CSUS losing two top leaders during crucial legislative session

Thursday’s decision by Connecticut State University Chancellor David Carter to make his resignation effective March 1 means the 36,600-student system will be without its two top leaders as state officials make crucial decisions that will affect its future.

Whether that’s good or bad for CSU depends on whom you ask.

The four-campus state university system, like all of state higher education, is facing a tough budget year as the governor and legislature grapple with a $3.67 billion projected deficit. In addition, controversies centering on Carter and recently-resigned Board of Trustees chairman Karl Krapek have led to calls for an overhaul of the system’s administrative structure.

Several legislators say the departures of Carter and Krapek may be for the best, considering the unwelcome attention they have brought to the system in the past year. Others say their combined knowledge of the system and their ability to advocate at the state Capitol will be difficult to match.

“The past year has been a tough one,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee. Carter’s decision to move his retirement date up six months “probably means he thought it would be in the best interest of the Connecticut State University System.”

Carter and Krapek have been under fire for their handling of the ouster of former Southern Connecticut State University System President Cheryl Norton and disclosure that they had given top officials double-digit raises.

But others say the departure of the university’s veteran leaders in the middle of the legislative session could be detrimental. Krapek was on the CSUS board for 16 years before stepping down last week. Carter has been a top player at CSUS for 22 years, the last five years as chancellor. Both were no strangers at the state Capitol.

“It’s not going to be an easy transition. They know a lot of people around the state… I hope we are able to balance that need for us to know people at the Capitol,” said former House speaker Richard Balducci, now the acting chairman of the CSUS board. “Certainly losing David Carter is a big, big loss for the system. Despite what other people say, he did an outstanding job and really moved CSU forward.”

Carter announced in September that he intended to retire no later than September of this year. Last week, Krapek unexpectedly announced his resignation at chairman of the CSUS Board of Trustees, and Thursday Carter said he had decided to make his retirement effective March 1 for health and family reasons.

“Accordingly, I have revised my plans… Please know that taking leave of this work is even more difficult than I had anticipated, and were circumstances otherwise, I surely would have continued,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Susan Cusato, president of the faculty senate at Southern, where some faculty criticized Carter and Krapek for their handling of Norton’s removal, said “Just as Mr. Krapek saw the handwriting on the wall…I think [Carter] saw it as an appropriate time” to leave.

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said Carter’s main legacy will be his ability to win funding from the state.

“He was good at getting big initiatives accomplished,” she said, referring to the multiple CSUS construction projects launched at Carter’s initiative.

But as state officials face the worst deficit in Connecticut history, the broad budgetary autonomy enjoyed by CSUS and other state colleges could begin to shrink.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week his administration is reviewing all the state’s higher education institutions in light of the impending budget crisis.

“Listen, we are reviewing all operations,” he said. “I have made it absolutely clear that government has to run substantially more efficiently, and I would like to see a level of that efficiency shared by our various college systems.”

State legislators are also looking at CSUS specifically, and a legislative panel that has been studying operation of the system plans to release its report in the next few weeks. Willis said her committee will likely have a public hearing on CSUS reorganization on March 3.

Willis said she welcomes the decisions of Carter and Krapek to step down.

“We need new leadership,” she said, noting that Carter’s decision to leave mid-budget cycle will not harm CSUS. “I think the cards have been dealt on financing for CSU. The deficit is what it is. We are all going to do what we can to protect higher education, but they should expect cuts.”

Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said despite Carter’s reputation for being able to get things done, CSUS will not suffer from his departure.

“I don’t think his exit will cause a lot of issues. The state university system will not be at a loss in whatever public debate will happen because of his decision to leave now… It’s a natural evolution. Leadership changes.”

Following Carter’s announcement in September that he intended to retire in a year, Krapek decided to begin a search for his replacement in November. Balducci said selection of a new chancellor now is on hold.

“Everyone is waiting to see what the governor has in store. Certainly we will not be selecting anyone for that position until long after the legislature and the governor decide when and how to move forward,” he said.