Four of the state’s 12 community colleges: Manchester Community College, top left; Gateway Community College, bottom left; Quinebaug Valley Community College, top right; and Tunxis Community College.
Four of the state’s 12 community colleges: Manchester Community College, top left; Gateway Community College, bottom left; Quinebaug Valley Community College, top right; and Tunxis Community College.

Dismayed by leadership of the Connecticut State Colleges and University system and a plan to consolidate the 12 community colleges, faculty at five community colleges and two state universities have taken votes of no confidence in President Mark Ojakian, the Board of Regents, and the plan itself.

Carmen Yiamouyiannis, chairwoman of the Capital Community College College Senate, which includes faculty and staff, said CSCU leadership has pursued a “top down approach that seems to disregard faculty. It’s ‘this is what we’re going to do’ instead of really trying to engage the faculty.”

The consolidation plan, which is known as “Students First,” has some aspects that Yiamouyiannis thinks would be helpful, including a single application for all 12 colleges and centralizing certain services. But like other faculty, she is concerned that a merger would strip the colleges of their individuality.

Francis M. Coan, a faculty member at Tunxis Community College, said faculty there are poised to vote on a ‘no confidence’ resolution this week.

“It’s clear the leadership is not listening to the professionals,” he said. “We don’t know what action to take except to speak a little louder.”

Two months ago, faculty and students held a news conference at the Legislative Office Building and marched a petition with more than 1,300 signatures over to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office in hopes of meeting with the governor. So far, that hasn’t happened and several faculty said they want to know what the governor thinks about Students First.

“It’s clear the leadership is not listening to the professionals. We don’t know what action to take except to speak a little louder.”

Francis M. Coan
Faculty member, Tunxis Community College

Lamont’s spokeswoman Maribel La Luz issued a statement Tuesday saying the governor “supports the common sense goals behind Students First, which include centralizing back office functions, making it easier for students to transfer within the college system and allocating more resources into teaching and learning where they belong.

“He also understands the merger is a complex issue that people on both sides feel strongly about, but our primary focus must remain on the students,” LaLuz added.

Coan said he’d like to see the Students First plan scrapped and have faculty and administrators come up with a new plan to address the budget constraints that prompted the creation of the original plan.

Several faculty who voted no confidence also said they want Ojakian removed from office and the entire Board of Regents replaced with new members.

Leigh Appleby, spokesman for the CSCU system, which includes four regional state universities in addition to the community colleges, said the vote of no confidence is not a surprise.

“We understand that change can be difficult, but Students First is a necessary step forward,” Appleby said. “As it stands, the three year completion rate is just 16 percent at our [community] colleges. We have an obligation to do better.”

He said the Students First plan reallocates administrative resources “toward data driven, proven student success initiatives.”

The plan will also help address the system’s financial issues, which he noted is “on the verge of insolvency.”

“We understand that change can be difficult, but Students First is a necessary step forward. We have an obligation to do better.”

Leigh Appleby
CSCU spokesman 

“Students First, by consolidating some redundant functions, saves $23 million per year and puts the system on much firmer financial footing,” Appleby said. “Most importantly, it does this while allowing all of our current community college campuses to remain open and fully operational.”

Appleby said implementation of Students First has been “collaborative and transparent” and has included  “more than 400 individuals across all campuses participating in working groups.”

“Over the past two years, we have heard constant opposition from the same groups,” Appleby said. “What we haven’t heard from them is an alternative plan.”

Diba Khan-Bureau, a faculty member at Three Rivers Community College, said she was insulted by Appleby’s comment about change being difficult. “They think we are babies and children and we can’t handle change,” Khan-Bureau said. “I find that revolting. We change all the time.”

“The community colleges are nimble and can quickly respond to community and workforce needs,” Khan-Bureau continued. “This has always been an important aspect of the mission of the [community colleges.]”

Khan-Bureau said, she and other faculty members believe cost-savings could be achieved without consolidating the colleges and in ways that would improve the academic experience for students. “We can do everything to help our students without merging those colleges,” she said.

Many of the faculty members who voted no confidence also questioned whether CSCU’s projected savings will materialize, noting that the system has been adding a new layer of management — needed for consolidation — years before they will be ready to receive the approval from accreditors to go forward with the merger.

“The community colleges are nimble and can quickly respond to community and workforce needs.”

Diba Khan-Bureau, faculty member, Three Rivers Community College

Campus governance bodies, including faculty at some and faculty and staff at others, this month endorsed no confidence resolutions at Asnuntuck, Capital, Gateway, Manchester, and Three Rivers community colleges. Most of the resolutions were simple, saying only that the “representative body for faculty or faculty and staff had voted no confidence in the ‘Students First’ plan, in Ojakian, and in the Board of Regents.”

Others, including the resolutions approved at Capital and Gateway, went into greater detail about the reasons for the vote. Some community colleges, including Tunxis, have scheduled votes in the coming days and weeks.

Faculty Senates at Central Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University also endorsed the no confidence resolution.

Also on Tuesday, Anita Levy, associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors, sent a letter dated May 14 to Ojakian and Matt Fleury, chairman of the Board of Regents, saying her association is concerned about what is happening in Connecticut.

While acknowledging that the information the AAUP received came entirely from faculty sources, Levy wrote that assuming its “essential accuracy … we hope and expect that the administration and the CSCU Board of Regents will address the faculty’s concerns and do so in a manner that is respectful of the principles of shared authority and collegial responsibility that we have commended to your attention.”

Appleby said Tuesday that Ojakian had received the letter.

Board of Regents for Higher Education Chairman Matt Fleury, left, with Mark Ojakian, president of CSCU.

Many of the faculty voting no confidence are particularly critical of Ojakian’s recent hiring of three new regional presidents, who will start work July 1 with annual salaries of $220,000. The newly created positions are a key part of the governing structure that would be needed for a one-college system, but that new single college is years away at best.

Accreditors did not approve the first plan for a merger submitted by CSCU last year and have yet to approve a new one. The full merger is not expected to take place until 2023.

Ojakian has said that hiring the regional presidents is a critical step toward the merger plan and he believes the accreditors will be more likely to approve the merger if the administrative structure is already in place.

Many of the faculty consider it a waste of money to hire the regional presidents before the one-college structure is in place.

Also on Tuesday, Ojakian announced the selection of four interim chief executive officers — another piece of the Students First plan. Ojakian is replacing higher-paid college presidents at each campus with chief executive officers as openings arise.

These new interim CEOs, who will be paid $150,000 annually, will also start July 1. They will replace retiring presidents at Norwalk and Quinebaug Valley community colleges. The fourth CEO will replace James Lombella, who has been serving as president of Asnuntuck community college and as  interim president of Tunxis, but was appointed in April by the Board of Regents for Higher Education to serve as one of the three regional presidents starting July 1.

The new interim CEOs are Michelle Coach at Asnuntuck, who is currently interim dean of academic affairs at the college; Cheryl DeVonish, at Norwalk, who currently serves as chief operating officer at that college; Rose Ellis, at Quinebaug Valley who has served as dean of administration and institutional effectiveness at Housatonic and at Gateway; and Darryl Reome at Tunxis, who is now interim dean of students affairs at Tunxis.

Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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11 Comments

  1. Has anyone taken the time to confirm through a bipartisan audit that this really saves $23M per year? As far as I, and a number of others, have been able to determine, none of these numbers make much sense if looked at closely. And the Board of Regents has a very poor history of saving anything at all. Their very existence was supposed to save money but, in fact, has cost us more.

    Also, has anyone asked the “more than 400 individuals across all campuses participating in working groups.” whether they really believe that their participation is in ANY WAY guiding the “Students First” process? I am one, and I don’t believe for a second, that I am being listened to in any way whatsoever. And from what I hear from my co-workers and see in my email every day, the majority of participants feel the same way.

    1. I believe Norwalk Community College also voted no confidence in Ojakian/Students First. Lois Aime, can you verify or clarify?

  2. This article misses the most important points: 1) Mr. Ojakian had no prior higher education experience when he took the job, and announced the “students first” plan without any initial consultation with faculty and staff; 2) Reflecting his lack of knowledge about higher education and failure to consult with faculty and staff the accreditation agency dismissed this as a half-baked and potentially disastrous plan; 3) Mr. Ojakian – again reflecting his complete lack of understanding about higher eduction – dismissed the concerns of the accrediting agency as intrusive. Note that Yale, UConn, etc. are accredited by the same agency and the accreditation process is necessary to receive federal aid and for the degree to have any meaning at all. This is an important thing to continually remember as this disaster unfolds – the experts in higher education said it was a bad plan; 4) Then, they have done nothing but add layer upon layer of bureaucracy while continuing to say they are going to save money. That money should have, instead, been used to hire new full-time faculty and student-support staff. How can the continued drop in faculty and staff be construed – in any way – as “students-first”. It really should be called “administrators-first and students-last”. 5) Finally, faculty and staff who have spoken out against the plan have been intimidated and – in some cases – experienced damage to their careers. This is a travesty.

    There are no savings. There is no benefit to students.

  3. When the Malloy Administration created the Board of Regents, they originally claim it would save $4.3 million in eliminated positions. Did those savings ever materialize Now the Board of Regents is proposing adding another layer of highly paid administrators before their plan is approved by the New England Association of Colleges and Universities. The Regents want to have this plan in place by 2023. That is four years of paying this new layer of administration before their own timeline.

  4. The centralization that has already occurred has made everything worse. When they merged the libraries onto one interface it was so awful, I had to go to Worldcat to see if CCSU had a book because our catalogue was unsearchable. It now takes forever to hire people. At CCSU it used to be easy. Now adjuncts wait for contracts. I can’t think of one thing made better with the creation of the BOR and CSCU. All the money spent on pathways and transfer tickets was ridiculous and duplicated offices we had at the institutions. We have a provost and a residence life person at the system office; they oversee no students or faculty. What do they do?

  5. Student First may not be ideal but, something has to be done to break the non-sensible, administration heavy, illogical university system.The faculty of the schools have done a poor job working with the Board of Regents ( who are often too far removed from reality and too political) in identifying real issues to save money and improve opportunities while just trying to protect their jobs. A good consolidation plan could make amazing schools ( assuming their programs keep up with industry) while saving money for the taxpayer and students. Unfortunately, the plan appears to be excessively political, programs will remain too decentralized, and inefficient use of facilities which minimizes the educational opportunities of students………Very Sad ! When this is done, I believe the Board of Regents should resign and be replaced with “elected” representatives who would put a platform forward and all staff and faculty ( including adjuncts) can vote for them.

    1. The plan doesn’t actually change management structure at all. Just shifts it around to have a top-down yes man hierarchy that makes the whole education system a political entity.

  6. This article misses the most important points: 1) Mr. Ojakian had no prior higher education experience when he took the job, and announced the “students first” plan without any initial consultation with faculty and staff; 2) Reflecting his lack of knowledge about higher education and failure to consult with faculty and staff the accreditation agency dismissed this as a half-baked and potentially disastrous plan; 3) Mr. Ojakian – again reflecting his complete lack of understanding about higher eduction – dismissed the concerns of the accrediting agency as intrusive. Note that Yale, UConn, etc. are accredited by the same agency and the accreditation process is necessary to receive federal aid and for the degree to have any meaning at all. This is an important thing to continually remember as this disaster unfolds – the experts in higher education said it was a bad plan; 4) Then, they have done nothing but add layer upon layer of bureaucracy while continuing to say they are going to save money. That money should have, instead, been used to hire new full-time faculty and student-support staff. How can the continued drop in faculty and staff be construed – in any way – as “students-first”. It really should be called “administrators-first and students-last”. 5) Finally, faculty and staff who have spoken out against the plan have been intimidated and – in some cases – experienced damage to their careers. This is a travesty.

    There are no savings. There is no benefit to students.

  7. Why would anyone not expect our highly paid CT college profs/administrators to reject consolidation when it implies reduced employment and cost savings ? In the private world where costs matter consolidation is a frequent occurrence. Not so in public service where preservation of jobs often takes first rank.

    The larger issue is whether our CC’s are providing our students with the technical skills to secure good jobs in our ever more demanding hi-tech computer oriented work place. Lacking survey info about jobs secured by CC graduates the answer seems to be “we just don’t know”. What we do know from informal surveys of and first hand knowledge of CT’s hi-tech firms is that CT has a major shortage of hi-tech skilled workers. And that’s one of the cited reasons cited by knowledgable observers why CT is not participating in the hi-tech business boom shared by our neighboring States. Without more vigorous attention to these well known issues they’re not likely to be resolved in our favor.

  8. The cost saving argument is simply a lie and not correct. Again, I will make the example of IT where $27+ million in consulting fees have occurred in just the last few years. Not to mention other fees, the ongoing cost of outsourcing which is more than the current staff costs. Also the cost of planned obsolescence of the brand of equipment being chosen with high yearly maintenance costs and frequent replacement schedules. Not to mention that almost none of this benefits the students in any way. It’s all back end stuff the student doesn’t see. Meanwhile trying to replace equipment that the students use that has been obsolete for 3+ years is considered unimportant and there is “no money for it”. Not to mention the mistreatment of IT staff at the colleges and below 0 morale.

  9. I’ve worked in this system both with and without the BOR administration. There has been zero significant forward motion with the addition of the BOR. Why is the state spending the money on this administrative layer? Campus Presidents can and should provide all the needed leadership. Dismantling the BOR would save the most money and protect valuable resources at the campus level.

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