DANBURY–After months of criticism, Connecticut State University System officials Thursday rescinded a controversial policy that was used to remove Southern Connecticut State University’s president last year.
The policy, which had given CSU Chancellor David G. Carter authority to remove presidents without a vote of the Board of Trustees, was ruled illegal earlier this month by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
Only weeks after the policy was approved a year ago, Carter notified Southern’s President, Cheryl Norton, that she would be removed from her job. Norton submitted her resignation, but some board members said later they were unaware she had been forced out.
The policy required only that the chancellor get the approval of the board chairman to remove a president, but on Thursday the CSU System Board of Trustees voted to require that such matters be subject to a vote of the full board. The decision followed an ad hoc board committee’s recommendation for a more transparent process for removing a president.
“The bottom line is we have transparency,” Peter Rosa, a member of the ad hoc committee, said during a board meeting at Western Connecticut State University. “It’s clear that every member of the board has a say.”
The former policy had given the chancellor a level of authority that is uncommon in most other states, according to a report issued earlier this year by the state Office of Legislative Research. Only four of 35 university systems reviewed had similar policies, the report said; most states require board approval to dismiss a president.
Under the old policy, the board had the option to challenge the chancellor’s decision at a subsequent board meeting but also could simply allow the decision to take effect without a vote. Officials said the intent had been to protect the privacy of presidents by keeping the matter from being raised publicly.
Thursday’s action marked the second time in recent weeks that the 18-member Board of Trustees restored its own authority as a result of complaints that too much power had been centralized in Carter and the board’s Executive Committee. Last month, the board agreed to end a practice that had allowed the eight-member Executive Committee – not the full board – to make decisions on various policy matters involving the chancellor and campus presidents.
Carter, who turns 68 this month, announced last month that he will retire next year.
Carter’s removal of Norton drew criticism from lawmakers, faculty members and others after The Mirror disclosed that the university system granted Norton a sabbatical and a year’s pay while also paying a full salary to her interim replacement, Stanley Battle.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell joined the list of critics later when the CSU board approved double-digit raises for top officials and campus presidents, including Norton and Battle, in the midst of the state’s fiscal crisis. The board later reduced the size of the raises.
The issues surrounding the raises and Norton’s removal have resulted in increased scrutiny of the 36,500-student system by state lawmakers. The legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee has begun a study of the cost of running CSU’s central office in Hartford along with administrative staffs at the system’s four universities in New Britain, New Haven, Willimantic and Danbury. The committee later also plans to review operations at the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Community Colleges system.
Thursday’s decision to require the full CSU board to vote on the removal of university presidents “is smart and long overdue,” said Brian Johnson, immediate past president of Southern’s Faculty Senate. Faculty members at Southern and CSU’s other universities had campaigned against the former policy.
“When you do something as drastic as releasing a president, you’re better off having the body that hired the president making the decision,” Johnson said.