by Jacqueline Stoughton
After delaying his original visit, Board of Regents (BOR) President Mark Ojakian came to Central Connecticut last week to hold an open forum for both students and faculty to ask any pressing questions they have concerning contracts and other concerns regarding the future of the Connecticut State College & University (CSCU) system.
“The few short months I’ve been in this position, I’ve spent a great deal of my time going out to campuses talking to students, faculty, union leaders and administrators about their institutions and what they think some of the challenges that they face are and some of the things they want me to know about the system and think about how we can move forward together and I’ve had so far a fairly good response,” said Ojakian.
Ojakian has been plagued with constant negativity surrounding him since becoming president, as well as the system due to the recent budget cuts, tuition rises and faculty contract proposals.
As expected the faculty forum was in full attendance, however, the student forum couldn’t attract enough students to fill even half of Alumni Hall. Those in attendance were able to present the president with many challenging questions.
When asked about increasing the faculty in the Department of Theatre, Ojakian responded that he didn’t have enough information regarding that department to give an honest answer, explaining he will consult with President Jack Miller on this matter later on. “I won’t commit or make a promise about anything I know I can’t deliver.”
“We need to do more to get more full-time faculty on our campuses, I really value the dedication and hard work that our faculty do here at our institutions. Given the recent budget we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about what we can afford to do and how we can afford to do it,” said Ojakian. “I understand the need to have more full-time faculty on our campuses, we need to take a look at what our final budget numbers are going to be.”
Knowing how the Gov. Malloy’s recent budget cuts will effect the CSCU system was one of the more passionately asked questions, demanding answers regarding the issue, from Ojakian.
“You always have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I have been advocating to the general assembly as why our colleges and university should be seen as a priority, I don’t think anyone whose led the system before was able to make that argument,” said Ojakian. “I’m not going to balance the states financial burdens on the backs of the students. We’re not going to cover all of our costs on tuition and fees.”
Ojakian explained his unwillingness to sacrifice the quality, accessibility and affordability of the universities – promising to be at the capital each day fighting for the CSCU system while working to get the deserved money restored in the CSCU budget.
The biggest topic of discussion was the call by both faculty and students to take the union budget proposals off the table.
“I believe these things should be done in good faith and in a private setting where you could really negotiate this,” said Ojakian. “I want to get a fair and balanced agreement, because I think that’s important. We’re going to have to have conversations about the budget and see what we can afford.”
Although Ojakian provided no clear plan on how to go about the proposed contracts, but continued to promise that with honest conversation in a private setting, a fair agreement will be reached. “I want a fair contract, I believe there should be a fair contract and I’m committed to getting a fair contract.”
Many have been quick to doubt Ojakian and his capability to fix a broken system. Although he doesn’t come from an academic background, he has about 35 years of public service experience – which may be exactly what the system needs during this time.
“I’m going to be the kind of leader that will actually listen to people, that will look to work with everybody in our system to make sure that the education we provide is the best, first-class and continues to move forward in a positive way,” said Ojakian. “I want to make a difference for this system, it’s going to take awhile for people to understand that what I say is what I mean and that my actions bear out my words and I intend to be a strong advocate for this system, for your college and for you. I know how to get things done.”