Is the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents engaging in false advertising? Citing a forecasted budget deficit of $69 million due to COVID-19, on Oct. 15 the BOR passed a resolution cutting an additional $8 million from the CSCU campuses. Those cuts are being executed immediately. Not only is the board implementing these drastic cuts during a global health crisis, it is making these cuts to part-time faculty, and undergraduate and graduate assistants who are some of the campuses’ most vulnerable populations.

Are these actions by the BOR indicators of fiscal responsibility or slash-and-burn budgetary politics?

Follow the money — CSCU system office and the BOR

While the fiscal challenges faced by CSCU have been impacted by COVID-19, including lower enrollment and dorm occupancy, they cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic. Years of budget mismanagement by the system office have contributed substantially to this budget shortfall.

  1. The CSCU system office budget increased over 45 percent from 2017 to June 2020. Incredibly —in the midst of a pandemic and decreased enrollment and dorm occupancy at the four CSUs— the system office added $14.81 million to the System Office budget in October 2020 —a 27 percent increase from June 2020.
  2. Despite the failure of the 2011 consolidation to save money (see No. 4 below), the board has continued to spend tens of millions of dollars on a plan to merge 12 community colleges. Over $56 million has been allocated (October budget as approved by the BOR) in the 2020-21 budget alone for the Connecticut State Community College (CSCC)—the “One College” that currently has and serves no students. This yet-to-be-created super community college has a president who is being paid close to $290,000 annually in addition to its $56 million budget line. That budget line could be eliminated until the pandemic is over, greatly reducing the current budget woes.
  3. Three of the CSUs have reserves totaling $42.3 million dollars (CCSU $25.4, ECSU $16.9, SCSU $25.94 million). The system office, which teaches not a single student, has reserves of $22.42 million.
  4. In 2011 Gov. Dannel Malloy reorganized the four CSUs, 12 community colleges, and Charter Oak College under a single Board of Regents, with the stated goal to save money. Nearly 10 years later, it is abundantly clear that this consolidation has not saved Connecticut taxpayers a single cent.

Everything is on the table . . . except everything

While claiming that “everything is on the table,” the BOR has directed their budget cutting exclusively to students and educational employees. Such budget cuts to CSCU’s most vulnerable groups – graduate assistants, university assistants and part-time instructors – are obscene especially at a time when educators are working incredibly hard to support Connecticut students during a pandemic. Reducing part-time instructors means reducing course offerings endangering students’ ability to graduate on time.

Sources of immediate budget relief are being ignored. Each of the four CSUs has cash reserves that were created for emergencies such as a global health crisis. The CSCU system office has reserves of $22.42 million, and $56 million to support the largest community college in the nation could be put on hold until the pandemic is over. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s economic forecast is improving. Real estate sales are booming, sales tax revenues are on the rise, and there is a $3 billion rainy day fund that the legislature and governor could access to partially or fully offset the deficit. What’s more, June 2020 state tax revenues came in $1 billion over June 2018 revenues.

With this forecasted budget deficit and “everything on the table,” why is the BOR resorting to severe and injurious actions to solve a crisis they helped create?

These actions imply slash-and-burn budgetary politics rather than fiscal responsibility. State leaders need to re-invest in and commit to the state public higher education institutions that educate Connecticut students who go on to raise families here, open businesses here, build careers here, and contribute to a vibrant economy and culture of our state.

The numbers

Funds available to counter the $69 million CSCU budget deficit include:

$56 million in three line-items (CSCC, CCC and “Shared Services”) for community college consolidation

$22.42 million CSCSU System Office reserve

$42.3 million reserves at Central, Eastern, and Southern

$3 billion state surplus

Anne Dawson is a Professor of Art History at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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