CSCU after merger: Fewer faculty, higher central office costs

When the state’s community colleges and regional four-year universities were merged into one system in 2011 despite major resistance from campus staff, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised it would save millions in administrative costs so more faculty could be hired.

The student center at Central Connecticut State University

CCSU

The student center at Central Connecticut State University

The goal, he said, was “to help put more money toward teaching, and less toward central office and board hierarchy.”

Nearly four years later, the budget for the central office has grown by $5.5 million, the regional universities employ 67 fewer full-time faculty, and the top lawyer for state employee unions has raised concerns that the system’s Board of Regents is improperly outsourcing state employees’ jobs.

Data show that the central office’s budget for this fiscal year still makes up 3.4 percent of the college system’s entire budget, the same as before the merger.

“We were told it was going to save a lot of money and that savings put into the classroom. That was the promise. That never happened,” said Vijay Nair, the leader of the faculty union for Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities.

“The arrow is moving in the wrong direction. Not only is it not acceptable; it’s not what we were promised,” said state Rep. Roberta Willis, the House chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

When the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system was first created, numerous administrative staff were laid off. While the system’s budget chief estimates those layoffs saved $6.6 million in personnel costs this school year, almost all of those savings are budgeted to be offset by increases in other expenditures.

“What are they doing? The whole reason for this was to save money,” said Stephen Adair, a professor of sociology at Central Connecticut State University and the faculty representative on the Board of Regents, which oversees the system.

The new expenses include at least $4 million to hire private consultants to identify the school’s construction needs, to develop strategies to increase enrollment, and to create a reform plan to improve the 17-college system. (See an explanation of the contracted services here.)

The costs of those contracts are one-time expenses, and several have expired or will expire in the near future, college officials note.

“We’ve seen a fair amount of savings” in personnel costs, said Liz Donohue, the director of policy for Malloy. “I think we are going to continue seeing that.”

“The more they work through things, the more realization of savings there will be in the future,” she said.

Erika Steiner, the Regents’ budget chief, said during an interview that she does not expect the central office to spend its entire $40.4 million budget this fiscal year since information technology expenses are expected to come in under budget. She had no estimate of just how much under budget the central office budget would be.

Asked why there was an increase in non-personnel operating expenses, Steiner had no explanation.

“It is what it is,” she said, pointing out that much of the leadership at the system arrived after the merger. “We weren’t here at the time. There is evidence in our files that there were cost savings contemplated. However, they were all estimated. We know there were discussions over cost savings, however a clear path to an amount or how they were going to get there wasn’t available.”

Steiner said she is not sure whether the central office’s budget will continue to grow, but that any growth would be offset by savings at the individual schools. “Not to be cagy about it, but it depends,” she said.

‘More money toward teaching’

So far, the number of faculty also has not grown at the regional universities.

The state budget and the Board of Regents provided the schools with $4 million last fiscal year specifically to hire an additional 40 faculty.

According to data the central office is required to provide the CSU-American Association of University Professors each semester, the number of full-time faculty has declined by 67 and the number of part-time faculty by 133 since the fall semester of 2011. Faculty data for the community colleges was not immediately available. Faculty numbers include instructors, counselors, coaches and librarians.

Data submitted by the universities to the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data system also show student-to-faculty ratios remain nearly the same.

The provost for Central Connecticut State University said that, since it takes time to fill new faculty positions, there probably is a lag in the reporting of positions that have been filled.

Jim Blake, the executive vice president for finance and administration at Southern Connecticut State University, said faculty levels are determined by how many courses students need.

“If the students aren’t here, we don’t need to offer all the courses,” he said, pointing out that about 1,500 fewer students are enrolled this year than in 2008.

The declines in fiscal 2011 and 2012 came amidst major funding cuts from the state as lawmakers worked to close a massive budget shortfall. A spokesman for Eastern Connecticut State University said that tenure-track positions in more recent years have begun to rebound.

Outsourcing Jobs?

The use of consultants has drawn the ire of faculty, union leaders and legislators.

