Top faculty tell legislators: No confidence in CSCU president

President Gregory Gray


President Gregory Gray

A group of distinguished professors notified legislators Monday they have lost confidence in Gregory Gray, the president of the state’s largest public college system, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.

Ten of the 11 “CSU Professors” — the highest designation faculty at Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities can receive — co-signed a three-page letter in which they complain the president is taking the schools down the wrong path.

“We are therefore removing our support for President Gray since the goal has shifted,” the professors wrote to the leaders of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee. The professor whose name is not included on the letter is from Southern Connecticut State University.

At issue are lingering concerns that the president and the system’s governing Board of Regents want more courses taught online by less qualified staff. The system includes all of public higher education other than the University of Connecticut.

“They now appear to want to radically transform the state universities and community colleges into a new model that achieves cost savings by relying significantly on outsourced teaching and online courses,” the letter states.

“There are now disturbing reports, including an explicit goal in Transform 2020, that President Gray and the Board of Regents are promoting a model of ‘blended learning’ in which course content would be developed by outside, for-profit companies rather than faculty, whose role would be reduced to ‘facilitating’ student access to the content.”

While Gray has said it will be up to faculty to decide which courses are appropriate to move online, many faculty remain wary. Some point out that Board of Regents Chairman Nicholas Donofrio is an advisor for – a college where all of a student’s time is spent taking courses online with “coaches” facilitating the learning.

Erika Steiner, the Regents’ budget chief, said college staff have met with Knod officials, but it was ultimately decided not to move forward with a contract.

“It wasn’t a good fit,” she said of the possibility during an interview.

Donofrio said during an interview that he played no role in the Regents consideration of bringing Knod to the college system, but said that company’s approach of offering a degree for $10,000 is very interesting.

“Would it be a good fit [for the Regents]? These things are always worth considering,” he said.

Donofrio said alternative models of delivering higher education must be considered to rein in costs.

“We have to address the issue of costs,” he said, noting that using new approaches to deliver a quality education are necessary, including offering courses online. “You will always need faculty. They are always going to be needed. I have always been a great believer of hybrid models. Online courses have a role, but so do physical courses… A linear extrapolation of where we are today is just not going to work. We need to be innovative.”

But the professors wrote that the leaders of the 90,000-student college system are too fixated on a model “that diminishes quality through technological fetishism, cheapens the student learning experience, demeans faculty, and is essentially a back-door route to privatization.”

Responding to the letter, a spokesman for the system said in an emailed statement that the professors’ feedback is welcomed.

“We have sought to engage all of those groups that are committed to improving higher education for our students, today and in the future,” said Michael Kozlowski. “We continue to seek out input from our faculty, staff and students to help us achieve this goal. We fully expect Transform to continue to evolve as we receive their input, which the representative faculty senate and leadership groups are currently gathering and providing to us. Throughout this process we will honor and embrace the centrality of faculty in all academic matters, and will work tirelessly with them, along with the institutions’ administrations, to improve the student experience in all areas.”

Concerns among faculty with Gray are not new. In November numerous faculty advisory boards also laid out concerns.

Coming tomorrow: Four years after the state’s public community colleges, regional universities and online college were merged into one system, the Mirror will examine whether the goals of lowering central-office costs and hiring more faculty have been met.