University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy introduces new University of Maine at Augusta President Michael Laliberte on April 7 in Randall Hall at the UMA campus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A few months before University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy left his previous post as Connecticut governor in January 2019, his approval rating dipped below 15 percent.

But being extraordinarily unpopular wasn’t new for the two-term Democratic governor. Malloy struggled with low voter approval ratings throughout his tenure and at times was the most unpopular governor in the country. He has a reputation of being bristly and confrontational and often said popularity and effectiveness were not compatible.

Malloy inherited a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit as Connecticut governor, leading to controversial tax hikes and other unpopular decisions. Many are still critical of Malloy’s moves to consolidate that state’s systems of higher education, forging a path for centralizing the management of institutions that were previously largely autonomous.

Malloy set the UMaine System on a similar path after his arrival as chancellor, a path that has led to similar backlash here in recent months.

As governor of Connecticut, a position he held from 2010 to 2018, Malloy oversaw the consolidation of management of 17 of the state’s public colleges, universities and the state online college. The University of Connecticut, the state’s flagship, was not included in the merger. Malloy created the board of regents, which acts like a board of trustees, to oversee the schools, and began the process of merging the state’s 12 separately accredited community colleges into one state community college with a joint accreditation.

In Maine, Malloy began working to merge the UMaine System schools through unified accreditation almost as soon as he became chancellor in 2019.


Malloy’s office said he was not available for an interview last week.

Connecticut’s changes to the system of public higher education over the past decade have been largely criticized by faculty. They have said that merging the institutions was and is unnecessary and that reforms such as streamlining credit transfer across schools could have been made with tweaks rather than the system overhaul that has been taking place. Others said they worry the real reason behind these changes is to eliminate or downsize university functions in order to save money and that, as a result, quality will be reduced. One faculty member said that has already happened.

“There has been deep erosion of all of the colleges in terms of their basic functionality,” said Stephen Adaire, a sociology professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, who served as chair of the faculty advisory committee to the board of regents around the time these changes began.

The 12 campuses haven’t yet been given their joint accreditation and most departments have yet to be consolidated, but Adaire said those that have – human resources and IT – have been inefficient and challenging to access, and faculty and staff are fearful that the central administration being put in place to run the state’s combined community college will be incompetent.

Colena Sesanker, a philosophy professor at Gateway Community College in New Haven and a faculty adviser to the board of regents, said she feels the state is treating the system of public higher education like a business instead of a public service – sacrificing quality for cost savings. She said all these changes started with Malloy. “This is definitely a Malloy legacy,” she said.

Not everyone sees the changes to Connecticut’s public system of higher education negatively. Some laud the system for being more efficient and saving money during a time when enrollment has quickly decreased.


Nationally, including in Connecticut and Maine, college enrollment has been declining for around a decade. The pandemic has exacerbated the trend and public two-year colleges have taken the biggest hit.

“The State of Connecticut is better off having merged its public higher education system. Period,” wrote Merle Harris, then vice chair of the board of regents, in a 2018 op-ed published in the Connecticut Mirror.

Harris said the system had saved $30 million of taxpayer money (the state’s budget in 2018 was $20.9 billion), made transferring credits across schools easier and was generally more efficient.

The board of regents office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Like the system of consolidation in Connecticut, unified accreditation of the UMaine System schools, approved in June 2020 by the New England Commission of Higher Education, transfers certain governance and oversight powers from the individual schools to the system. For example, prior to unified accreditation, individual universities had complete autonomy over hiring staff and faculty at their institutions. Now all hires must be approved by the system.

Unified accreditation and consolidation have been promoted by the UMaine System as a way to cut management costs and make it easier to share resources and programs across schools.


But among faculty, it has generated concerns about whether schools will continue to have autonomy, whether programs will be cut and faculty fired and whether the schools will be able to continue to maintain their unique characters.

As in Connecticut, faculty in Maine have adamantly resisted consolidation and the management and leadership of merged systems.

Last week in Maine, Malloy received four votes of no-confidence — from the faculty at UMaine Farmington, UMaine Augusta, the University of Southern Maine and UMaine Machias.

In Connecticut, faculty at multiple colleges and universities have passed votes of no-confidence in the board of regents and in plans of consolidation first brought about by Malloy, including while he was still governor.

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