Today: Feb 24, 2024

Students attend second CSU reform hearing

Michael Bellmore, Staff Writer:

The bus that brought SCSU students, staff, and faculty to Hartford was just one of many that arrived on March 10. It unloaded at the capitol building, where people representing Eastern, Western, Central and Southern met with those from Connecticut’s community and technical colleges. They were there to sound off against Governor Dannel Malloy’s Bill 1011, An Act Concerning a Reorganization of Connecticut’s System of Public Higher Education.

According to the bill, which is available online, a board of regents will be created “to serve as the central policy-making authority for public higher education and as the governing body for the regional community-technical college system, the Connecticut State University System and Charter Oak State College.”

“The plans that the governor announced for rearranging the higher education system of Connecticut seem to me to be very risky, and dangerous,” said Terrell Bynum, a philosophy professor at Southern.

At the capitol, of all those who spoke to the Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement, Michael Meotti was the main voice of defense for Governor Dannel Malloy’s Bill. Meotti, commissioner for the Department of Higher Education, said the governor’s intended goal is to save money and better serve Connecticut’s public higher education system.

“In what is very challenging budget times, we have system offices that have budgets in $12 million plus across the two systems,” said Meotti,” and in the department of higher education with about another $2.5 to $3 million.”

Meotti said a consolidation would save money at the system office level that could then be reallocated to campuses, where the funds could be used to “add or save faculty positions.”

“I disagree with commissioner Meotti,” said John Doyle, a long-time trustee on the board of the CSUS. “I think he’s got it backwards.”

Doyle said that the CSU and community-technical college systems would be better served by a plan of their own making, not one written from the top down.

“Imposing a new governance concept on us to take effect on July 1 is unrealistic at best. We urge [the Higher Education Committee] first to identify the problem that is being solved, and then involve us in developing the solutions. None of us can afford to do it wrong,” said Cathryn Addy, president of Tunxis Community College.

When the committee asked Addy if, “there was an ability to do a strategic plan where students, faculty, administration, current board members, all had input and created a cohesive strategic plan… and that strategic plan led to a board of governance, would you… feel comfortable with that?” Addy said, “I’m not sure I’d feel totally comfortable, but I’d feel better than I do now.”

Addy said also that she did not think a unified, centralized board would grant to the CSU and community-technical college systems the level of autonomy they now enjoy. She said the loss of that autonomy is a troubling prospect.

State Rep. Pamela Sawyer, a member of the Higher Education Committee, said she was concerned about autonomy as well.

“I’ve watched the university system and the community college system go from very small campuses to,” Sawyer said, “what has been said to me as something that has been witnessed around the world. What Connecticut has done for facilities and program growth has been unlike anywhere else in the world.”

Sawyer said the relative autonomy of the university and community college systems was in no small way responsible for this growth. She said she fears a single administrative body will result in crawling bureaucracy; she referred to the “mega-structure” that Massachusetts’ colleges and universities operate under, in which schools are in constant competition for the time and attention of their state’s administrative body.

Steve Larocco, a professor of English at Southern, said he was concerned that, under the new system, community colleges, technical colleges, and state universities would no longer have direct political access to the capitol. All representation would be bottle-necked through the new central administration. Individual institutions, he said, will no longer have the chance to advocate for themselves.

State Rep. Roberta Willis said she agreed.

“Political access is a very interesting point,” Willis said. “Whatever we do going forward, there has to be student and faculty representation.”

Kay McClenney, an endowed fellow in the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas and the director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said she has worked with community colleges for 30 years.

She said she has watched the Connecticut community colleges develop from a small system to one that is recognized across the country as being “particularly effective.” 

McClenney said that Governor Malloy’s plan would “bury” them.

“It will bury them in a bureaucratic structure where the community colleges are no one’s first priority. They are best served by having their own system where they are always their first priority,” said McClenney. “And it’s that simple.”

After listening to the questions raised by the educators and students at the hearing, state Rep. Pat Dillon, a member of the Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement said, “I’m not satisfied with the answers.”

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