CSU system takes criticism from legislators, Rell administration

The co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee leveled sharp criticism at the administration of the Connecticut State University System Thursday, citing a new report faulting the system’s central office for spending “more on bureaucracy than on academics.”

Rep. Roberta B. Willis, D-Salisbury, told the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee the report shows the need to rein in CSU’s administration.

“I am beginning to feel like we’ve been taken advantage of,” she said “We need more oversight.”

Willis’s comments came two days after a panel appointed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell released its report recommending abolishing the central office that runs the four-campus system, saying the move could save the state $6 million.

“The time for business as usual must be banished from the CSU lexicon,” Brenda Sisco, Rell’s budget director and head of the Connecticut State University Working Group, wrote in the report.

The CSU administration-particularly Chancellor David G. Carter-has been under fire for much of the year for a series of controversial decisions. Among them was the removal of Cheryl Norton as president of Southern Connecticut State University under an agreement that gave her a one-year sabbatical at full pay.

The administration also drew criticism for approving double-digit raises to top officials in the central office in the face of the state’s continued budget problems. Although Carter defended the raises, they were scaled back at Rell’s request.

In addition to the working group named by Rell, the bi-partisan Program Review and Investigations Committee decided to undertake its own review of the system.

Both panels complained this week that CSU has only provided partial information needed to complete their reviews.

“Repeated efforts to get comprehensive lists of employees, titles, salaries and job descriptions went unanswered… Without CSU’s cooperation, detailed analyses of administrative or other personnel needs cannot be done,” Sisco’s panel wrote in the report. That panel included Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, education officials, and former Democratic House Speaker Moira Lyons.

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford and co-chairwoman, of the PRI committee, said her staff “had a terrible time” getting accurate data from CSU. The committee cited the difficulty in obtaining information in announcing Thursday that its review, which it had hoped to complete this month, likely would be extended at least a month.

Bernard Kavaler, spokesman for CSU, said the system has complied with all requests for information.

“Half of the information they say we never provided them is sitting on our web site and is readily available,” he said of Sisco’s report. “What they ask for we provide.”

Sisco’s group concluded that CSU has devoted too much of its resources over the past two decades to expanding its administrative staff by more than 70 percent.

“Personnel practices at the CSU central office-both the hiring of large numbers of non-faculty and the overly generous compensation once hired-are driving up the cost of attending CSU and making it an unaffordable option for Connecticut students,” the report says.

CSU also has not been graduating enough students in key need areas defined by the Connecticut Department of Labor, including accountants and computer software engineers, the report says. “CSU must itself be more responsive to the economic employment trends.”

Kavaler said the report is “stunningly incomplete, inaccurate and incorrect.” He said CSU was never given the opportunity to review and verify the report’s data and conclusions before they were made public.

Rell said she “welcomes the recommendations for savings by eliminating — or, at a minimum, sharply reducing — the scale of [CSU’s] administrative office.” Rell proposed eliminating the system office in her transition budget last month.

But ultimately that decision will be up to Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and state lawmakers. Malloy’s spokeswoman said the incoming governor “has been clear that there is a lot of fat in state government that we can– and must — trim” and is reviewing the recommendations.