Outcry over actions of CSU chancellor is exaggerated

The sudden hue and cry about a high-level personnel decision on one of four campuses of the Connecticut State University System (CSUS) seems exaggerated, shortsighted, and we think misdirected. For decades we have known David Carter, the CSUS chancellor since 2006, to be an honorable and effective champion for higher education in our state.

We think those who unduly question Dr. Carter’s recent action specific to the former president of Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), Cheryl Norton, have lost perspective and instead prefer to dwell on fanciful conspiracy theories rather than facts of the matter.

For example, in January, 2007, more than three years ago, the entire Board of Trustees approved revisions of CSUS human resources policies pertaining to the chancellor and university presidents and authorized its Executive Committee, ‘to make adjustments necessary to these policies that facilitate the effective, efficient, and optimum operation of the Connecticut State University System.’

Last fall the Executive Committee – not Dr. Carter – approved a policy change to allow the chancellor, with approval of the board chair, to non-continue a university president. We accept this as a nuanced, balanced approach to administrative changes a chancellor, as the institution’s de facto chief executive, might find necessary to make from time to time to fine-tune one of the system’s schools.

It must be noted the current board chair is Karl Krapek, a CSUS trustee since 1994 and a former president and chief operating officer of United Technologies Corp., that is to say, someone with extensive university experience and an impeccable, irrefutably successful career in business and personnel management.

With that new policy in place Dr. Carter moved assertively, and with the board chair’s consent, to make a leadership change at SCSU to advance the Board of Trustees’ vision for that campus. The terms of the resulting separation agreement between CSUS and the former president, now a matter of public record, were negotiated and agreed upon in December.

We think Dr. Carter acted in a strictly professional manner throughout this process and demonstrated extraordinary sensitivity to the delicate nature and subject of this circumstance. Personnel matters are routinely conducted behind closed doors in the private sector; in the public sector this is not always possible. This incident suggests to us Dr. Carter’s discretion and respect for the feelings, professional reputation, and formal record of Cheryl Norton.

We think those who question Dr. Carter’s administration of CSUS policies would be better off reexamining those policies instead. It is our sense Dr. Carter works with the tools made available to him but is now, based upon an isolated incident, being second-guessed after making a difficult, unpleasant decision.

As far as the additional expense of an interim president goes, would that there was half as much outrage about the multi-million dollar bonuses paid in the private sector with public funds or comparable scrutiny of every personnel expense in the state budget. Sometimes, these are the frustrating, lamentable costs of doing business.

Each of us has grown to admire Dr. Carter as a caring, effective leader in higher education. His stewardship while president of Eastern Connecticut State University – before he was named CSUS chancellor – is exemplary. Under his watchful eye that campus was literally transformed to become a beacon for aspiring college students.

In his current position, Dr. Carter’s school-specific initiatives have been routinely well received. We expect the entire CSUS to continue thriving with his experienced hand at the wheel.

Toni N. Harp is a state senator from New Haven. Edith G. Prague is a state senator from Columbia.

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