Discontent among some faculty with leadership of the state’s largest public college system may be close to a boiling point.
The union representing professors at Eastern Connecticut State University is convening a special meeting Wednesday at the school’s Willimantic campus to “discuss concerns about the future of our system and its transparency.”
“Faculty feel left out of the process,” said Gregory Kane, president of ECSU’s University Senate and an associate professor in the Health and Physical Education Department.
Union faculty at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury plan to gather Thursday to discuss the problems they have with initiatives for the future that have been put forward by Board of Regents President Gregory W. Gray.
“The community has some pretty serious concerns,” said Daniel W. Barrett, president of WCSU’s University Senate and an associate professor of psychology.
Problems surfaced this week after the central office for the 90,000-student system released its final set of “Roadmaps,” a group of initiatives to be undertaken over the next several months at the four regional state universities and 12 community colleges.
The faculty meetings also follow the sudden resignation Monday of Provost Michael Gargano, who stepped down from his post without explanation.
Several faculty said Tuesday that Gargano understood what needed to change at the universities to improve academics, but they didn’t express similar confidence in President Gray.
“His commitment is mostly about how to make the system more efficient and lean,” Mike Shea, the chair of the English Department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, said about Gray. “He’s more about streamlining processes than advocating for the resources” to improve the schools.
Gray has faced dramatic challenges since he took office in May 2013. The 12 community colleges and four state universities he was named to oversee faced record deficits and low levels of reserves to make up for budget shortfalls. The budget squeeze followed significant cuts in state funding.
In an attempt to turn around the system’s finances, Gray launched “Transform CSCU 2020,” which aimed to increase enrollment and fill the budget gap with additional tuition money. But enrollment still fell at most of the schools this year, and deficits still plague the system.
So when Gray’s team announced plans for “Academic Program Optimization” to “ensure optimal use of resources,” and made other recommendations, some faculty became increasingly concerned.
“Control over our right to control curriculum may be taken away,” said Patricia O’Neill, a faculty member at Western Connecticut State University.
“I don’t believe the Transform CSCU 2020 is the result of adequate consultation with the faculty,” said Vijay Nair, the president of the four-univerisity American Association of University Professors.
“The mission of the state colleges is not well represented in Transform CSCU 2020,” said Stephen Adair, the faculty representative on the governing board of the system and a sociology professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. “There are lots of causes for concern in the roadmaps.”
Some of the concerns with the plans provided to the Mirror by faculty include increasing reliance on online courses and the central office’s takeover from local campuses of responsibility for things like course registration.
But the biggest concern was what wasn’t included in the plans.
Faculty leaders recently sent a five-page request to Gray listing steps they feel are necessary to improve the system. That request included hiring more staff so students can get the courses they need to graduate and class sizes can be reduced.
“University budgets have cut out the fat, stripped much of the meat, and started to gnaw at the bone. Full-time faculty (budget) lines have been cut, student support services understaffed, class sizes increased, and courses necessary for on-time graduation canceled,” the request states.
Gray responded in an Oct. 31 letter, saying he “agrees with your assessment of the importance of nearly every topic of concern…We also want to ensure that our four comprehensive universities, as they seek to serve their specific regions and maintain their distinct roles, have the needed resources to support their mission of teaching, research, and outreach.”
But several faculty say Gray’s “Roadmaps” don’t lay out the path to achieving that.
Gray was not available to be interviewed Tuesday.
Faculty also pointed to a monthly newsletter Gray sent them Monday as an area of concern.
In it Gray wrote: “The new approach we must adopt is one that takes greater advantage of and heavier reliance on creativity, innovation and technology… Our job now is to correct the trajectory of our system of education, at every level.
“Many education pundits now suggest the teacher is no longer the center of learning, and that students learn more from one another than from the faculty. If accurate, this re-alignment means faculty must become “facilitators” of learning,” he wrote. “But most of us haven’t really figured out social media, and the power it gives us to enrich student learning. Further, allowing this deficiency to continue by not addressing it will relegate us to permanent irrelevance.”
Student leaders in the system have also expressed concern with the lack of input they have had in shaping plans for the system.
“Too often it seems we are told what the system is planning to implement rather than what the system wants to know about its students,” Sarah E. Greco, one of the student representatives on the system’s governing board told the Regents last month.