Connecticut State University System Chancellor David G. Carter, under fire for his handling of the dismissal of a campus president, won a split vote of confidence Monday from the system’s Board of Trustees.
The CSU board voted 11-1 in favor of the vote of confidence, with two other members abstaining and another simply voting “present.”
Although several members strongly praised Carter, the board also agreed to review a policy that has been at the center of a controversy over his decision to remove Southern Connecticut State University President Cheryl Norton.
Monday’s split vote is the latest sign of a division within the board. Some board members have complained they were left in the dark about Carter’s decision to remove Norton and that too much power is concentrated in the hands of Carter and the board’s Executive Committee.
“I tell you, the board doesn’t look good,” board member Peter Rosa said after the meeting.
“It’s not about David Carter and how wonderful he is,” said Rosa, who voted “present” on the vote of confidence. “I think the decision he made [on Norton] was wrong, as well as the process. Now is not the time to take a vote of confidence.”
Rosa and board members Elizabeth Gagne and Angelo Messina were appointed to an ad hoc committee to review a board policy that has drawn criticism from some faculty members and state legislators.
Under that policy, Carter can remove campus presidents without a vote of the board and with the consent of only the board chairman. Only weeks after the policy was approved last October, Carter notified Norton that her job would end at Southern, one of four campuses in the CSU system.
Her departure was announced in February 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.
Some legislators also have criticized an arrangement that keeps Norton on the CSU payroll at her full $285,200 salary for a year after she relinquishes her duties while also paying her interim replacement a salary of $280,200.
Carter underwent an intense grilling from lawmakers at a legislative forum last month, but he defended the policy for removing presidents, saying it is designed to protect their privacy and to give a president who is removed from office “the chance to pursue his or her career with dignity.”
Under the revised policy, the CSU board has an option to overturn the chancellor’s decision at its next regular meeting after the president has been notified. However, in Norton’s case, that meeting took place after she had signed a separation agreement. As a result, the matter was removed from the agenda during the meeting, and the board never discussed it.
At Monday’s meeting, several board members came to Carter’s defense as they called for a vote of confidence.
“He’s a caring man, he’s a good man, and he’s a decent man, and he has proven that in over 40 years of public service,” said trustee John Sholtis, who warned of serious financial difficulties confronting the state. “If not Dr. Carter, who would you want leading our university system?”
Board Chairman Karl Krapek read from a recent letter he sent to legislators to “express our full and complete confidence that Chancellor David Carter has faithfully, completely and effectively complied with all Board policies.”
Krapek told board members, “He cannot continue in this job if the board does not have confidence in him.” And Board Vice Chairman Richard Balducci said, “If there is a fracture within us at this point, I think it’s a problem.”
The lone dissenting vote came from board member Andrew Chu, a student representative from Southern. After the meeting, Chu said his vote did not reflect his personal opinion of Carter but represented the view of students and faculty who had “voiced concerns in terms of how Chancellor Carter runs the system.”
Trustee Gail Williams and student trustee Mercedes DeMasi abstained. “I don’t have anything personal against Dr. Carter,” Williams told the board. But, she added, “It did not sit well how the policies were executed.” DeMasi said later she did not want to comment.
After the meeting, Carter said the vote of confidence “says as much about the board as it does about me – that we’re on the same page, and I’m pleased that we’re working together.”
On another matter, the board’s Executive Committee voted to rescind its authorization last fall for an $82,500 bonus to Carter for his decision not to accept an early retirement offer from the state. The first installment would have been due in July, but because Carter had said he would decline the bonus and because of the state’s deteriorating financial condition, the committee withdrew the offer.
In light of the state’s fiscal crisis, the committee also agreed not to offer performance bonuses to the presidents of CSU’s four campuses this year.
Among those attending Monday’s meeting was Stanley Battle, who was appointed as the interim replacement for Norton at Southern.
Neither the board nor Carter has disclosed why Norton was removed from her job, but a comment Krapek made to Battle at Monday’s meeting suggested the board has been concerned about labor relations at Southern. Krapek said there are 23 pending lawsuits or grievances that have been filed by faculty or others at Southern, one more than the combined total at CSU’s other three campuses and the system office.
“I know you’re working on this situation,” Krapek told Battle, “and we expect substantial improvement in the future.”