In December 2017, as the Connecticut State College and University system office was preparing its “Students First” consolidation plan, the system’s Faculty Advisory Committee presented an extended critique of the proposal. It was not supportive, recommended other paths, and contained the following warning:
“We believe that there is a risk, which is greater than zero, that the effort to work through the transition will result in such dysfunction and cost overruns that, several years from now, we will be tasked with putting the 12 institutions back together again.” –FAC comments to the BOR Dec 2017, p.5
Two years later, we are now watching this excruciating and expensive possibility play out. What’s worse, we have been tasked with facilitating it.
Our accrediting body (NECHE) described the plan as “unrealistic” twice in its response to CSCU’s March 2018 application and failed to approve the request:
“Because of the magnitude of the proposed changes, the proposed timeline, and the limited investment in supporting the changes, the Commission is concerned that the potential for a disorderly environment for students is too high for it to approve the proposed Community College of Connecticut as a candidate for accreditation based on the Students First proposal.” —April 25 2018 response from NEASC (NECHE), p.3
And yet, the system office has insisted on moving forward with this plan, modified slightly in June 2018, in hopes of getting it approved. Annual check-ins have been scheduled to monitor the system office’s progress toward this goal, but NECHE’s response to the April 2019 update cited 24 standards that had yet to be addressed.
Many of us have served for the past two years on consolidation committees. We have done so in good faith. Many of us now think that our participation has been futile: our advice has fallen on deaf ears and our efforts have been met with resistance. More than one committee has requested a modification of the scope of its charge after finding it too restrictive to do meaningful work.
We have labored for two years toward this plan that is now moving forward despite common sense and the evidentiary record.
The consolidation effort has now cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Consolidation also promises no benefits to students that cannot be achieved without consolidation.
Guided Pathways is, perhaps, the most touted benefit of the plan. While seven members of faculty from our colleges have been on loan to the system office for the past two years to plan our implementation of Guided Pathways, the cost of implementation is not included anywhere in the plan’s cost projections.
There have been many assurances given to news organizations and to legislators about future savings, but there is no basis for believing these claims. The numbers speak for themselves.
We have yet to discover a college consolidation anywhere in America that has achieved cost savings at the level this consolidation plan promises.
While college budgets have remained relatively stable (an average increase of about 1% overall), the system office —at which there are no students— has increased its budget by over 45% since 2017. The dollar amount by which its annual budget has increased is enough to fund an expanded version of debt-free college.
And yet, the dollar amount is not the most crucial drain on our resources. Our efforts devoted to consolidation have siphoned human and financial resources away from our colleges and dramatically reduced the time, energy, attention, and resources necessary to maintain quality educational programs at our institutions.
Consolidation stands in the way of faculty and staff fulfilling their professional responsibilities to their students, their programs, and their local institutions, which are all independently accredited.
While we struggle to make the accreditation for this imagined consolidated college possible, our existing colleges are starved for resources and personnel.
While the system office encourages us to dream of the benefits to future students, current college initiatives stagnate as we drive across the state attending increasingly contentious and demoralizing meetings.
We are professionals employed in the public service. We have a professional responsibility to exercise wisdom and good judgment as we seek to serve the needs of our students and our communities.
Later that spring, the majority of public college governing bodies in the state voted “no confidence” in consolidation, Students First, Ojakian, and the BOR.
The collective wisdom of those with the most expertise, demonstrated commitment to students and local communities, and long-term commitment to the system and the state strongly indicates that we cannot continue to travel down this path.
We began our work in good faith, expecting to collaborate with our colleagues to make consolidation work. Two years in, we have no confidence that this deeply flawed plan can be salvaged. If we continue to move in this direction, we think we would be responsible for helping to enable a disaster.
For these reasons, we stand together to demonstrate our commitment to our existing colleges, our students, and the citizens of Connecticut.
We will, therefore, cease voluntary work on the college consolidation plan.
We will not participate in the pretense of a governance process by voting on the products of this plan.
We reject the false choice between closing colleges and the “Students First” Consolidation Plan. We acknowledge that the only sense in which colleges are saved by this plan is one in which their street addresses are retained. The colleges themselves–curriculum, governance, culture and programs–will have been replaced by something we do not endorse.
We will therefore demonstrate commitment to our current and future students by redirecting energy back toward meeting the needs of our colleges and our students.
We turn our attention away from system office directives that concern an institution that may never exist, has not yet met minimum standards for accreditation, and which continues to exceed projected costs and deadlines.
We are grateful that President Ojakian has made it clear that our service on these committees is entirely voluntary, assuring Sen. Flexer that “faculty members choose to participate based on their ability” and that Provost Gates has made it clear to at least one workgroup that, should they choose not to fulfill their charge, they may resign.
This makes it possible for us to act in good faith and to recommit ourselves to the work at our own, fully accredited local colleges that our NECHE accreditations requires.
We have taken this stand as a demonstration of our commitment to our 12 community colleges. The full statement of our position is below. We urge colleagues, legislators, students, fellow educators, and residents of Connecticut to stand with us. (See link to pledge here.)
Let’s get to work putting our colleges back together.
The full text of the Joint Demonstration of Commitment to the State’s Community Colleges is available, with full footnotes and documentation.
For an archive of correspondence, resolutions, reports, and editorials please visit the Reluctant Warriors website.
Stephen Adair, Central Connecticut State University
Lois Aime, Norwalk Community College
Dennis Bogusky, AFT President
Megan Boyd, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Maureen Chalmers, Northwestern Community College, 4Cs President
Francis Coan, Tunxis Community College
Jeff Crouch, Three Rivers Community College
Terry Delaney, Three Rivers Community College
Lauren Doninger, Gateway Community College
Brian Donohue-Lynch, Quinebaug Community College
Franz Douskey, Gateway Community College
Seth Freeman, Capital Community College
Elizabeth Keefe, Gateway Community College
Karen Kessler, Gateway Community College
Diba Khan-Bureau, Three Rivers Community College
Steve Krevisky, Middlesex Community College
Riaz Lalani, Norwalk Community College
Kevin Lamkins, Capital Community College
Thomas Leszczynski, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Lillian Maisfehlt, Gateway Community College
Phil Mayer, Three Rivers Community College
Kathleen Murphy, Gateway Community College
Kim O’Donnell, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Patricia O’Neill, Western Connecticut State University
Kate Pelletier, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Conor Perreault, Gateway Community College
Saverio Perugini, Gateway Community College
Ron Picard, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Minati Roychoudhuri, Capital Community College
Eileen Russo, Gateway Community College
Teresa Russo, Gateway Community College
Colena Sesanker, Gateway Community College
Beth-Ann Scott, Naugatuck Valley Community College
Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community College
Trenton Wright, Middlesex Community College
Carmen Yiamouyiannis, Capital Community College