Herbst: UConn working ‘incredibly well,’ should not be part of merger

CROMWELL–The University of Connecticut’s new president said Monday that while she plans to work closely with the state’s other colleges and universities, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was right to exempt UConn from his sweeping higher education reorganization plan.

“Why would you fix something that’s not broken?” incoming president Susan Herbst asked. “All the indicators show the university is headed in the right direction. So, I think the last thing you would want to do is change the governance structure when things are going incredibly well.”

Herbst was the featured speaker at a Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast also attended by several top officials of the Connecticut State University System and the state’s community colleges, which Malloy wants to merge under one board of regents. CSU and the community colleges oppose the merger.

Herbst herself currently works in Georgia’s massive 311,000-student higher education system, which includes Georgia’s flagship university. But she said Connecticut’s higher education institutions don’t all need to be under one umbrella to work together.

“I understand what you do. I appreciate it immensely,” she said to the officials from the other colleges and universities attending the event. “Our community college system and the state university system is absolutely essential to the state of Connecticut. It is as important to UConn.”


Gov. Malloy with incoming UConn President Susan Herbst, Lt. Gov. Wyman and current UConn President Philip Austin

After the breakfast, Malloy defended his plan to leave UConn out of the reorganization.

“If I thought [including UConn] was the right way to go, I would be arguing for it. I actually don’t think it is the right way to go,” he said. He said the fact that UConn is a research institution sets it apart, and that students transfer between the impacted institutions much more frequently then they do to UConn.

“Some of the folks who are advocating putting UConn into it really see it as a way to kill the whole proposal because they know the body of support the University of Connecticut has probably would prevent a new system from being created,” he said.

However, some legislators disagree with the idea of leaving UConn out of the reorganization, including Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury and co-chair of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

“The 800 pound gorilla is not in the room — and that is the University of Connecticut,” Willis said last week at a committee meeting. The committee ultimately approved both Malloy’s plan and one supported by Willis that keeps the institutions separate but reorganizes CSUS’s administration.

Proposed university mergers across the country are common, but are also a hard sell. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities reports the economic downturn and the rise of for-profit colleges have prompted many states to re-examine their public higher education systems in efforts to look for efficiencies.

“Care should be taken to balance both the budgets and unique missions,” said the AASCU report.

Malloy’s plan is expected to save $4.3 million a year.

Monday is the first time Malloy has come face-to-face with many of the officials from the state colleges and universities since proposing major cuts in state support to them.

“Very, very few people would do this,” said Larry McHugh, chairman of UConn’s Board of Trustees, referring to Malloy’s town hall meetings and facing the higher education community Monday. “We are on the very forefront of very tough decisions.”

Malloy said he plans to keep McHugh on UConn’s board, but did not say if he will remain the chairman.

Malloy’s reiterated to the room full of about 1,000 business and education officials his mantra that “Connecticut is open for business” and added that “Part of getting it right will be making sure we have great leadership of our universities. What we have to do is put our own house in order.”