House votes to remove governor’s role in appointing college president

State Representatives on Wednesday voted to remove the governor’s authority to appoint the president of the state’s largest public college system. The bill, instead, will place the responsibility of selecting a president and setting all the employment terms for the leader solely with the 15-member Board of Regents.

The bill is one of several proposed changes to law that the General Assembly is considering following a series of missteps made by the college leaders Gov. Dannel P. Malloy put into office. The president and vice president of the system resigned after disclosures that several top officials were awarded double-digit percentage raises, that President Robert Kennedy spent several weeks “working remotely” from his second home in Minnesota, and that the community college presidents’ jobs were being threatened.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero said the lack of oversight by the governing board that led to these controversies, “In my mind [are] an embarrassment to the Board of Regents themselves.”

While supportive of the bill to limit the governor’s influence in naming a college president, Cafero asked the house chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee where the bills are to fix everything else that went wrong.

“What kind of control do we have if any?” Cafero asked. “My concern is what safeguard do we have… that would prevent that kind of thing from happening again?”

Two bills aimed increasing transparency in higher education spending are awaiting action by the House and Senate.

One bill would require the Board of Regents to report how they are spending the thousands of dollars they receive each year to cover their job-related travel and entertainment expenses. Another would require public colleges and universities to regularly report to lawmakers how the salaries of administrative positions compare to their peer institutions and the student-to-administrator ratio.

“It is the most galling and glaring of errors when we allow our system to get out of control without controls… When you have men and women who are scraping to get by, and they are reading about $400,000 per year compensation being given to individuals who by contract were allowed to take nine weeks off and go fishing,” Cafero said. “That is the epitome — the epitome — of why people dislike the governmental process… We have to make darn sure those kind of things don’t happen again. Now this is a first step.”

The bill that addresses how the next president is appointed was approved 129-14, with five Democrats and nine Republicans voting against it. The Malloy administration has said the governor intends to sign the bill.

Those legislators who spoke in opposition to the bill said they were voting no because it didn’t go far enough and was placing too much autonomy in a board that has already failed once.

“There really is no recourse in this bill for this legislature, this body, to have any input,” said Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven. “We are giving too much authority to the Board of Regents… We need to protect our students and I don’t think we are doing that.”

Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, agrees.

“I really don’t feel comfortable that there are enough safeguards in here,” he said. “We really don’t want to have a repeat embarrassment of what happened before.”

Last week, the Regents forwarded the names of three presidential candidates for the governor to interview. Although Malloy has the authority to do so under current law, his spokesman said the governor will refrain from making an appointment while the new legislation is being negotiated. Malloy still plans to meet with the finalists in the coming weeks.

Under current law, the board must recommend the president. The governor can confirm that recommendation or reject it. If the latter happens, then the process starts over.

See related article