As the semester winds down in December, my mind often wanders to the holiday season. This is generally an enjoyable time of year. In many traditions, families gather and give each other gifts. Some also practice a tradition of giving to charities.
When my mind turns to Connecticut’s students on our public university campuses, though, I can’t help but feel that, this year, they’re a bit like Dr. Seuss’s Whos in Whoville. They’re quietly and pleasantly attending to their classes and final exams, but the Grinch is stealthily out and about on our campuses. Our students, thanks to the Grinch, are losing a valuable gift and that gift is their education.
On Western Connecticut State University’s campus, the Grinch is played by Interim President Paul B. Beran, who believes it wise to eliminate multiple valuable majors on campus. (See update below.) At Southern and Eastern Connecticut State, the Grinch is played by administrators seeking to shrink the ranks of part-time faculty. Those campuses are already woefully understaffed, so the only way to do this is to reduce academic opportunities for students.
These Grinches are largely working at the behest of the “system office” Grinch in Hartford. Each year, that Grinch runs around our public university campuses and collects a bill of around $30 million (see “interagency transfers” on page S-10 here). It is very hard to find out what, exactly, the system office Grinch does with all this loot. He’s kind of irascible and tends to lash out if you ask unwelcome questions or perhaps question his decision-making (see CT State spokesperson Leigh Appleby describing legitimate faculty concerns as “whining”). We do know that at least some of this money is used to pay off loans the campus Grinches took out in order to build more facilities than we need.
I wonder if our governor and our General Assembly will see what is happening and protect our students. Our governor, in particular, seems pretty fond of paying off loans. His social media accounts tout, quite frequently, how much our state is paying down when it comes to the pension loan we owe to retiring employees. That’s great for the older folks among us, but how about handling some of those irresponsible building loans the public university campus Grinches took out unwisely in years gone by?
That would go a long way toward helping all our public university students, including the youngest among them. All kinds of emergency covid funding is now disappearing, but covid is not over for our students. They’re still dealing with learning loss and mental health challenges.
We’re one of the most affluent states in the nation. We don’t need to take away opportunities from younger generations, we really don’t. Let’s come together and celebrate during this season of giving. Let’s show the Grinches what it means to educate and care for students. Let’s stop all this unnecessary cutting and let’s secure the future for Connecticut’s youngest generation through increased investment and opportunity in accessible public higher education.
Update: In the days since I wrote the above, it has become unclear if Western’s Interim President Baren still intends to cancel four majors. On December 12, Western’s Senate voted overwhelmingly in opposition to his plan. During a campus forum two days later he said “I did not announce cancellation of majors in order to cancel majors. I announced it to throw a bomb in the room and get people to start talking” (paraphrased, although he did specifically use the analogy of “throwing a bomb in the room”). Given elevated risks of campus violence, this was perhaps not the best choice of words from a university President. Regardless, it is impossible to know if he will continue recommending the discontinuation of majors in coming weeks or months until he specifically announces withdrawal of his proposal.
Brendan M. Cunningham, PhD is a Professor of Economics at Eastern Connecticut State University.