“Are they hiring too many consultants? Some areas could and should have been handled in-house.” said Willis, D-Salisbury.

Daniel Livingston, counsel and chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Coalition, filed a complaint last summer with the watchdog agency that oversees state contracting.

Livingston asked the agency, the State Contracting Standards Board, to review whether a $1.97 million contract awarded to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to create the reform plan for the colleges was an improper outsourcing of sate jobs.

“We respectfully contend that this work could and should have been performed by existing employees of our institutions of higher education, and accordingly this contract should be canceled,” Livingston wrote. “In these trying budgetary times for the State of Connecticut, there is no need to be sending work – and money – up to Massachusetts.”

In response to the contracting scandals that drove Gov. John G. Rowland from office, lawmakers changed state law in 2007 to require state agencies to go through a rigorous process before privatizing significant services. Agencies must first demonstrate to the contracting standards board that outsourcing will save at least a 10 percent of costs with no loss in quality of service.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University

WCSU

The Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University

But the standards board was not equipped to handle these issues for years after the law was created, an official at the agency says. It took years for a governor to appoint an executive director for the watchdog agency, and no staff were hired until the 2013-14 fiscal year.

“We weren’t really up and running until the fall of 2013,” Julia Lentini Marquis, the chief procurement officer for the standards board, said during an interview.

In response to the union’s complaint, regents officials told the contracting board that the status of the contracting board was still unclear to them when they entered into the BCG contract in April 2014, that the work had since been completed, and that the consultants were doing work for which no state employee was responsible.

“BCG left the premises yesterday,” Elizabeth Caswell, the regents’ chief of staff, told the contracting board on Aug. 8. “They are going to come back after a little bit of a hiatus…to make sure the strateg[ies] are in fact working well.”

The response that the Regents were unaware of the status of the contracting board and that the consultants’ work was already complete wasn’t good enough for board member Jean Morningstar, a leader of AFT-Connecticut, a union that represents state employees.

“That’s like saying you don’t know there’s a speed limit. That’s unreasonable,” she said during the board’s August meeting. “This seems to be higher ed’s way of handling things. And we don’t find out until it’s over, and then it’s too late.”

The board ultimately decided not to rule on whether the work was improperly privatized since the contract was set to expire in five weeks. However, the regents went on to pay the consultants $450,878 for work completed after the contract expired because of an amended contract signed by the college system president less than two weeks after the contracting board’s decision.

To ensure state agencies are aware of the contracting standards law and to clear up any confusion on the watchdog board’s role, its chair sent a letter to all state agency leaders.

“After a period of dormancy, the Board has been reconstituted and is now active,” Claudia Baio, the board’s chair, wrote. The letter was similar to one the governor’s budget director sent to agency leaders a year earlier outlining the role of the contracting board.

Steiner said that any future contracts would not outsource state employees’ jobs without approval from the contracting board.

Steiner said that any future contracts would not outsource state employees’ jobs without approval from the contracting board.

Even with the watchdog in place, the Regents’ are having a difficult time allaying concerns among some faculty that their jobs might be outsourced to an online provider.

Regents President Gregory Gray has said he would like to see more courses taught online, and a strategy to achieve that was included in plans BCG helped develop so that under-enrolled courses could be offered online to boost enrollment and avoid being canceled.

While Gray has said it will be up to faculty to decide which courses are appropriate to move online, many faculty remain wary. Some point out that Board of Regents Chairman Nicholas Donofrio is an advisor for Knod.net – a college where all of a student’s time is spent taking courses online, with “coaches” facilitating the learning.

Steiner, the Regents’ budget chief, said college staff met with Knod officials, but it was ultimately decided not to move forward with a contract.

“It wasn’t a good fit,” she said.

Donofrio said during an interview that he played no role in the Regents consideration of bringing Knod to the college system, but said that, “These things are always worth considering.”

Donofrio said alternative models of delivering higher education must be considered to rein in costs.

Donohue, the governor’s policy director, said the merger still has some progress to make.

“Transitions take time. And there’s more that’s continuing to be done” to improve the schools, she said.

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