed opinions with which he disagreed, such as Glenn Cummings at the University of Southern Maine, who had the odd notion that maybe the best way to combat declining enrollment was to offer more and better course options. The Malloy approach was to gut programs at several campuses, leaving places like the University of Maine at Farmington a shell of its former self.
Inexplicably, enrollment continued to drop and revenue shortfalls continued to grow.
This didn’t seem to disturb Malloy or the trustees, all of whom act as if there’s more than enough money to squander a few hundred thousand here and there. For instance, when the Augusta campus needed a new president (because the chancellor had gotten rid of the previous one for showing signs of independent thinking), Malloy didn’t feel it was necessary to inform the search committee that his preferred candidate, Michael Laliberte, had received two votes of no confidence at his old job as president of the State University of New York at New Delhi. Kept in blissful ignorance, the trustees voted in 2022 to hire Laliberte, giving him a three-year contract paying $205,000 per year plus a $30,000 annual housing allowance.
After news reports of the new president’s Malloy-like record surfaced, the trustees — tough negotiators every one — agreed to pay Laliberte his full first-year salary and housing stipend if he’d just go away quietly. They also said they’d keep paying him after that year was up if he couldn’t find another job in his field. Even though there are help-wanted signs on every street corner, Laliberte has yet to be offered a position that suits him, so he’s still receiving checks from UMS each month for nearly $20,000 in return for doing nothing. If he continues to prove himself unemployable, he’ll have collected about $700,000 by the time his ill-considered contract expires in 2025.
It was that fiasco that prompted the no-confidence votes in Malloy. His faculty critics pointed out that he released “multiple statements with inconsistent claims that are more focused on protecting the chancellor’s reputation than preserving UMA’s integrity.”
The trustees responded not by firing Malloy, but by giving him a one-year extension on his contract that pays $382,500 annually. They did warn him that he had to do a better job of communicating and that they would frown upon him hitting anyone who criticized his decisions with a baseball bat. He apparently fulfilled those lofty goals because he got extended again this year, in spite of even bigger budget shortfalls and ever-more-frightening declines in enrollment.
“Chancellor Malloy has built a strong team and positioned UMS for the future,” trustee Chair Trish Riley told the Portland Press Herald, “earning the board’s full support for his continued leadership.”
Malloy did have to agree not to kick puppies.
What’s next? The trustees haven’t released details of the new contract, but assuming it’s for three years, by the time it’s up in 2026, Maine will be preparing to elect a new governor. Yet another job Malloy aced.
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