Legislators to investigate Norton dismissal

State lawmakers plan to investigate the recent dismissal of Southern Connecticut State University president Cheryl Norton and the disclosure that Norton will remain on the payroll along with her interim replacement.

The co-chairmen of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee said they will schedule a hearing where they also will ask about a policy allowing the university chancellor to dismiss presidents without a vote of the system’s Board of Trustees.

Only weeks after that policy was adopted last fall, Connecticut State University System Chancellor David G. Carter notified Norton that she would be dismissed.

The CSU system announced her departure as a “retirement,” but documents obtained by The Mirror indicated that Norton, 61, had been forced out and had negotiated a settlement with the CSU system.

Last month, Carter named Stanley Battle, former president of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, as SCSU’s interim president. Battle and Carter were colleagues at Eastern Connecticut State University when Carter was Eastern’s president in the 1990s.

Under terms of her settlement, Norton will be on paid leave beginning June 1. She will retain the title of president and remain on the university’s payroll for a year at her annual salary of $285,200.  During that time, the university also will pay Battle an annual salary of $280,200.

That arrangement caught the attention of lawmakers as the state and its public colleges and universities face a worsening budget crisis.

“You don’t need to spend a half million dollars for two presidents when one would do,” said state Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, co-chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.

Questions about the dismissal “have been roiling around for two, three, four weeks,” she said.

Among legislators who have asked for a hearing is state Rep. Peter F. Villano, D-Hamden, who said he has received complaints about the dismissal from faculty and staff members at Southern.

“Why was it done this way?” Villano said. “What are the consequences of the firing and the questionable policy of putting that much authority in the hands of an individual who doesn’t seem to be accountable to anyone?”

Faculty members at the CSU system’s four universities – Southern, Central, Eastern and Western – raised questions about a new policy giving Carter authority to remove campus presidents with the consent only of the chairman of the system’s Board of Trustees.

In a letter to a Faculty Senate official at Southern, Board of Trustees Chairman Karl Krapek denied that the board had relinquished authority to the chancellor. He said the revised policy – which includes an option for the board to overturn the chancellor’s decision – is designed to handle dismissals discreetly without a board vote “for the noble purpose of protecting the privacy of a president in such a situation.”

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, and Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven have introduced a legislative amendment that would require the CSU chancellor to notify the legislature’s higher education committee in writing of any impending decision to dismiss a university president.

“My frustration,” McKinney said, “is we have a situation where we’re paying two presidents’ salaries at the same time we are raising tuition.”