Three years ago, administrators of the University of Maine system chose a politician with no experience in higher education administration for his top job.
Today Chancellor Dannel Malloy is hanging by a thread after facing ‘no confidence’ votes from faculty senates at four of the system’s seven campuses as a draft resolution circulated on the flagship campus from Orono. Malloy’s future with the system was the subject of a private session with administrators on Monday morning.
His lack of administrative experience in education may be the source of his troubles. The inciting incident was a botched search process to hire a president for the University of Maine at Augusta, in which negative information about the successful candidate was not shared with the search committee that hired him. A few weeks after appointing Michael Laliberté, the new president agreed to step down in exchange for a one-year salary, or about $200,000, while the university begins new research.
But the surprise is that Malloy, Connecticut’s former two-term governor, is failing more as a politician than as an administrator.
Criticism of UMA’s research puts other recent developments in a new light, including the surprise early retirements of popular UMA and University of Southern Maine presidents. USM President Glenn Cummings said his decision to leave this summer was a personal one, but he acknowledges policy differences with the chancellor.
And faculty cuts at the University of Maine at Farmington have raised questions about whether Malloy understands that campus’ special role as Maine’s public liberal arts college, famous for preparing generations of state teachers.
Faculty members across the state say they don’t trust Malloy’s judgment, which is a political issue as much as an administrative one. Good leaders can deliver bad news as necessary steps toward a common goal. However, once voters stop believing in the goal, there is no good news.
Some would say that the chancellor works for the board of trustees, not for faculty members. But it would be a major political mistake to think that the chancellor only works for the trustees.
To be successful, the head of the university system must also communicate with faculty and students in state institutions, as well as with the governor and legislature.
The chancellor must also be able to articulate a vision to the state business community so that the university system is seen as a reliable partner. And the chancellor needs to engage the people of Maine in the system plan — and that includes the hundreds of thousands of state residents who will never enroll in a college course but still need to understand how important this institution is. important to their life.
It’s not an easy job. If Malloy was hired for his political skills, it’s time for him to show them off.
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