Malloy Proposes $1.5 Billion Initiative For UConn
By Kevin Jachimowicz
With the proposal to strengthen UConn STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) moving forward, major financial support has led to excitement for some, but confusion for faculty and students at other state universities.
“It could have been coordinated a lot better so that all levels are used – the community colleges, us (state schools), and UConn,” said Sharon Braverman, assistant dean of the CCSU school of business. “From the beginning it should have been all of us that were involved, not only one school, because it’s going to take all of us.”
Faced with a projected $1.2 billion budget deficit for next year and $63 billion in overall state debt – giving Connecticut the largest debt burden per capita in the nation – Gov. Malloy recently proposed a $1.5 billion initiative for UConn to augment the existing $2.3 billion “21st Century UConn’ program.”
Malloy is not necessarily responsible for the nonchalance in a shallow percentage of funding going toward Connecticut’s other state schools and community colleges. Phillip E. Austin, now the current interim president for the Conn. Board of Regents of Higher Education, which governs the seventeen Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, was also the thirteenth president of the University of Connecticut from October 1996 to September 2007, which raises suspicion for some.
“We’ve got somebody running our system whose prejudices are for a research one university like UConn,” says CCSU English Professor Candace Barrington.
He’s sees us only that we have a very limited role and that we are the lesser university serving the lesser students.”
She also says that because UConn had a plan ready and people in place to pursue it, it had an upper-hand.
“Right now the attitude [here] is like let’s hope they give us something…and UConn’s been out there like, “Heres our plan, this is what we want, this is what we’re willing to do.” They were able to talk the students into voting for a tuition increase,” said Barrington. “Nobody from CONSCU is up there saying this is what we need and why…I don’t blame it on Malloy at all.”
CONSCU is the seventeen Connecticut State Colleges and Universities governed by the Board of Regents. These schools vow to offer students an affordable, accessible option to further their education or career training.
The Board of Regents is essentially in the crosshairs of this issue, being that it governs the seventeen state schools in their entirety. The board is aware of the growing concern amongst faculty around the state. Public Affairs and Marketing Director Colleen Flanagan Johnson admits that “The Board of Regents and its administrative leadership understand several of the concerns raised by some faculty and staff members at our seventeen institutions,” but continued to say “we were grateful that the governor specifically identified the role the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities must play in the state’s economic expansion strategy and workforce development.”
“I think the Board of Regents has no idea what it’s doing,” said CCSU professor David Blitz. “The president and vice president were forced to resign because of the scandal over the unauthorized pay raises. There’s an acting president who doesn’t know very much about the community colleges [or the state universities]…He knows about higher education, but [only UConn],” Blitz continued. “In attending their last board meeting, I was very unimpressed. They don’t know us, and they don’t understand what they are doing; and that’s a formula for potential disaster.”
Dubbed “Next Generation Connecticut,” the initiative plans to begin major expansion of UConn to potentially increase enrollment, bring in new faculty, and improve the infrastructure.
Many feel that having a world-class university in Connecticut is a worthy goal, as is expanding the number of graduating students who are trained for the jobs of tomorrow, but some also say the initiative should be a collaborative effort of universities state-wide.
“I think it’s a positive thing to bring more students into the state, to invest in a growth area that’s important to the population (STEM & genetic medicine). I think more money to higher education is a good thing, whether it’s us or UConn; the ideal would be, of course, both,” said Blitz.
“We worked really hard for a long time to try to fix a lot of problems and the people that are being paid to fix those problems shut out the faculty; and it ends up being the solution that works best is the one that works best for those few at the top, and they’re not doing much to improve morale. My morale is pretty low, I can’t speak for anyone else,” Barrington said. “If you have a car, and you’re putting gas in it, and you’re doing your oil changes and you don’t abuse it, and it breaks after 30,000 miles, it’s not your fault, it’s the person who’s in charge of building it,” Barrington said metaphorically referring to the structure of higher education in Connecticut.
With so many students attending other Connecticut State Universities prior to their expenditures at UConn, Braverman finds it difficult to understand why the state would deny its students the proper funding and encouragement.
“There’s ways to work it out, and then UConn wouldn’t be the big beneficiary. It’s going to take all of us; they don’t have enough anatomy and physiology labs to cover as many people as they need, so they’re going to have to come here too, and to the community colleges….we’re all going to need to work together,” said Braverman.
When confronted about continuing with increased borrowing, the governor responded, “Connecticut is not going to move forward doing the same things that we did unsuccessfully for 22 years,” Malloy said, according to an article in the Hartford Courant. “This is a big idea.”
Although the idea is massive, its primary focus is on one Connecticut university. Major financial support for just one school has left both faculty and students at other state universities feeling as if they have been brushed under the rug.
“While I do see the state benefitting from obtaining a qualified in-state workforce, the education piece is only benefitting UCONN,” said CCSU Biochemistry professor Christa Cote. “I see a pitting of UCONN against other highly qualified state universities. Enrollment in UCONN will go up and down in other state universities. If enrollment goes down elsewhere, employment at those universities can go down as a result.”