Three years ago, the University of Maine System trustees chose a politician with no experience in higher education administration for its top job.

Now, Chancellor Dannel Malloy is hanging on by a thread after facing votes of “no confidence” from the faculty senates at four of the system’s seven campuses, while a draft resolution was being circulated at the flagship campus in Orono. Malloy’s future with the system was the subject of a private session with the trustees Monday morning.

His lack of administrative experience in education may be at the root 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. Weeks after naming Michael Laliberte, the new president agreed to step aside in exchange for a year’s pay, about $200,000, while the university starts a new search.

But the surprise is that Malloy, the former two-term governor of Connecticut, is failing more as a politician than as an administrator.

Criticism of the UMA search places other recent developments in a new light, including the surprise early retirements of the popular presidents of UMA and the University of Southern Maine. USM President Glenn Cummings said his decision to leave this summer is personal, but he acknowledges policy differences with the chancellor.

And faculty cuts at the University of Maine at Farmington have raised questions of whether Malloy understands that campus’ special role as Maine’s public liberal arts college, famous for preparing generations of the state’s teachers.


Faculty members across the state are saying that they do not trust Malloy’s judgment, which is a political problem as much as it is an administrative one. Good leaders can deliver bad news as necessary steps toward a shared goal. Once constituents stop believing in the goal, however, there is no good news.

Some will say that chancellor works for the Board of Trustees, not the faculty members. But it would be a major political error to think that the chancellor works only for the trustees.

To be successful, the head of the university system also needs to communicate with the faculty and students of the state’s institutions, as well as with the governor and the Legislature.

The chancellor also needs to be able to articulate a vision to the state’s business community so that the university system is seen as a reliable partner. And the chancellor needs to get Maine people on board with the system’s 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 to their lives.

It’s not an easy job. If Malloy was hired for his political skills, then it’s time for him to demonstrate them.

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