On eve of higher ed merger, Meotti named interim president

Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti has been named interim president of the new Board of Regents that will comprise his agency, the state’s community and online colleges, and the Connecticut State University System.

“In absence of someone at the helm, the governor has asked Commissioner Meotti to step in,” said Mark Ojakian, who is overseeing the higher education reorganization for the Office of Policy and Management. The merger officially takes effect Friday.

Meotti, the commissioner of the DHE for the last three years and previously a state senator, emerged as the Malloy’s administration’s point man on the consolidation of higher education shortly after the plan was announced.

“The bottom line is this proposal focuses on results. It’s a great start,” Meotti said on the day the shakeup was announced. He also faced the General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee to sell the plan to some reluctant legislators.

Leaders of other institutions affected by the merger were not as welcoming. In Community College Chancellor Mark Herzog’s resignation letter earlier this month, he blamed the merger for his early departure after nearly 40 years.

This temporary naming of Meotti to lead the new Board of Regents comes at a pivotal time in higher education, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is recommending cutting 6 percent of all the schools’ full-time employees to help close the state’s budget deficit.

Ojakian could not confirm whether Meotti is a candidate for the permanent spot or how many people have applied. Meotti’s position at the DHE is schedule to be eliminated tomorrow, but Ojakian said he is being retained to temporarily lead the 15-member Board of Regents–which also is yet to be named.

“The governor’s been a little preoccupied. … He’s asked Meotti to temporarily be the person that has administrative oversight,” he said. “I think there will be an announcement in the not so near future.”

Meotti’s first task will be dealing with a $20.5 million cut in the regents’ budget for the fiscal year that begins Friday–on top of earlier reductions in the institution’s budgets. Malloy has proposed the layoff of 403 employees to close some of that gap

Ojakian said that decision will not lay solely in the hands of Meotti, but he will be a major player in helping form a budget for the colleges and universities.

“It will by no means be a unilateral decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, college and university officials said they are waiting for news.

Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of the community colleges, said she had expected Meotti to take the lead during the transition, but “there’s been no official communication.”

It is unclear when the Board of Regents’ new website will go live. On each of the impacted institutions, a message reads, that the merger is still scheduled to begin July 1 and details will be forthcoming.

Cox said she does have some concerns with Meotti’s statements that the community colleges may have to limit enrollment to those who are not prepared for college-level work, but said overall he has been a good leader during his tenure at the DHE.

Meotti could not be immediately reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office said Meotti’s salary remains at $182,126.