by Angela Fortuna and Christie Stelly
Students and professors at Central Connecticut State University rallied against a proposal to consolidate services at colleges across the state that will likely impact students and faculty.
The rally was held during a town hall meeting on the CCSU campus on April 25, where Board of Regents President Mark Ojakian was speaking.
The plan to “centralize and back office functions” proposed by Ojakian has received criticism from both students and faculty.
The proposal consists of consolidating operations such as Information Technology, Human Resources, purchasing and contracts, facilities and other “back office” functions in all four state universities, according to Ojakian.
The proposal suggests combining the 12 Connecticut community colleges to have one universal president. In his proposal, Ojakian calls for “operational and administrative consolidation.”
During the town hall meeting in Alumni Hall in the Student Center, protestors holding signs gathered in front of Welte Hall and made their way into the meeting.
Students stood in the back of the auditorium holding signs that said things such things as “Board of Regents has failed” and “Stop the BOR.”
Students and staff are upset that there were no specific details given in the proposal, sociology professor John O’Connor and history professor Louise Williams said.
The proposal, nicknamed “Students First,” has been seen as cynical because students were not informed about it in the first place, explained O’Connor.
Ojakian said students and faculty will not be impacted with the proposal. However, O’Connor believes they will. The proposal could “really change experiences students have,” said O’Connor.
Ojakian plans on cutting more than $40 million out of school budgets. According to Williams, 80 percent of costs in running state universities are in personnel.
In his plan, Ojakian aims to save $41 million over the next several years. There is no way in knowing how this goal will affect faculty and the student body, although O’Connor believes it could lead to job cuts.
Faculty members are concerned because cutting funds ultimately means cutting resources from some part of the school. It is unclear, due to lack of specific details, whether that means eliminating staff members or other resources, O’Connor explained.
Williams believes the proposal should be a “policy of growth to improve education, not cut it.”
O’Connor said the proposal consists of “a lot of talk and very few details.”
The 15-page proposal was sent to faculty members on April 3, and the following Thursday, the plan was passed, allowing for no deliberation or discussion, according to O’Connor.
Ojakian claimed that the consolidation proposal is an effective way for the state to handle budget issues. “We need to invest more money in higher education and we need to do it in a way to prioritize our students and doesn’t continue to put a large burden on them and their families,” said Ojakian.
The only definitive part of Ojakian’s proposal is to increase tuition, O’Connor said.
“There doesn’t seem to be an end to increasing tuition,” Williams said. “I hope Ojakian thinks about the long-term effects and students think about the effects of paying increased tuition every year.”
Increased tuition has grown to be accepted by many students, even though it puts them further into debt, Williams said.
Tuition continues to rise because states continue to reduce funding for higher education. Williams, along with other faculty members, believes states should invest in higher education rather than cut its funding.
According to Ojakian, “[Connecticut] state funding has declined by 12.4 percent since 2015.”
“It has become abundantly clear that our operational costs are outpacing our revenues, creating a true structural deficit,” Ojakian said in an email sent to state faculty members.
Audience members were invited to come forward and ask questions directly to the BOR president during the town hall meeting. Students and staff members took the opportunity to confront Ojakian about his plans.
Akai Long, student senator of the SGA, was concerned that students and staff members were not consulted during the process of the proposal. “Why weren’t more students reached out to when you were doing this plan?” Long asked in the town hall meeting.
“I have been all over the state meeting with students,” responded Ojakian. He suggested that there might need to be better communication between student leaders and the student body.
Students have not had the chance to voice their concerns with the proposal, causing many of them to protest at the town hall meeting, O’Connor and Williams said.
“I stand with those students and will continue to do so,” said O’Connor.
“I hope the concern we are expressing will affect Ojakian’s strategy,” said Williams.
Matt Warshauer, a history professor at CCSU, said that he has long believed Ojakian is the “perfect” leader for the student body at state schools.
“I believed we needed somebody with your kind of legislative background, the connections that you have, the understanding of government and budgets,” Warshauer said to Ojakian. “But what we don’t need is a systems office that micromanages us. This seems to be a top-down decision that is going to be implemented on us, not with us,” said Warshauer.
Warshauer agrees that the university system has serious budget issues, but he does not believe that Ojakian will be successful with his consolidation plan.
The proposal could also affect the plans and leadership of new CCSU president, Dr. Zulma Toro, according to O’Connor and Williams. State school presidents will have less freedom, making it harder for them to expand.
Williams hopes Ojakian does studies to see how similar plans have worked in colleges and universities across the country. Currently, no research has been done.
A faculty senate no confidence vote during an emergency meeting on April 17 voted 39-10 against the proposal, although it will most likely have no effect on the outcome of Ojakian’s plan, O’Connor said.