Amid no-confidence votes, decision looms on college leader’s future

Gregory Gray, president of Connecticut State Colleges & Universities

Gregory Gray, president of Connecticut State Colleges & Universities

Faculty at four of the state’s public colleges have passed resolutions expressing no confidence in the system’s president, Gregory Gray — an unusual move that puts pressure on the system’s governing board just as the embattled president’s contract comes up for renewal.

The contract decision will force the board to evaluate Gray and his plans for the 90,000-student system.

“It’s up to them to decide what to do with these votes,” said Stephen Adair, a sociology professor at Central Connecticut State University and a leader of the system’s faculty panel, the Faculty Advisory Committee.

It’s unclear whether the Board of Regents is happy with the job Gray has done since becoming the president of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities two years ago. The college system includes the state’s dozen public community colleges, four regional Connecticut State Universities and its online college.

The Regents have never done a written evaluation of the president, and the board had no comment on the no-confidence votes. More votes are expected to take place at several of the system’s colleges and universities over the next two weeks.

The board, however, will need to assess Gray’s performance soon. His contract expires in 14 months, and the board is required to give him 12 months’ notice if they plan to terminate his contract. Gray must provide the board with three months’ notice if he plans to leave, which he has not done.

Gray’s relationship with faculty splintered last fall after he spent $1.97 million hiring outside consultants to craft a controversial plan to overhaul the college system. Faculty fear that plan would strip them of their academic independence.

Attempts to reconcile have failed, and faculty feel Gray is moving forward with changes without their participation in the decision-making.

State legislators publicly lambasted the president earlier this month for his decision to close community college campuses in Meriden. Gray reversed that decision only after the Senate and House passed a bill barring him from closing any campuses without legislative approval, though that legislation has now been vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

In a proposed budget they put forward Friday, Republican legislators eliminated both the Board of Regents and Gray’s position.

The no-confidence votes against Gray — which have no legal impact — have taken place at Central, Eastern and Southern Connecticut state universities and Norwalk Community College.

“Policy decisions made by the President have not been based on sound academic and pedagogical principles,” states the resolution by faculty at Southern in New Haven and Central in New Britain and Eastern in Willimantic.

The faculty at Norwalk and Central also cast separate no-confidence votes against the Regents.

“The [system’s] president does not act without the advice, consent, and support of the Board of Regents,”  reads the resolution adopted by faculty at Central.

These votes also are also prompted by requests for concessions from unionized staff to help close the system’s large deficit.

Union leaders have grown frustrated that Gray routinely blames part of the system’s growing deficit on faculty switching from a 401k-type retirement plan to the state’s pension system. The amount the state or college is required to contribute for an employee on the pension system is significantly more than for the 401k-type plan.

The rub is that the state comptroller’s budget was meant to pick up those costs, not the college system’s budgets.

The colleges say some of these costs have been forced on them, however, while the lawyer for the state employee unions argues the comptroller’s budget has largely picked them up.

“Those costing figures are grossly inflated if the Comptroller’s reimbursement of general-funded employees is ignored,” Daniel Livingston, the lawyer for the state employees’ union, recently wrote the leaders of the legislature’s budget-writing committee.

The unions are annoyed that college leaders are blaming the pension switches for boosting their deficit.

“How does this affect the Higher Education Institutions? Not in the way it is sometimes suggested,” Livingston wrote.

But Erika Steiner, the regents’ budget chief, says that the colleges have not been able to put all of these more expensive employees on the comptroller’s tab.

“The general fund is saturated  (i.e. no additional employees can be covered),” she wrote recently to the system’s legislative liaison.

However, the college system, which blames $10 million of its deficit on the retirement plan switches, was unable to provide the Mirror with the number of employees for whom they are paying for the more expensive pension.

“The numbers are estimates,” said college spokesman Michael Kozlowski. “We do not track what you have asked for.”

William Faraclas, a professor and president of the Faculty Senate at Southern Connecticut State University, said he hopes the no-confidence votes prompt the regents to make necessary changes.

“Our students are suffering,” he said. “What we are stating is our system requires good leadership and we feel we are not getting this at this time.”

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