Though the Board of Regents for Higher Education soon could have sole authority to pick the next president of the merged public college system, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy still will be interviewing three finalists for the job.

The governor’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said the interviews aren’t unusual. He noted that the University of Connecticut trustees in late 2010 allowed then-Governor-elect Malloy to interview finalists for the president’s post that went to Susan Herbst.

But this all comes six months after some legislators criticized Malloy for exerting too much control over the regents system’s administration.

Technically, the regents voted Thursday to recommend three finalists to Malloy for the president’s position. Former UConn President Philip E. Austin has filled the job on an interim basis since Robert Kennedy resigned amid controversy in October 2012.

Under current law, the board must recommend the president. The governor can confirm that recommendation or reject it. If the latter happens, then the process starts over.

But that arrangement could change as early as this month. The administration and the legislature’s Higher Education Committee have been negotiating a bill that would give the regents sole appointing authority.

Committee leaders issued a bipartisan call for reform last October after The Mirror disclosed that Kennedy had approved more than 20 executive pay raises worth nearly $300,000 at a time most state employees faced a wage freeze and while student tuition and fees were rising.

Lawmakers also complained that while the regents were supposed to play the lead role in selecting administrators for the system, Malloy had controlled the selection of Kennedy and former system Executive Vice President Michael Meotti.

And committee leaders asked Thursday why the regents recommended three finalists for Malloy’s consideration now, if the job of making a final selection could fall to the board in the next few weeks?

“I would say it would be a good idea for the governor to stay out of this selection,” said Rep. Roberta Willis, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, alluding to the governor’s involvement in the selection of the last president.

“My hope is that the governor will not make this decision,” she said.

“I think the lesson that should have been learned from the last time is, following good governance processes is the best approach,” added Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, the ranking Republican senator on the Higher Education Committee. “One sole individual should not be making this choice.”

Malloy’s office said Thursday that the governor would hold off on any appointments while the legislation is being negotiated. “It is our expectation that legislation will be passed this session that will give the board the authority to pick the new president,” Doba said.

He added that the governor does want to interview each of the finalists, who visited Connecticut last month to meet faculty, staff and the public.

regents finalists

The finalists are:

  • Jack R. Warner, the leader of six of South Dakota’s public universities since 2009.
  • Gregory W. Gray, head of Riverside Community College in California since 2009.
  • Jay V. Kahn, interim president of Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Lewis Robinson, chairman of the Board of Regents, endorsed his panel’s recommendations.

“I think all three are outstanding,” he said.

When asked why the regents hadn’t recommended just one finalist to the governor, Robinson said, “the governor had requested three. And I thought as a courtesy or respect to his office, it would be appropriate to accede to that wish.”

The board’s decision was announced during a two-minute public meeting following an hour-long meeting of the board behind closed doors. Robsinson said he received a request from the governor’s chief of staff to forward three names for Malloy to pick from.

“Whichever one [Malloy] chooses, we have a fine leader… I am excited,” Robinson said.

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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