Top lawmakers question UConn’s exclusion from higher education shakeup

Two top state lawmakers are asking why the University of Connecticut is not included in the governor’s plan to merge the state’s other public colleges and universities under a single governing board.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal would merge the Connecticut State University Systems’ four regional universities, the dozen community colleges, the online Charter Oak State College and the existing state Department of Higher Education into a newly-created Board of Regents. The institutions collectively have almost 100,000 students.

The University of Connecticut–which has 30,000 students–is not affected by Malloy’s proposal.

“I feel the UConn system needs to be in the same umbrella,” said Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven and co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “I want to see another model, and that model includes the University of Connecticut… If we’re going to do this let’s not isolate the other universities.”

The co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee also said she was having a hard time understanding why UConn was spared reorganization.

“We’re creating a silo for the University of Connecticut and this other silo is going to be this big entityand this other silo is going to be this big entity,” said Rep.Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, told Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti during a briefing Monday on the reorganization.


Rep. Roberta Willis: ‘We’re creating a silo’

But Meotti said he disagrees.

“None of this should be viewed as a hostility” towards the other institutions, Meotti said. “At some point you just have to draw the line between where governance does really directly relate to who you are serving.”

During an interview Meotti said UConn was not included in the reorganization because it faces different issues than the CSU and community college systems.

“The reason is there are significant differences among these institutions,” he said, noting UConn does not face the same issues of college readiness, graduation rates and student transfers among the campuses as the other institutions do. “That sets them worlds apart. If you put them together then you run too great a risk that one institution’s issues will dominate over another.”

Proposals to reorganize higher education have come up regularly over the years with little action, but the deficit estimated as high as $3.67 billion has brought the issue to the forefront again.

When introducing his plan earlier this month, Malloy said he expects the move could save millions of dollars.

On Monday, Meotti said much of that savings will come from shedding some of the 200 employees that work at the central offices at CSUS, Charter Oak, the community colleges and the State Department of Higher Education.

“I do think at the end of the day there are millions of dollars per year of savings that will be realized by having a leaner approach to staffing,” he told lawmakers. Cutting 16 full-time positions translates to about $1 million in savings, he said.

Aside from her concerns with UConn was not being included in reorganization, Willis said she is concerned that the targeted institutions have vastly different missions and worries their missions would be lost in this reorganization.

But Meotti said other states have successfully reorganized their higher education governance, while maintaining the missions of the institutions.

“I think you would be hard pressed to find and point out that one group of institutions have lost their mission as a result of unified governance,” he said.