Two CSUS chancellors respond to criticism

Connecticut State University has faced a torrent of criticism in recent months from top state lawmakers and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell; for the first time current Chancellor David G. Carter and former longtime Chancellor William J. Cibes Jr. are fighting back.

In separate reports released this month, both chancellors defended administration of the 36,600-student system, saying the recent missteps are minimal compared to the system’s accomplishments.

“Any real or imagined slips should not divert attention from the solid record of achievement of that system, particularly in controlling costs and in producing graduates prepared for the workforce. Those substantial accomplishments merit praise, not scapegoating,” Cibes wrote in his Jan. 5 report.

The CSU administration, and Carter in particular, have been under fire for much of the past 12 months 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 for 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.

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CSUS Chancellor David Carter (r) and former Chancellor William Cibes responded to criticism of the system this month

A legislative panel started asking last year if CSUS is spending wisely, and plans to release its findings in the next few weeks.

“I am beginning to feel like we’ve been taken advantage of,” Rep. Roberta B. Willis, D-Salisbury and co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said recently about CSUS. “We need more oversight.”

The state has budgeted almost $163 million in the current fiscal year for CSUS’s four campuses and system office, which amounts to just less than half the system’s operating budget.

The former governor’s budget director, Brenda Sisco, also took aim at CSUS in a scathing report released in December.

“The time for business as usual must be banished from the CSU lexicon,” she wrote.

The report concluded that CSUS has devoted too much of its resources over the past two decades to expanding its administrative staff. It also called for abolishing the central office that helps run the four campuses, saying the move could save the state as much as $6 million a year.

“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 reads.

But Carter lambasted the report’s findings.

“It is unfortunate that the product provided was neither thoughtful nor scholarly,” he wrote Sisco, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other officials. “It is essential, therefore, that any future adjustments be considered based upon a foundation of accurate information.”

Both Cibes’ and Carter’s reports say that administrative costs have been controlled throughout the years.

Carter said that management salaries have been raised in just one of the last three years, and management positions have been cut at the system office by 32 percent since 2006, which resulted in $48.9 million in savings.

Cibes said in his 35-page report–titled, “Setting the Record Straight”–that raises for managers have been “constrained” and that their pay increased at a slower rate than salaries for non-education managers in state service.

“CSU has responded prudently,” he wrote.

Cibes said despite Sisco’s findings not based on fact, newspaper editorials and legislators wasted no time in citing it when calling for major changes.

“It’s time to bring a dose of reality to the debate,” Cibes wrote. (Cibes is co-president of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut News Project, publisher of The Mirror.)

CSU also has been accused of not graduating enough students in key need areas defined by the Connecticut Department of Labor, including accountants and science-related fields.

Once again, Carter and Cibes disagree.

Cibes says science degrees have increased by 32 percent since 2005 thanks to newly built facilities at Western and Eastern state university campuses.

“The System is moving in the right direction to produce students with degrees in those critical need areas,” he wrote.

Cibes also said the system has improved its graduation rate and reduced the graduation gap between white and minority students.

While Rell proposed eliminating CSUS’ system office in her transition budget, the final decision will be up to Malloy and member of the General Assembly in the coming months.

“We definitely still need to look at how they’re structured,” Willis said this week reacting to the reports. “I don’t think they have addressed what I am questioning… I don’t want to take away from their record of achievement, but I still think they can be doing more to save money.”

Willis said she is working now to draft legislation to reorganize CSUS’ administrative structure, and expects a public hearing to be held on it in the next few weeks.

Malloy has routinely said he believes there is a lot of fat in state government, and his budget director Ben Barnes recently told a reporter he has his eye on CSUS.

“We need to apply a more rational organizational logic to figuring out the most cost effective way to run the system,” the budget chief said.