The University of Southern Maine’s provost said she will investigate the process that led to the hiring of a former superintendent of Kennebunk schools who came under fire for her response to reports of racist incidents at the high school.

Kathryn Hawes, former superintendent in the Kennebunk school district, was hired as a faculty member at the University of Southern Maine. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Kathryn Hawes, who was superintendent of Regional School Unit 21 until last month, was hired by the university for a faculty position in its graduate-level Educational Leadership program. Hawes and others in leadership at the school district, which includes Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel, were criticized this year after a former teacher filed a civil rights complaint alleging retaliation for reporting racist incidents at Kennebunk High School.

Last month, the school district settled the complaint by agreeing to pay the teacher, Rosa Slack, $50,000 and amend her job evaluation reports. Many members of the community expressed unhappiness over the district’s handling of the situation at a meeting in February, during which the school board voted to launch its own investigation and conduct an equity audit of school policies.

Hawes, who was hired as superintendent in 2015, announced three weeks ago that she was leaving the job for the tenure-track professorship at USM. Jeannine Uzzi, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, sent out an email to a USM academic community mailing list Tuesday saying she would investigate the process that led to Hawes’ hiring.

The Press Herald obtained the email from a recipient who asked not to be identified.

Uzzi said in the email that she had heard from students and faculty who were concerned about the search process and wondered whether the issues raised in Kennebunk this spring were examined.

Slack reported two incidents in 2015-16, including one in which she said a student told an education technician that he wanted to burn Slack’s house. A few months later, she said, a friend of the first student walked into Slack’s history class with a Confederate flag draped over his shoulders while another student filmed Slack’s reaction.

The first student was removed from Slack’s class and the other two were suspended, but Slack complained to the Maine Human Rights Commission that the district retaliated in her job evaluation for reporting the incidents.

Uzzi said she wants to find out if those allegations were discussed in interviews with Hawes and discussed by the search committee and dean. A search committee evaluated the candidates for the job as an assistant professor of educational leadership, and the decision on who to hire for the $60,000-a-year position was made by the dean of the program, Uzzi said.

“I’m still reviewing what happened,” Uzzi said Wednesday. “This is something we need to address as quickly as we can.”

Attempts to reach Hawes, USM President Glenn Cummings and other USM officials were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Uzzi expects to complete her inquiry in seven to 10 days.

She plans to interview the search committee and the program’s dean to find out if Hawes’ background was thoroughly researched and if the district’s handling of complaints about racism was explored during the interview process.

“We need to be very clear about our values of inclusion,” Uzzi said. In her email, Uzzi also said she wants to review the university’s search process in general “to incorporate steps to bring these or similar issues to light earlier and to support a more rigorous and transparent experience that addresses our values of diversity and inclusion in a systematic way.”

Uzzi said she informed Cummings about her plans to investigate the hiring process and he supported the decision to have academic affairs look into it.