Mike Bellmore, Staff Writer-
In a conference hall at the state capitol building in Hartford, Jon P Bloch, professor and department chair of sociology at Southern, turns away from the appropriations committee board to ask a question.
He said to the assemblage behind him: “How many people still sitting here are students?”
Half of the people packed in the room raise their hands.
“And how many of you can afford more tuition, more crowded classrooms, fewer parking places, more broken equipment?”
All hands lowered, and a laugh spread throughout the crowd.
The students, faculty, administrators and business people that filled the conference room were there to represent Connecticut’s state university system, its technical colleges, and its community colleges. They spoke one after the other to show their dissatisfaction towards the 2011-‘12 budget proposed by Governor Dannel Malloy.
According to the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors, the governor’s budget cuts “$143.5 million from public higher education over the next two years.”
Olivia Schulze, a senior in social work at Western Connecticut State University, said, “The message that’s being sent through the proposal and being received by the Connecticut state university system and community of students is that our experience, our time, our effort, our money, our future as professionals in Connecticut don’t matter.
“That I, as a student and a future social worker in Connecticut, mean nothing and that future students who may apply to Connecticut state universities mean even less.”
Mike Shea – English professor, chair of the department, and president of the teacher’s union at SCSU – said he’s afraid lower funding could increase the demands placed on teachers and subsequently lower the quality of his students’ education.
“We train people to be citizens, and thinkers, and communicators,” Shea said. “There’s just no way that with a 10 percent budget cut that it’s not going to cut into the actual teaching faculty, and if you do that, then that affects the size of classes, and then, if you have large classes, you can’t teach these basic skills that people really need.”
Jason B. Jones, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University and the president of the CCSU-AAUP, also voiced his concerns regarding the 10 percent reduction in funding.
“I have reviewed budget cut scenarios from the President’s office and the CCSU planning and budget committee,” said Jones, “and it is not possible to get to 10% without losing full-time faculty lines.”
According to the budget, funding for the Connecticut Independent College Student Grant and the Kirklyn M. Kerr Grant was also slashed. Larry Toast, an english major at Southern, said the Independent College Student Grant was very important to him.
“I need that grant to go to school,“ Toast said. “I understand that we need to change our budget and that things need to be reformatted – students need to be the last thing on the list.”
George Verlezza, a senior english major at Southern, said he was worried about cuts to funding as well.
“This is very emotional for all of us,” he said.
Bill Cibes, chancellor emeritus of the Connecticut state university system, said that students already pay a substantial portion of the costs associated with public higher education.
“The student share of the cost of education in the CSU system is 53 percent of the cost per student, and the state share is 47 percent of the cost.”
Malloy’s budgeting plan also includes the restructuring of the CSU system. This would result in the CSU system, community college system, and technical college systems all being overseen by the same administrative body.
John Doyle, a member of the CSU board of trustees, said the merger has yet to be clearly defined, doubted that it would save the money Malloy expects it to. He said after the proposed merger takes place, there will be 67 new positions.
“It defies logic, to say ‘okay, here’s how we’re going to take the lives of tens of thousands of students and thousands of staff people,’” said Doyle, “many of whom have worked there all their careers, and turn it upside down.”
Roberta Willis, state representative house chair of the higher education and employment advancement committee, said she was happy with the night’s turn out.
“Obviously it’s very important for people to have their voices heard at the capitol,” said Willis.
“I have a lot of concerns about that, so we’ll be looking very, very closely at the governance of our public institutions.”