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CCSU Faculty Rejects ‘Students First’ Plan, Demands Ojakian’s Resignation

by Angela Fortuna and Kristina Vakhman

Central Connecticut’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution Monday calling on Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian to resign following his response to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ rejection of the “Students First” plan.

Ojakian has announced that the NEASC’s rejection of the “Students First” plan could prompt a review of tuition rates and the closure of one or more of the systems’ campuses.

The decision was announced in a statement signed by Ojakian and the Board of Regents on Tuesday, April 24.

“While the Commission appreciates the considerable work done already to develop a proposal that addressed both the significant financial challenges faced by the twelve community colleges and the importance of improving student success, the Commission was not persuaded that planning for the new Community College of Connecticut as outlined in the Students First report is realistic,” NEASC’s report states.

“If the Connecticut State College and University System wishes to pursue the plan as outlined, Commission staff are prepared to work with you [the CSCU] as you prepare for a comprehensive evaluation for candidacy,” the NEASC report goes on. “Commission staff are also prepared to work with you [the CSCU] should the System decide to pursue other options to address the twin financial and student success challenges.”

The plan, proposed by 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 Board of Regent’s “student first” presentation.

The Faculty Senate’s resolution not only urges Ojakian’s resignation, but also a “complete halt” to “Students First” and “full funding for public higher education in Connecticut.” Additionally, the resolution, which passed 38-1, asks that the state legislator consider “abolishing the BOR to be replaced by a structure or structures that will respect the distinct missions of the community colleges and universities.”

“We want the whole thing stopped,” Dr. David Blitz, the resolution’s author and main proponent, told The Recorder after the vote. “This was never about students first. It was all about centralization and control to the detriment of faculty with governance over curriculum and to the interests of the students.”

“[Ojakian is] not listening to faculty, he’s not listening to students and he’s not listening to NEASC,” Blitz continued. “There has to be an end to that kind of behavior for someone who’s earning over $300,000 a year.”

Faculty Senate’s current President Dr. Stephen Cohen agreed, saying that he supported the resolution particularly due to the fact that he was “dismayed” by Ojakian’s dismissal of NEASC’s decision and of the calls for his resignation through his statements reported in The Hartford Courant.

“I was initially ambivalent about it, but President Ojakian’s non-response to NEASC was really disturbing—that he simply rejected out-of-hand and said that we’re going to go through with this, or we’re going to threaten students with a tuition raise,” Cohen commented. “That doesn’t suggest leadership to me. Leadership needs to know when to listen to people. He hasn’t shown any willingness to do that.”

“While we expected further guidance, we did not expect NEASC to redirect us to consider ‘candidacy for accreditation,’ a new process that will take another 5 years,” Ojakian said in the statement Cohen referred to. “The problems that our institutions and students face cannot wait five years. In five years, our institutions will be financially insolvent.”

Cohen also commented on his belief that Ojakian should start listening to students and faculty in the CSCU system.

“He’s made clear that he doesn’t plan to resign, but I hope that the legislature and the governor are listening,” Cohen continued. “Whether it leads to President Ojakian’s resignation or not, I’d much rather see him start listening, start thinking [and] start consulting.”

Blitz agreed, adding that he envisions other CSCU institutions will join in on this endeavor and that he will personally be working with them.

“[CCSU] is taking the lead,” Blitz stated. “This entire plan is [hypocritical].”

“Students First was created to avert a major crisis for our institutions and our students,” Ojakian said in the statement. “Today, NEASC has issued a response to our Students First consolidation plan. It is not the decision that is best for our students, nor is it the decision for which we had hoped.”