Last Thursday, this year’s President of the Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education, Mark Ojakian, hurried past a large group of AAUP protesters outside of his scheduled Board of Regents meeting at the old Phoenix Insurance building on Woodland Street in Hartford. It probably never occurred to this right-hand man of the governor that he was presented with a rare opportunity. In Ojakian’s defense, his boss probably would not have seized the opportunity either.
On Ojakian’s way into his meeting with his board he paused very briefly to exchange pleasantries with another politician, New Britain’s Peter Tercyak, and disappeared. Ojakian, like those he passed in the December cold protesting his board’s punitive, non-revenue-saving and non-revenue-generating contract with the CSU’s faculty union, is a fellow state employee (albeit, at a much higher pay scale).
Ojakian’s brusque entrance may reveal an illusion of elevated stature; he is, after all, now in a position that is on a level of credibility with a pop-up ad on a state gaming site. Based on the string of B-movie bureaucratic hacks that have passed through his office in the last five years, one might expect a more contrite (even if just for the cameras) Regents president when in a crowd of his most important employees and students whose quality of education is tied to the whims of his office.
Imagine a leader of the Board of Regents who had seized the opportunity to address his fellow employees directly before he slipped behind three state policemen and his board. Even a few platitudes could have changed the very nature of the protest and the tone of the contract negotiations that will be continuing in the next weeks.
He had another opportunity to address somewhat directly via video the protesters who were watching the Board of Regents meeting on closed circuit in an adjoining room. Instead, Ojakian is quoted to have obliquely stated after the meeting that he “loved the rally” (it was a protest) and “families fight and then get along in the end.”
Ojakian’s insights on love and family aside, there are many reasons that would explain his behavior. He may have been intimidated by t-shirted students and faculty of the Connecticut State College and Universities. He may have been ordered by the governor to enter as he did; but more likely whisked through the crowd because he and his boss see no political or financial benefit to pandering to a few hundred nutmeggers who likely will have little choice but to vote for Ojakian and Gov. Dannel Malloy’s brand of “democrat” in the upcoming elections.
There were no big donors out in the CSCU crowd, and, except for another politician to whom he did speak, they (we) were just the working people of Connecticut who Ojakian and his ilk occasionally have to pass on their way out of Hartford.
While he is in Hartford, working people should encourage Ojakian to seize opportunities — like agreeing to the AAUP’s contract proposal — that will, together with greater investment in higher ed, help Connecticut grow and prosper.
Brian Stevens is a librarian/archivist for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.