BANGOR, Maine — University of Maine faculty and alumni expressed concern over the process for hiring an executive director of public affairs for the University of Maine System, which was announced Wednesday.
Dan Demeritt, a former director of communications for Gov. Paul LePage, was hired to fill the newly created position at a salary of $125,000.
The typical search process was waived in order to “fill [the] position quickly and respond rapidly to employ an individual in a key position,” Ryan Low, executive director of government and external affairs, said in an email Thursday.
“This decision was driven by the UMS’s fiscal situation and its impact on the universities, the transition over the next year of the presidency at the two largest campuses, and the release of the Trustees’ Strategic Outcomes, which will begin implementation this fall,” he said.
UMS administrators say the fiscal situation is dire. Last month, the board of trustees voted to approve a budget that cuts 157 positions and about $22.7 million. Because of a systemic shortfall, system administrators say more cuts are expected in the coming years.
But professors say agreed upon procedures should still be followed, even in times of crisis.
“The process does not respect the principle of shared governance,” Tony Brinkley, English professor and faculty associate at the Franco-American Centre, said. “And the process we need to go through to develop accountable leadership.”
He added he has “great respect” for Demeritt and acknowledged he may be the right choice for the job.
“It’s not about the individual; it’s about a cavalier way of using taxpayers’ money,” he said.
The typical search process at UMS involves a job posting and the recruitment of a wide range of candidates, according to system documents.
Demeritt replaces Peggy Leonard, who currently works as the system’s public relations manager and is paid $58,547, according to a system-wide salary report dated April 8. She will take a new role in the human resources department, and her salary will not change, according to Ryan Low, executive director of government and external affairs.
Low said the addition of Demeritt will not add to the headcount at the system office because two human resources positions have been frozen due to one retirement and one person leaving, the savings from which will cover the financial difference between Leonard’s and Demeritt’s positions.
A 2012 report from the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting showed the search process was waived for the hiring of seven officials in top positions at UMS.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Dan Demeritt's name in the headline. It has since been fixed.