Our communities have been shaken to their core. COVID-19 has taken loved-ones, jobs have vanished, and racial injustice continues unabated. But we have also witnessed the everyday heroism of ordinary people. Nurses caring for the sick, essential workers keeping the shelves stocked, teachers adapting to new educational technologies, employers struggling to save jobs – they all stepped up to serve others.

Now our state is approaching a fork in the road and difficult decisions need to be made. The decisions we make today will define the Connecticut we live in tomorrow. Today the leadership of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) is threatening to take a budget machete to the university system that is dedicated to educating Connecticut’s working and first-generation students. All this in order to address a short-term, pandemic-induced problem.

This version of crisis management threatens to diminish the educational opportunities of our young people far into the future. Representing nearly 3,000 faculty, librarians, counselors, coaches, and trainers at Connecticut’s four regional universities, Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors (CSU-AAUP) cannot, and will not, support it. The CSCU leadership’s push for educational retrenchment does not help our students cultivate critical thinking, develop job skills, or foster an entrepreneurial spirit. It offers our students a “barely-good-enough” education. We think they deserve better.

We believe in a better future for Connecticut’s college students.  But this cannot be generated via budget cuts, institutional consolidation, or program elimination.  It will only be achieved by ensuring that our public higher education institutions are the very best they can be.

The Connecticut State Universities transform students’ lives. Our students become the state’s future leaders, our future employees and employers, our future taxpayers – and our everyday heroes. CSU faculty teach the skills and habits of mind necessary to pivot on a dime and adapt to new problems, new technologies, and new jobs.

CSU-AAUP wants to work with those members of the CSCU leadership who have the vision to build an educational system that our students deserve and our state desperately needs. As we enter into negotiations for a new contract, CSU-AAUP has a better set of priorities to steer our educational institutions in a just, equitable direction for our students. These priorities will empower students to reach their full potential and contribute to the economic and cultural development of our shared communities.

CSU-AAUP proposes six priorities to ensure the health of the CSU system, campuses, and contracts long after our current crisis is over.

1.) Family. We believe family-friendly educational and work-spaces promote student success and attract and retain the best faculty members. Our union accounts for the complexity of our home lives in the 21st century.

2.) Equity. We believe that equity must be foundational at all our institutions. Our union wants to ensure that everyone who works at a CSU institution is paid a living wage. Faculty workloads need to be recalibrated so students are exposed to current thinking in their fields.

3.) Inclusion. We believe that a healthy academic community includes all members in shared governance. Our union recognizes the work our non-teaching faculty do in support of student learning, health, and development outside the classroom.

4.) Diversity. We believe we must build on what makes us unique- -serving those students who may have been marginalized for their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic status, and first-generation identities. Our union is committed to attracting and supporting diverse students and faculty.

5.) Free Inquiry. We believe in enhancing creative and scholarly activity within our institutions. Our union supports faculty research because it creates technological innovation and social criticism. It’s how we contribute to a dynamic, creative future for Connecticut’s students.

6.) Community Engagement. We believe our institutions must be embedded in the communities in which we exist. Our union wants the CSUs to establish meaningful relationships with the communities that we inhabit, recruit local students, and establish mechanisms whereby local concerns and issues are addressed.

As the CSCU system approaches its own fork in the road, CSU-AAUP will fight to make our system the best that it can be and to ensure that everyone who wants a college education has an opportunity to achieve one. We cannot allow a short-term crisis to be a pretext to downsize, gut, and restructure our institutions and system.

We want our state universities to be accessible and excellent. Only then can higher education provide a clear path toward mobility and to a better future for our state and all who live in it.

Patty O’Neill is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Western Connecticut State University and President of the CSU-AAUP.

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