Op-Ed: Time to dismantle the CT Board of Regents

President Gregory Gray’s op-ed piece in a recent edition of the Hartford Courant reads as an honest attempt to argue for increased funding for the beleaguered and perennially mismanaged Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.

However well-meaning President Gray’s words appear, they conceal the most important dynamic that impacts funding for higher education in the state: legislators don’t trust the Board of Regents for Higher Education that Gray heads and are leery of giving more money to a central office that can’t seem to do anything other than increase administrative costs, grow an already bloated management core, raise tuition rates, and continually demonstrate the debilitating results of bureaucratic paralysis.

Op-ed submit bugCan any Connecticut taxpayer blame state legislators for their unwillingness to once again shore up the CSCU system? Our representatives are not against funding education; they are against giving more money to the ineffectual BOR.

Unfortunately, the real losers in the latest budget crisis/political theater will once again be the students attending institutions in the CSCU system. As every community college and state school is given its share of the BOR deficit, college presidents are faced with the impossible choice of what to cut.

After chopping cafeteria services, delaying building maintenance, and not filling positions left vacant by retirement, they start laying off more personnel. College presidents first target those without adequate union protection: one-year contract faculty, part-time educational assistants, and full-time staff members on temporary contracts.

They cut all the people who actually work with students every day teaching classes, registering new admissions, planning student activities, and processing financial aid. Unsurprisingly, deans pulling down beefy six-figure salaries never take a wage cut; they might even receive bonuses this year.

In other words, those doing real work with students every day are given their walking papers while the folks who spend their days having meetings and writing policy memos don’t just maintain their numbers, their ranks actually swell.

This is exactly what has happened at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich. President Mary Ellen Jukoski, who took the reins of the institution last summer, was faced with a mandate to cut over $1 million from the college budget. She radically reorganized campus personnel this past week and gave non-renewal notices to dozens of faculty and staff members. In addition, competent, long-time employees were demoted, and a new scheme of four or five (TBA as this is written) new academic director positions was proposed. That’s right: more administration.

On one hand, the hardship of cutting personnel seems unavoidable given the current woeful state of CSCU leadership; on the other, it begs the question of what is important for the state and its college-educated population. The vast majority of the 130,000+ students enrolled in CSCU institutions this year come from within Connecticut and will remain in Connecticut after they graduate. UConn can’t boast the same.

Shouldn’t a state priority be providing those future teachers, nurses, accountants, computer programmers, biologists, and engineers with an outstanding educational experience? The recent federal report indicting the state for under-serving low-income K-12 students only adds fuel to the fire; guess where those folks will first attempt college, if they even get the chance? It probably won’t be UConn.

The solution seems clear, but it is one that will take a political will that might be currently unavailable in Hartford. The current BOR needs to be dismantled. Colleges need to be funded directly in response to their local needs and enrollments.

This would immediately reward efforts towards good fiscal practice on individual campuses that currently have any surpluses raided by the BOR. The move would simultaneously free up tens of millions of dollars in saved administrative overhead. To prevent the unchecked abuses of college president’s turning their institutions into private fiefdoms, a legislative panel could provide direct oversight and accountability.

The buzzards have been circling above Connecticut higher education for many years, and it is certainly time to bring it back to life. There isn’t a teacher or a staff member in the entire CSCU system who doesn’t want that to happen. However, the current iteration of the BOR isn’t helping.

Jon Brammer is the coordinator for tutoring in writing and a humanities and English instructor at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich. 

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