I think that the community colleges of the state of Connecticut ought to declare their independence from the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

The state’s 12 community colleges used to govern themselves independently until they were merged with the four state universities and Charter Oak State College into a system called “ConnSCU.” (Say it to yourself, and you can imagine what it’s called at the water cooler.)

Much like the merger of the Department of Energy and the Department of Environmental Protection to form DEEP, the higher education merger was a signature move by Gov. Dannel Malloy designed to create efficiencies. In the case of DEEP, it is easy to see how things could have gone wrong, how it could have become a merger between the fox and the hen house. However, that merger was performed under the strong leadership of someone who had the best interests of the Environment at heart, outgoing Commissioner Dan Esty.

At first, the Board of Regents had Lewis J. Robinson as its chair, someone with strong ties to the old community college system. Now that Robinson has retired, the community colleges no longer have a strong voice, and they are about to be eviscerated under the law P.A. 12-40.

Before we reopen that whole debate about power-tripping community college teachers keeping students out of career courses (Can you hear me, [Sen.] Beth Bye?), please note that all of the good intentions of that law could be preserved and all of its ill effects mitigated by striking section D of the legislation.

Crossing out this section would also remove from the Board of Regents much of the power they have to micromanage the community colleges.

I would call such a move the “Melendez Amendment” after Luis Melendez, a retired director from Gateway Community College who sat before the Black and Latino Caucus of the Connecticut General Assembly last month.

As a retired person, he was one of the few defenders of the state’s community colleges who could describe how the Board of Regents has lost all credibility with the community colleges. He was in the enviable position of being able to declare the emperor naked without fear of losing his job.

If I had my druthers, not only would I make this change to the law, I would add a specific position at the Board of Regents: an advocate dedicated specifically to the community colleges and their mission. Not to worry, taxpayers; this post wouldn’t have one of those quarter-million-dollar salaries enjoyed by the Connecticut State University presidents who sit on the Board of Regents. It could be accomplished with a community college price tag.

Editor’s Note:  The Board of Regents’ authority over the community colleges was signed into law in 2011 through separate legislation. Additionally, the regents’ authority is codified in many state statutes that have since been approved.

Wayne Jebian is an adjunct instructor of Developmental English at Capital Community College and a freelance reporter for CTNow.

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