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BOR ‘Student First’ Plan Approved, Despite Concerns In Local Community

by Angela Fortuna

Despite concerns from the local community, students and staff, the Board of Regents recently approved the state’s proposed “student first” plan, according to the CT BOR website.

The plan, proposed by Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian, consists of the consolidation of “back office functions,” including Information Technology, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing and Facilities and Institutional Research. The plan would centralize these functions into one location for all state universities to have access to, rather than one on each university campus, according to the BOR’s “student first” presentation.

This plan, according to CCSU Professor John O’Connor, has raised many red flags in faculty discussions, questioning if you can really “draw a line between front and back office functions.”

“Professors and students here at CCSU have stood up and said this is bad for the community colleges, bad for students and bad for the state,” O’Connor said. “As usual, the BOR just listens, and refuses to engage with the arguments and concerns of the people who will be most impacted by the consolidation.”

“There was another BOR meeting in early January, and representatives from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the organization that is responsible for accreditation of New England’s colleges and universities, pressed Ojakian and the BOR for details about what they are trying to do,” O’Connor said. “But Ojakian doesn’t seem to care what we have to say. He appears to be the Supreme Leader; his word is law even though he knows nothing about education.”

Ojakian did not respond to requests for comment through The Recorder.

In October of 2017, Ojakian publicly stated: “Our Students First teams have identified recommendations to put us on a viable path forward, help us to meet our savings targets over time, and in some cases, increase revenue for the CSCU system.”

The plan, according to the BOR, has many benefits for students, including an easier and more efficient way to enroll in and transfer credits among state colleges and universities. The new consolidation plan will also offer a single student aid package to students that can be used across multiple campuses.

With the benefits of the “student first” plan, members of the CCSU union, including O’Connor, would argue that the negatives outweigh the positives.

“Given how Ojakian’s dodgy plan emerged and the lack of details involved with it, professors and students here at CCSU have stood up and said this is bad for the community colleges, bad for students, and bad for the state. But, Ojakian doesn’t seem to care what we have to say,” O’Connor said.

The Board of Regents officially accepted Ojakian’s “student first” plan in December; the plan will mainly affect the four state universities and the 12 community colleges.

“Many students at CCSU started at the community colleges [and] Ojakian’s plan is going to impact the experiences that future students are going to have,” O’Connor said.

The BOR projects an influx of students from the 12 community colleges and transfers from four-year universities, according to agenda for their meeting held on Feb. 1.

According to the BOR “students first” presentation, Ojakian’s plan would save a targeted $28 million after numerous consolidations in state community colleges. The plan would provide the community college campuses to work together, develop a new Enrollment Management Strategy to serve students, develop a process to align curriculum with broad faculty participation and maintain unique programs while creating more student access statewide, according to the presentation.

The BOR is currently undergoing multiple reviews of academic programs at each community college and state university. For CCSU, there are 20 academic programs under internal review, including but not limited to Communications, Sociology, Biomolecular Sciences and Modern Languages. Internal review consists of individual investigations of each academic program in question to assess whether or not it has complied with its obligations.

According to the presentation, the plan would prevent any of the state community colleges from closing, which is ultimately the state’s main goal, according to the BOR presentation.

“We need the politicians to show some leadership and call time on the plan. They need to stand up for the students and the people of CT, it is a poor plan with no details,” O’Connor said.

The CCSU union has participated in the process of implementing Ojakian’s “student first” plan by voicing their concerns at public BOR meetings and to university faculty and students.

The next step for the 2018 fiscal year will be beginning to develop shared governance and curriculum review structure, according to the BOR presentation.

“In Ojakian’s fantasyland, anything is possible I guess,” O’Connor said.

“It is very important that students get involved in state politics and push for the higher education funding, the faculty union is trying to get a #Thriving community campaign going to push the politicians to fund higher education and stop tuition and fee increases,” O’Connor stated. “The students and people of CT deserve better than this. Together, students, faculty and staff should force the politicians to fund higher ed. Students should pay attention to what is happening to their system, these shifts will impact you.”