Top faculty at state colleges: ‘Dangerous signs … we are being downgraded’

Long-simmering resentment on the part of a group of distinguished professors at the four Connecticut State Universities toward the University of Connecticut has boiled over in a letter to state officials blasting what they say is the latest example of inequity — a proposal by the governor to increase funding to UConn.

All 12 “CSU Professors” — the highest designation faculty at Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities can receive — co-signed a three-page letter Thursday in which they complain that CSU faculty is paid 30 percent less than professors at UConn, while being required to teach twice as many classes.

This leaves little time for research, the professors wrote: “There are dangerous signs” that their schools “are being downgraded from teaching and research universities to solely teaching universities.”

In their missive to the college system’s governing board, the college presidents, the co-chairs of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee and many others, the professors argue that UConn is unfairly treated as the superior public university in the state.

“Connecticut has long suffered from a two-tier higher education system for its public four-year universities with the University of Connecticut as the self-described flagship research university claiming disproportionate resources,” the professors wrote.

UConn enrolled 35 percent of the state’s full-time students and 10 percent of part-time student in the fall of 2011. That fiscal year UConn received 40 percent of state funding directed at public colleges.

This displeasure with UConn is a reaction to a proposal Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is asking legislators to approve in which state support to UConn would steadily increase over the next 10 years to $137 million more a year than it’s getting now to pay for new faculty and other staff.

There are no plans right now to increase state support for operating expenses at the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ 17 institutions — four state universities, 12 community colleges, and online college. The four CSU schools have 1,300 full-time faculty.

“Now UConn’s budget is being expanded while that of ConnSCU is being reduced… Now is the time to be upgrading rather than downgrading the status of its ‘other’ public university,” the professors write.

Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, said during an interview that faculty are asking when more state support will be heading their way.

“People all over the university system have that question on their mind,” he said. “I think we’ll see some more things for the four universities. So I think it remains to be seen, but if nothing occurs, then yeah, people will continue to be concerned. But I think they need to wait and see.”

Malloy said earlier this week that the proposed funding for UConn does not mean that the other public institutions will get no additional funding. However, he said, nothing specific has been presented to him, so he is waiting.

ConnSCU Vice President for State Universities Elsa Núnez said during an interview Thursday that the Board of Regents is working on that plan now, and that the turnover in leadership for the 100,000-student system has slowed things down a bit.

“It is going to be addressed in the future,” she said. “I agree with the faculty that [lawmakers] have to continue to make investments in the state colleges and community colleges. You can’t just focus on UConn… The next round should be for the state colleges and community colleges.”

Stephen Adair, the vice chairman of the system’s Faculty Advisory Committee, said the system has been without leadership for too long.

“There is a crisis in leadership advocating for funding,” he said during an interview. “We are facing very difficult times. The large expenditure going to UConn is discouraging.”

In their letter, the CSU Professors also take issue with the merging of the community college and state university system that happened two years ago. They pointed to the mission statement adopted by the Board of Regents last September that makes no mention of research.

“Research is being endangered at this point,” professor James Russell, who teaches at Eastern and who researches retirement policy, said during an interview. “This letter articulates what a lot of faculty are feeling.”

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe