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.

This Viewpoint was originally published in CT Mirror on April 25, 2019.

In the last two months, 11 academic senates or faculty and staff governing bodies have voted to endorse an online petition opposing the BOR’s plan for the consolidation of Connecticut’s community colleges — or have passed their own statement opposing consolidation.

Nine out of 12 of the state’s community colleges have done so. Here is the current list:

  • 4Cs Delegate Assembly
  • Asnuntuck Community College. Secret ballot with no count.
  • Capital Community College. Eight out of eight senate members in attendance (five members absent).
  • CSU-AAUP Council
  • Gateway Community College: 50 yes. 12 no
  • Housatonic Community College: 18 yes. One abstention.
  • Manchester Community College: 69 yes; 10 no; 2 abstentions
  • Naugatuck Valley Community College
  • Norwalk Community College: 22 in favor and 2 against. (This resolution was purposely passed with 2 “No” votes so that no one person could be identified as having voted for it.)
  • Three Rivers Community College: passed unanimously.
  • Tunxis Community College: two abstentions; all the rest “yes”

This means that the majority of community colleges in the state have spoken out against consolidation. These governing bodies have done so formally and officially on the public record through their faculty and staff leadership bodies.

They have done so, it should be noted, emphatically.

Readers should understand this for what it is: faculty and staff from across the state attempting to speak out—in the only way remaining to them—against a plan that they find deeply flawed and dangerous for students and the state.

There are certainly some faculty and staff who support consolidation. But there are many, many others who do not, as these votes demonstrate.

There is an important story to be told about the reason all these faculty bodies have signed on, the insights they can provide that are being ignored, the lack of a venue for experienced faculty to provide input, and even the reason that there are places where faculty bodies have signed, but individuals dare not do so because of fear over potential retaliation.

We seek to tell this story. And to do so respectfully — in the spirit of shared leadership, common purpose, and democratic dialog.

What happened to the “fiscal crisis”?

Part of the explanation for these votes has to do with the difference between what President Mark Ojakian and the BOR say and what they actually do. In recent months this has become deeply alarming and problematic.2

For years now we have been told by the BOR that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic “fiscal crisis” that is so dire that it might require closing some community college campuses.

Over the last year or so, however, the BOR has not conducted themselves 1. as if there were a “fiscal crisis;” or 2. as if they actually cared about students.

The numbers confirm this:

Since 2017, the system office has added many new positions, including a vice president for enrollment at $170,000; a vice president of purchasing at $147,000; an executive director of student success at $115,000; an associate director of student success at $83,000; and two associate vice presidents of academic and student affairs at $130,000 each.

All of these individuals will require staff and offices, the cost of which has not yet been accounted for, which obscures the actual cost of this consolidation venture.

The BOR is also hiring 34 new associate deans with salaries of approximately $90,000.

The system office has also just approved the hiring of three new regional presidents with salaries ranging between $150,000 to $225,000. The total cost for just these three regional presidents including fringe benefits will be almost $1 million annually. This is money that could be used to benefit students directly.

To add insult to injury, we just learned at a forum sponsored by the Higher Education Committee that that the BOR has spent $85,000 on a marketing campaign (See 4:52:00 in video testimony from CT-N below).

The cost of funding the system office has grown exponentially in the last few years, from just over $30 million in 2017 to a projected $39.5 million in 2019 – an increase of more than 30 percent.

Here are the System Office expenditure totals for the last three years: 2017: $30,330,990; 2018: $34,312,167; 2019: $39,500,000

This all comes at a time when community college budgets are being slashed, reliance on part-time faculty has increased, programs are being cut, onerous new lab fees have been established for many courses, advisors and counselors have too many students to advise (the student-to-advisor ratio at our community colleges is currently 923-1), and even library hours at the state’s community colleges are being reduced to save money. And tuition has just been raised again.

To put the BOR spending numbers in perspective:

Vice President for enrollment at $170,000
Vice President of purchasing at $147,000
Executive Director of Student Success at $115,000
Associate Director of Student Success at $83,000
Two Associate Vice Presidents of Academic and Student Affairs at $130,000 = $260,000
Three Regional Presidents at $225,000 = $675,000
34 Associate Deans @ $90,000 = $3,060,000
Total: $4.5 million dollars, which does not include fringe benefits or support staff.

This spending spree is being financed by cuts to state community colleges and universities and by increases in student tuition.

There is a moral, social justice dimension to this conduct. Many students who attend community colleges are among the most economically disadvantaged in the state. They are among the least able to afford tuition raises and new lab fees. Consolidation is hurting these students right now by making it harder for them to attend college because of rising tuition costs and by siphoning away money and resources that could be used to help them.

In times of fiscal austerity, this kind of reckless bureaucratic spending should be deeply troubling to citizens, voters, legislators, and anyone interested in the long-term health of public higher education in Connecticut.

This is one of the reasons for the overwhelming majority votes in governing bodies opposing consolidation.

79 new full time advisors

If we were really committed to “students first” and we really had these kinds of financial resources, we would be spending this money, of course, on faculty and staff positions like English teachers, math teachers, STEM teachers, and counselors and advisors.

We have a very small number of new searches ongoing right now for faculty and staff across the system, and many of these have starting salaries of approximately $57,000 per year.

If we use that salary number and took the $4.5 million the BOR is spending just on administrators and bureaucracy and instead spent it on students, we could hire 79 new full time advisors or counselors for community colleges. That means the total cost for this part of the consolidation = 79 full time advisors or counselors. That’s six new advisors for every community college in the state.

Hiring 79 full time advisors would, of course, dramatically improve student retention, success, and graduation rates. Advising is crucial for student success, as decades of research has shown and as recent experience in Georgia confirms.

If we really want to put students first, and we want to improve retention and learning, we use that $4.5 million to hire 79 new full time advisors or counselors — not three new regional presidents and other expensive administrative staff; by not starving community colleges by imposing austerity budgets on them and stripping them of their leadership and autonomy, not by raising tuition again on those least able to shoulder such burdens, not by raising tuition rates when neighboring states are finding ways to offer free community college tuition to their residents, not with faculty and staff voting in droves against a wildly unpopular and ill-advised consolidation plan, not with system office spending spiraling out of control with no legislative oversight and no end in sight; not with prospects for accreditation precarious at best—or an unnecessary, dangerous, high-stakes gamble with millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at worst.

This doesn’t sound like leadership. Or success. Or a hopeful future for Connecticut’s citizens and economy. It sounds like disaster.

This is another reason for the overwhelming majority votes in governing bodies opposing consolidation.

A sovereign nation?

Given all this, there are a number of questions related to the future of higher education in Connecticut that we believe deserve careful consideration:

Who is overseeing BOR expenditures?
Are there any checks and balances for this process?
Is there a limit to what the BOR can spend?
If so, what is that number?
And where is this money coming from?

At the moment, the BOR operates like its own sovereign nation, which answers to no one.

It is important to note that Mr. Ojakaian and the members of the BOR have been appointed by an ex-governor and include no elected officials. As a group, few have experience with higher education administration, most lack any academic credentials that make them suitable for this important work, and few have any longstanding commitment to higher education or community colleges.

This is why legislative approval of SB 749: An Act Requiring Legislative Approval for the Merger of Closing of Institutions within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities is so vital. It is an important first step. We must begin to reestablish legislative oversight of higher education in Connecticut.

A note of warning, though: It will take a great deal of work for this legislation not to be defeated or simply buried procedurally by BOR advocates and lobbyists.

Intimidation and Fear

The use of intimidation and fear by the BOR to stifle opposition to consolidation has now been entered onto the public record and is part of the story here as well. This issue was discussed in some detail at the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee (HEEA) Invitational Forums on the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Students First Consolidation Plan on March 26. That testimony can be viewed here on CT-N (4:24:53+):

As we have collected our 1,400+ signatures in opposition to consolidation, we have heard over and over again about intimidation and fear of retaliation. The right to speak freely about matters of public policy and a sincere sense of professional obligation to defend the institutions we love and the students we care about has frequently been characterized, ominously, as “insubordination.”

We cannot model shared leadership and effective problem-solving strategies for our students or our citizens if our system itself does not permit this type of vitally important discourse and dissent.

This is another reason for the overwhelming majority votes in governing bodies opposing consolidation.

“We welcome your input”

CSCU president Mark Ojakian frequently reports that hundreds of faculty and staff are working on consolidation. This information is presented as if there is open collaboration and true shared governance. This is not an accurate representation of what is happening.

As one faculty member recently put it, one of the BOR’s major talking points in favor of consolidation always comes back to the feedback and input generated by various statewide groups and committees –i.e. “see, we’re taking input from across the system.”

Many individuals who serve on these committees, however, tell a very different story: that their input is not valued, respected, or being actively considered.

Some of this is accomplished structurally. The silencing of dissenting opinions has been built into the structure of many committees. On the large consolidation committee (SFASACC), for example, appointed members far outnumber the elected members (roughly 38 to 12). So those tasked with speaking for their colleges are outnumbered 3 to 1.

This committee then decided that all of the working groups would have 12 elected members from the colleges and six appointed SFASACC members. This design has ensured that the same opinions and approaches are built into every committee.

Some of this is a matter of appearance vs. reality. The most common criticism we have heard over and over again from higher education professionals across the state is that the BOR wishes to appear to be conducting this as a process of shared leadership and shared governance, but this is happening in name only.

