House Minority leader to Kennedy: Three Strikes, You’re Out

Talk of President Robert A. Kennedy’s resignation as the leader of the state’s college system is beginning to circulate around the state Capitol.

The co-chairwoman of state’s Higher Education Committee alluded to it during an interview Wednesday and the state House and Senate minority leaders called for it directly Thursday.

“I don’t know how he survives,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, the co-chair of the committee, told the Hanging Shad, a blog by a former Democratic legislative communications director. “He has shown an incredible lack of understanding of policy…The deflated morale on the campuses is horrible. It has a ripple effect.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, Thursday were more direct. Cafero said Kennedy’s had his three strikes: he needs to be out. He is calling for his resignation.

“Given the developments over the last two weeks, I believe it is in the best interests of the thousands of students that rely on our state’s higher education system, and those who are responsible to taxpayers for how it is administered, that President Kennedy tender his resignation,” Cafero said in a statement.

Recent missteps by the Regents include offering “expedite[d]” separations of the local college presidents and unilaterally handing out double-digit raises. Kennedy also spent six weeks working remotely from Minnesota.

“I have never been one to jump to conclusions when it comes to allegations that affect someone’s livelihood,” Cafero added. “But I think we have ample evidence that warrants a change in the leadership of the state college system.”

Kennedy “has created a crisis in leadership,” he added.

Later in the day, McKinney issued a statement saying  “The Board of Regents of Higher Education needs to clean house. The actions of President Robert Kennedy and Executive Vice President Michael Meotti have embarrassed Connecticut’s higher education system and further eroded taxpayer confidence and trust in state institutions.”

“Both men need to resign and the search for competent successors must begin immediately,” McKinney added.

Kennedy, whose base salary is $340,000, also faced questions this week about a new subject: His absence from the state and central office for six weeks, while he exercised contract rights for “professional development.”

But he took no courses or did any academic research or writing. He said that time, spent in Minnesota where he and his wife have a home, could be described more accurately described as working remotely, not as professional development.

Cafero said the Board of Regents, and not just Kennedy, weakened their credibility by allowing this arrangement. “For six weeks, did anyone say: ‘Where’s Bob?'”

“The board, and I, personally, have been greatly troubled with the actions that have been taken by and the lack of information shared with the Board of Regents by President Kennedy,” Board of Regents Chairman Lewis Robinson Jr. said Thursday. “As I said yesterday, the Board will be reviewing his judgment exercised in these matters, as well as his performance. Based on our findings, we will take the appropriate action.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement Thursday, saying the system’s credibility has been shaken.

“Serious problems have been identified in recent days, and they need to be fixed. I believe the Board of Regents needs to step in, conduct a review of these matters, and take appropriate steps based on their findings. The credibility of the central office has been damaged, and it needs to be restored as quickly as possible.”

Keith M. Phaneuf contributed to this report.