The Board of Regents Thursday announced the three finalists to run the state’s largest public college system. Faculty and students will have a chance to meet the candidates Monday or Tuesday in Hartford.

The finalists were selected from 29 applicants.

“These three were clearly the most outstanding,” board Chairman Lewis J. Robinson Jr. said in a statement. “The caliber of the finalists is a reflection of their hard work and the tremendous potential of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities.”

All three men currently lead a college system:

  • Jack R. Warner has been leader of six of South Dakota’s public universities since 2009. He is the former commissioner of Rhode Island’s Board of Governor’s for Higher Education. Warner taught in the Boston College Graduate School of Education for 18 years. See his resume here;
  • Gregory W. Gray has been the leader of Riverside Community College in California since 2009. Gray established the first study abroad program to China by a community college nationwide. See his resume here;
  • Jay V. Kahn is interim president of Keene State College in New Hampshire. Before that he was the college’s vice president for finance and planning. See his resume here.
regents finalists

While keeping an open mind, Sen. Beth Bye, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee expressed frustration with the lack of diversity among the finalists. All three candidates are white men

“I am just frustrated that it’s not a more diverse pool… I mean, there are no women who are interested?” the Democrat from West Hartford said during an interview. “I don’t think that represents our campuses very well.”

The Board of Regents, which was created two years ago by merging the Connecticut State University system and community colleges into one system, has had one leader so far. That leader, Robert Kennedy, was a white man.

The Connecticut State University System never had a woman leader. At the University of Connecticut, Susan Herbst became the university’s first woman president in 2010.

The Boad of Regents spent $68,500 hiring a search firm to recruit candidates to lead the system, and Bye said she wants to know why no women or minorities made the final cut.

“Hopefully that was one of their priorities,” she said. “I am going to have a conversation with” the regents.

Rep. Roberta Willis, the other chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, also expressed concern with the lack of diversity.

“They look very promising, but no women?” the Democrat from Salisbury said.

Responding to questions about the lack of diversity, a spokesman for the 100,000-student in an email wrote, “The Regents Search Committee conducted a thorough, robust, nationwide search and, after considering the input of the Systemwide Advisory Committee, has selected three highly-qualified individuals as finalists, each of whom would be an exceptional leader for our system. As stated in the position profile, the next president will be committed fully to what the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities offer to individuals of all ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds, as well as to ConnSCU’s goal of preparing the workforce and an educated citizenry for the State of Connecticut.”

Open sessions for the public to meet the three finalists are scheduled at 61 Woodland St. in Hartford as follows:

Jack R. Warner – Monday, March 18, 1:30 p.m.

Gregory W. Gray – Monday, March 18, 3 p.m.

Jay V. Kahn – Tuesday, March 19, 2 p.m.

A recommendation is expected to be made for the full board during its April 4 meeting. The name of the recommended candidate will then be submitted to the governor for consideration. The president’s seat has been vacant since last fall when a trio of controversies hit the system.

Willis said the final pick of who will be the next president is critical.

“We have to chose ‘right this time. No margin of error,” she said referencing the recent controversies.

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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