Decisions and policy matters have already been determined. The BOR has decided what it wants to do, and it is going ahead and doing it, regardless of what faculty or staff may think is best for our students, our colleges, and the state.

This consolidation planning process violates established principles of shared governance, despite repeated calls to create a more representative and deliberative process for managing this transition. This puts the system office in violation of NECHE standard 3.15, which mandates that “the institution places primary responsibility for the content, quality, and effectiveness of the curriculum with its faculty.”

The BOR is, in fact, not seeking to work collaboratively with faculty and staff —those most knowledgeable about curriculum, advising, and student success.

This authoritarian, top-down leadership model built around obedience, intimidation, and the appearance of shared leadership rather than real collaboration hurts us all —individual students, higher education professionals, and citizens counting on us to build a strong higher education system for Connecticut that will fuel a strong economy.

This is another reason for the overwhelming majority votes in governing bodies opposing consolidation.

Deep commitment to home institutions

Finally, most community college faculty and staff feel a deep commitment to their home institutions—to their college’s unique history, traditions, and culture. To local alliances, outreach programs, and curriculum. To local leadership, autonomy, and identity.

Faculty and staff have spent decades building these alliances, campus cultures, and programs—in direct response to local needs and conditions. These connections to home institutions run very deep—and are a source of great strength and pride. Consolidation will rob community colleges of so much of this.

This also, of course, helps explain why there is such robust resistance to consolidation.

An independent outside observer

Dr. Christopher Newfield, a nationally recognized expert on higher education, recently visited the state to deliver the keynote address at the 5th Annual FAC Conference on Student Success and Shared Governance: “The Future of Public Higher Education in Connecticut,” held on April 5, 2019 at CCSU. Mr. Ojakian attended this event.

Dr. Newfield is a national leader on current trends in higher education, and he is the author of two recent well-received books: Unmaking the Public University and The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. In an essay published shortly after the conference at CCSU, Newfield offered his thoughts about the BOR’s consolidation plan in Connecticut.

For Newfield, consolidation is a “distraction from the real issue, which is that Connecticut, though the No. 1 richest state by our preferred funding metric of personal income, has cut its funding for its CCs [community colleges] by nearly 12 percent just in the last four years. The longer trend is dismal: though Connecticut appropriations are above national averages, they are still 19 percent below their 2008 levels, while tuition is 41 percent higher.”

Dr. Newfield came away as troubled about consolidation as we are. You can read his impressions here.

Conclusion

As State Rep. Gail Lavielle noted in her comments at the HEEA forum on March 26, there is “a long, long, long history we have in the business community worldwide of mergers that don’t work. They don’t save money. They cause strife. They cause businesses to fall apart” (4:55:00).

Unfortunately, we are seeing an example of exactly this process at work in Connecticut higher education right now. Faculty and staff on campuses across the state have recognized this — and they have voted accordingly.

Stephen Adair, Central Connecticut State University
Lois Aime, Norwalk Community College
David Blitz, Central Connecticut State University
John Christie, Capital Community College
Francis M. Coan, Tunxis Community College
Anne E. Dawson, Eastern Connecticut State University
Lauren Doninger, Gateway Community College
Diba Khan-Bureau, Three Rivers Community College
Kevin Lamkins, Capital Community College
Charlene LaVoie, Community Lawyer
Patricia O’Neill, Western Connecticut State University
Ronald Picard, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Minati Roychoudhuri, Capital Community College
Teresa M. Russo, Gateway Community College
Dr. Colena Sesanker, Gateway Community College
John Shafer, Middlesex Community College
Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community College
Kathy Taylor, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Lisa Van Dermark, Asnuntuck Community College
Matt Warshauer, Central Connecticut State University
Louise Blakeney Williams, CCSU-AAUP President, Central Connecticut State University
Carmen Yiamouyiannis, Capital Community College

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3 Comments

  1. I wonder if our state representatives paid any attention to this. It seems like they don’t want to face what a debacle the CSCU system is.

  2. Three new Regional Presidents at 225K each. Ok so more layers of management but no one is going away. I don’t get it. Ojakian is totally unqualified to do this but the simple fact is that CSCU is top heavy and bloated just like UCONN. What does it tell you when UCONN can’t get grants because their fringe rate is not competitive..

  3. My take on this. Through their actions, the Regents have declared a vote of no confidence in the community college leadership, faculty and staff to resolve any of financial or student graduation issues. Hence, the Regents by losing confidence have decided the System office is better equipped to implement and oversee better strategies. Truth of the matter the System office will do no worse then the campus and just might do better. The Governor and Legislators y being quiet agree with the Regents.

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