Over the past several years, the Connecticut Mirror’s opinion page has become a convenient venue for critics of the administration and governance of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system, its existence, leaders and policy.
We welcome differing viewpoints, engaged discourse, and intellectual dialogue that moves us forward in an attempt to solve problems —this is, after all, the bedrock upon which academia is built. We recognize that individuals have a right to their honest perspectives, and it is not always useful to litigate them on social media and opinion boards.
However, an August 30 op-ed by Eastern Connecticut State University Economics Professor Brendan Cunningham was neither honest, accurate nor fair.
Cunningham’s commentary leapt from argument to character assassination by trying to compare the negotiation tactics employed by CSCU’s vice president for human resources, Andy Kripp, with the criminal activities of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein and the behaviors of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Beyond the fact that this is a slanderous premise to begin with, Cunningham’s claims fall apart under any examination.
In the early spring, during a particularly challenging stretch of negotiations between the CSCU system and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) the union representing most state university faculty, bargaining team members raised a complaint against Mr. Kripp. We take such assertions extremely seriously and launched an inquiry, despite the fact that union representatives themselves were satisfied to have levied claims of misogynistic behavior and leave them uninvestigated. The thorough inquiry report, authored by a female investigator, is quoted selectively and without context by Cunningham, and it does not substantiate any sexism whatsoever by Mr. Kripp. Indeed, the report specifically notes that the union was “satisfied and considered the matter closed.”
Negotiations can become heated, and emotions may run high. But we cannot allow any employee of the Connecticut State Colleges Universities System, including members of our negotiating team, to be publicly brutalized with accusations that are personal and false. Mr. Kripp and the CSCU labor contract negotiators have earnestly represented the interests of the students we serve as we seek a fair contract, and they have maintained professionalism during often-tense sessions and public ridicule in the union newsletters and social media. Mr. Kripp reflected carefully on the interactions in question and adjusted his approach in an effort to foster a more constructive dialogue, only to find himself slandered by Cunningham, a member of the same union’s leadership.
Unfortunately, lashing out and being on the attack seems to be woven into the zeitgeist these days. We are deeply troubled that one CSCU employee, and by connection his union, felt free to assassinate the character of a colleague.
In any engagement with any of our constituencies (faculty, staff, students, or external partners), we do our best to listen and identify problems and solutions through collegial collaboration. Our goal, always, is to cultivate positive long-term relationships and to make things better for all those we serve and those with whom we serve. This is not easy, and difficult conversations must take place. But hard conversations do not have to be personal attacks or unprofessional interactions.
Representing our institutions, and ourselves, we are on the same team. We are here to serve students, and we are here to serve the State of Connecticut, and it is fair to expect those who represent CSCU and any of our institutions to comport themselves with professionalism and integrity. Let us commit to setting an example that our students and all of Connecticut can look up to.
Matt Fleury is chair of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. Terrence Cheng is President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.