Chris C Chen, Creative Commons

The news reports about the proposals for the higher education budget for Connecticut, now vetoed, still seem to resemble a horror movie plot more than a plan for Connecticut’s future.

This may seem a bit overstated, but I don’t think this budget is good for Connecticut’s future.  On my arrival at UConn in 1986 the buildings dated mostly from the 1940s and 1950s.  Jokes about “cow tipping” still popped up in snobby places.  The Apple Building had to do with orchards, not 21st century economic awakening.  Parking was scattershot, and leaking roofs were more common that unusual.

For all the grumbling about Gov. Lowell Weicker, he appointed visionaries to the UConn Board of Trustees, foremost among them was Mr. Lewis Rome, Esq., who succeeded the wonderful Dr. Andrew Canzonnetti as chair of the Board of Trustees.

Speaker of the House Tom Ritter and many others recognized the need to have a flagship university equal to the task of bringing traditional Connecticut economic vitality and inventiveness to the cutting edge of the new electronic age.  It is hard to imagine, but cell phones were still a budding curiosity back then.

With tremendous effort and commitment the state’s leaders repeatedly called on UConn to be the place where the best of Connecticut’s students would want to go; there was not a single state high school valedictorian applying to the university when Lew Rome asked the faculty organization (and others) to fund full scholarships to attract the best and brightest who regularly went to institutions out of state.  That happened.  And part of a bond issue was to match private donations to create an endowment equal to be the best of the university peer institutions.

Over the years, the matching funds diminished until they were promises, not dollars.  The operating budget was reduced from needed levels; it went from 50 percent of operating costs to 25 percent of costs today.  Along the way, salaries of faculty and staff were frozen pretty regularly, but the even-handedness of administration of President Philip Austin kept the institution forging ahead.

As the state’s economy has sluggishly sought footing in the melting manufacturing sector with high technology replacement employment not filling the gap as quickly as hoped, this is surely not the time to make higher education less qualitative or available when more of both is necessary.

In a different time but with equal validity, Patrick Henry’s admonition that “These are the times that try men’s souls…” should ring in the ears of those who think that the solution to a budget problem is to have less education in a knowledge economy.

Edward C. Marth served as the UConn-AAUP Executive Director for 25 Years. The University of Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of University Professors is the exclusive bargaining agent for the University’s teaching, research, and athletic coaching staff.   

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