New Regents president vows to work for ‘world-class’ higher-education system

A sense of hope spread over the Capitol Friday as the new president of the state Board of Regents pledged to bring trust and a sense of integrity to the state’s public-college system, and the governing board laid the groundwork to change controversial policies that plagued the system last year.

During a reception at the Capitol with legislators, the governor and others, incoming Regents President Gregory W. Gray said he believes he can achieve a trustworthy “world class” higher-education system.

“My pledge to you is that not just me, but everyone receiving a paycheck in the state system for higher education will be dedicated to openness and transparency that we can trust,” said Gray, who will officially begin in his new position on July 1.

Since 2009, Gray has been chancellor of the Riverside Community College district in California. The three-college district has more than 2,000 employees and a $160 million budget. 

The Board of Regents for Higher Education came under fire last year under the leadership of former President Robert A. Kennedy.

Kennedy resigned in October after he granted executive pay raises without board approval, including $48,000 to one employee — the executive vice president of the Board of Regents — at a time when other state employees were in a pay freeze. He also was absent from the central office for six weeks over the summer of 2012, working remotely from a second home in Minnesota. And, he was criticized because his contract included $25,000 in unvouchered expenses.

Kennedy had been hired to oversee the newly merged public higher education system of 100,000 students that includes the four Connecticut state universities (excluding the University of Connecticut),  the 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak College.

During the reception Friday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and various legislators made speeches welcoming Gray and looking forward to brighter days.

Malloy praised Gray’s depth of experience and his understanding of the vital link between higher education and the state’s workforce. He thanked the Board of Regents for Higher Education for its work in conducting the search for a new president and for reorganizing the higher-education system.

“We’re gonna get it right, it’s gonna work well and we’re gonna be proud for years to come,” Malloy said.

After the reception, the Board of Regents’ administration committee met and approved two new policies designed to better account for college and university presidents’ expenses and to set guidelines for salary ranges.

The new guidelines call for the presidents of the community colleges and Charter Oak College to document all expenses. Previously, these college presidents received $11,040 to $12,205 as part of their paychecks to cover car expenses, optional benefits and other items. Now the expenses must be documented. 

In addition, the presidents of the four universities will be evaluated in part on how they use their housing allowance to promote institutional advancement.

These four presidents are not given housing, but instead receive between $25,000 and $35,000 a year as a housing allowance to be used to conduct campus affairs, entertain donors and do community and student outreach and development. As part of their evaluations, they now will be expected to explain how they used the money.

“The real world works with documented expenses. We have to do this. It is all about accountability,” said Naomi Cohen, chairwoman of the Board of Regents’ administration committee.

In response to the pay raise controversy, the committee also sought to set new salary guidelines ensuring that no one is paid above the maximum or below the minimum existing salary schedule, or hired above the median without the approval of the Board of Regents.

“It’s to have a consistent and fair policy that also has some fiscal oversight,” Cohen said.