The women of the Board of Regents for Higher Education: (l-r) Merle Harris, Aviva Budd, Naomi Cohen, Felice Gray-Kemp, Holly Howery, Sage Maier, Elena Ruiz, JoAnn Ryan, Elease Wright

We write in response to a number of recent CT Viewpoints op-eds, including one claiming that women are not holding leadership positions at the community colleges.

Simply put, this is wholly untrue. The Board of Regents and system office are committed to diversity and inclusion in the CSCU system.  We believe this leads to respect and understanding across cultures and to better decisions for our students, our faculty, our campus managerial and professional staff, and the communities in which the campuses live and thrive.

Campus community college executive leadership is changing under the new Students First plan. When current campus presidents retire, they are replaced by a lower-salaried campus chief executive officer. This is part of the Board’s plan as it restructures administration and reduces costs while maintaining important campus and community leadership.

Currently, there are ten campus leaders, four of whom are women.   At the end of this academic year, there will be four additional vacancies. A woman has been named to fill the first of those vacancies; thus, to date, women comprise half of the community colleges’ leaders in place for the next academic year.

Nine of the 13 voting members of the Board of Regents are women. The system’s provost – the chief academic officer for our colleges and universities – is a woman, as are seven of the 12 academic deans for the community colleges. At the state universities, two of our four presidents are women.

Women were represented at each stage of the search process for the recently appointed community college regional presidents. The national search actively encouraged women and members of minoritized groups to apply. Two of the three search committee chairs were women, each Regional Advisory Committee had at least one female co-chair, and 34 of the 51 members of the three regional, campus-based advisory committees were women.  Eleven women were among the 61 applicants.  To reach final decisions on regional presidents, the Regents relied heavily on the feedback and insights of campus advisory committees. Those conversations were candid, thoughtful, and reflective of how the advisory committees assessed the finalists’ past experiences, accomplishments and demonstrated ability to lead.

Academic leadership at our colleges and universities is more diverse than the state’s population at large. And it should be, for a system that is the single most important academic option for minoritized students in our diverse state. Going forward, we will not shrink from our unshakable commitment to CSCU leadership that continues to reflect the diversity of our institutions and our state.

Women have been, and continue to be, valued leaders within CSCU.

There have also been numerous opinion pieces – most of them from the same group – opposing the consolidation of the community colleges. The Board does not have the luxury of ignoring an unsustainable organizational structure that contributes $20 million annually to operating deficits, nor can the Board abide the continued evisceration of community college reserves that actually do threaten student services, affordability, and even the long-term viability of campuses.

Further, it is our responsibility as a governing body to do everything in our power to improve student outcomes. With a current three-year completion rate of just 16 percent in our community colleges, we can and must do better.

When fully implemented in 2023, the Students First plan will refocus dwindling resources away from administration and toward crucially needed academic supports, implement at scale best practices for student success, and create $23 million in annual savings – putting our system on firmer financial footing.

The road to the more sustainable, student-focused future necessitates choices that may be difficult, but they are clear.

Matt Fleury and Merle Harris are the chair and vice chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

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2 Comments

  1. The authors of the Op-Ed are quite defenseless. By Connecticut constitution the Regents are appointed by the Governor and pledge to the Governor to act on his agenda. Therefore, the Regents is not an independent Board who act responsibly and on behalf of the academic institutions they oversee. The Regents as a whole is an extension of the Governor and serve as the voice of the Governor’s agenda. Hence, the gender and race makeup has little to do with independence of thought and action and much more to do with political correctness. The Regents lack any form of credibility. From Regents approved Transform 2020; faulty contracts with the Boston Consultant Group and McGuire Associates; hiring political drop outs in the system office; etc.

    There is a major difference in female appointments by the Governor to the Board of Regents and female leadership at the college president level. The Regents appointment is based on political connections and how much money donated to the Governors campaign.

    Female leadership at the college level is based on character, integrity, skills that are identified through an interview process that includes faculty, staff, students, alumni, business and industry and many other stakeholders.

    It is impossible to compare an appointment to the Board of Regents against the transparent and inclusive process to select a college president.

  2. There is a stark contrast in responsibility and accountability. An appointment by the Governor to the Regents or Trustees results in an alliance to the Governor’s agenda. On the other hand, an appointment as campus President is an alliance to the campus mission and to serve the faculty, staff and students.

    One appointment favors the Governor and the other favors the campus.

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