State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, is asking some very good questions about the role and responsibilities of the Board of Regents for the CSCU System.  In a report on WSHU and an article in the Hartford Courant of Aug. 18, she asks if the board is “adding value, providing leadership, accountability, and fiscal responsibility” and even questions its existence in proposed legislation to eliminate the board.

After little over four years of existence, the Board of Regents has seen numerous leaders fail, repeated votes of no confidence, ongoing cost increases in tuition and fees, declines in college budgets and enrollments, and the loss of experience and expertise that has led to low morale and high cost opportunities for consultants who must shore up drastically reduced, under-resourced operations.

Now, with the resignation of the system’s second President Gregory Gray, which is not effective until the end of the year, the Board of Regents rushes to appoint Gov. Dannel Malloy’s soon-to-retire chief of staff as the new “interim” president for two years rather than promptly launch a search for a competent educational leader.

This simply gives added evidence about what the Board of Regents does or doesn’t do  – it does exactly what the governor’s office tells it to do and has since its inception in July 2011.

The governor merged the three successful independent systems of public colleges in his budget implementer bill in 2011 over the objections of many legislators and the warnings of educational leaders from Connecticut and across the country where similar mergers have not worked well.

The leadership first appointed by the governor lasted less than a year in their positions before giving themselves and other staff illegal raises. He promised cost savings that have never been fully realized or accounted for.

He appointed and then dismissed one chair of the Board of Regents and appointed another, a major donor to his campaigns who continues to defend the performance of failed leaders and dismiss the concerns of faculty.

He chose the name for a reorganization plan, promised to fund it to “transform” the system, then denied any responsibility for the plan or funding.

New Interim CSCU President Mark Ojakian.
New Interim CSCU President Mark Ojakian.

He reduced the budget for this system of higher education despite promises to improve services and offer more opportunities for Connecticut students.

To make up for the governor’s budget reductions, the leaders he appointed, the Board of Regents and the president of the system increased tuition and fees costs repeatedly.

He reduced financial aid programs for students sponsored by the state so that fewer students are able to afford the higher costs of higher education.

In all of this, the governor was aided and abetted by his legislative aide cum Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian who is now going to be the third president of the CSCU system in four years.

We’re not sure there is anyone on the Board of Regents who can answer Rep. Lavielle’s questions.  The best, most informed answers would likely be in the governor’s office or the office of his chief of staff who led the governor’s higher education agenda from the very beginning.

If Ojakian lasts for 18 months, the current longevity record for system leadership, he will receive a significant boost to his state pension.  This answer is public record: The CSCU president’s salary is just below $400,000 annually with additional benefits.

Like Rep. Lavielle, we wonder “why the Board of Regents is failing to produce real added value. Instead of simply filling the top spot, the legislature, the administration and the board’s members should be reassessing the board’s role, its relationships with the state colleges and universities, the limits of its authority — and, if necessary, whether it should exist.”

Rev. David Cannon of Preston and Jules Lang of Norwalk are the longest serving members of the former Board of Trustees for the Connecticut Community Colleges.

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