Malloy administration asked chairman of state’s college system to step aside

The chairman of the state’s largest public college system's governing board resigned earlier this month after being asked to do so by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief of staff.

Saying the series of missteps that beset the system during Lewis Robinson's tenure have been a “distraction” to improving the dozen community colleges and Connecticut State Universities, Mark Ojakian, the democratic governor’s top aide, said he met with the chairman to ask for his resignation as the leader of the governing board.

Robinson complied, and emailed his board shortly after to inform them of the administration “expressing the decision of Gov. Malloy to ‘move the Board of Regents in a new direction.'” 

During an interview with the Mirror this week, Ojakian said the system has had a hard time shaking the pay-raise scandal and other controversies that afflicted the system during Robinson's leadership of the 100,000-student system.

“It was just time to have a new leader with a fresh start,” he said. “We needed to change the leadership structure given the fact that we had been through this period of uncertainty and disruption… Sometimes you just need to make a change to move the system forward.”

Robinson was offered the ability to stay on the board, but no longer as the chairman. He declined the offer, Ojakian said.

This move by the governor’s office has raised the consternation of the ranking Republican on the legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

“I am troubled… with even more disruption,” Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, wrote the governor last week. “The resignation of the previous president, the refusal of a top candidate to accept the vacancy of a president’s position and now the departure of the chairman of the Board of Regents (just as a new president is seated) must create uncertainty and discomfort among the staff and any potential candidate for current open positions.”

Prior to Malloy, previous chairmen of the governing boards for the state’s colleges and universities had long tenures running the autonomous institutions.  Robinson’s resignation marks the third chairman of a public college system to step down during Malloy’s nearly three years in office. (See other resignation stories here and here.) 

“I think that’s why there hasn’t been, quite honestly, a lot accomplished under previous administrations because we’ve had the same people in the same roles,” Ojakian said. “This is [Malloy’s] appointment. He chose to exercise that authority.”

Lawmakers last year were critical of the  governor’s involvement in naming the president and vice president of the college system. While the legislature and governor agreed to have those positions be a board decision, the chairman of the 16-campus Connecticut State Colleges & Universities remains a gubernatorial appointment.

“I think the governor has exercised the appropriate amount of authority under the law,” Ojakian said. “In terms of managing the system, we are totally hands off.”

Robinson, who did not return calls for comment Tuesday or Wednesday, was named chairman of the Board of Regents two years ago by Malloy.  In his resignation letter to the governor, he outlined several accomplishments he believes the system achieved during his tenure, including creating a strategic plan and implementing chan ges to how students not ready for college-level courses are educated when they seek enrollment in a community college.

With a new college president in office, Ojakian said the system is positioned to move forward.

“It is our hope that over the next couple years we will see some big bold planning initiatives that we can support that we can help to move forward,” he said.

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