By Acadia Otlowski
Recently hired Board of Regents president, Dr. Gregory Gray, focused on his plan for a complete a system overhaul at a open forum with Central Connecticut State University faculty and students held Monday.
The new president is a former State University of New York (SUNY) official and has hopes to model the Connecticut State School (CSU) system, which includes 17 institutions, both universities and community colleges, to a model similar to the SUNY system.
“Everything we do needs to be centered on student learning to make it the best in the world,” said Gray, “We are not putting together 17 colleges so we are a system, we are putting together a system for higher education which will be a world class system for higher education.”
Gray identified his three main focuses for the CSU system in the upcoming years.
“The first of which is restoring the integrity and trust [towards] our system. There is no doubt that our system has been hurt by what has happened over the past years,” said Gray, referring to budget cuts and funding issues.
These cuts have affected the community college systems, cutting funding while tuition for all students is raised. Gray also wants to focus on the business aspect of the CSU system, which is still in its infancy.
“An overarching objective which most people don’t pay a lot of attention to is that we are a new system. Our organization does not have job descriptions for some folks, does not have reporting centers for others, ” said Gray, explaining that certain business aspects of the system are being ignored.
But Gray also reaffirmed that the main purpose of the CSU system is to provide students with exceptional educational experiences.
“I was certain when I arrived that I would be asked to put together a plan for the future of this new system of higher education. What has happened is that has really become accelerated. Starting with the governor who would like to see a plan for our new system of higher education as soon as possible,” said Gray, who noted that there is a sense of urgency in coming up with a plan for the system overhaul.
Gray acknowledges that this will take money, but is confident that the system will be able to get the funds that it needs.
“It is going to cost money, certainly in that plan it will talk about the state structure that is in place for appropriations,” said Gray.
Faculty members and students expressed their concerns to Gray.
“The SUNY model includes research institutions, and the primary research university, UConn, is not part of ConnSCU. Are you planning on bringing UConn into the fold, or are you planning to raise one of the universities in the system?” asked Mary Ann Mahony of the History department.
According to Gray, the universities will not be linked in any administrative way, but hopes the two systems can collaborate.
“It makes sense for a lot of collaboration to occur between UConn and us. It’s not that you are going to work there, but maybe for a time our faculty will engage in research with them,” said Gray.
Gray also addressed hostility towards UConn from those in the CSU system.
“You folks are paranoid about UConn. We set our budget based on their budget. That annoys the heck out of me. UConn doesn’t run our place, we run our place, ” said Gray, “I like to consider us and UConn as sibling rivals.”
Gray explained that UConn and the CSU system compete for some of the same state money, but that shouldn’t cause hostile relations between the schools.
Another faculty member, Dr. Felton Best, expressed his concerns over potential consolidation, an issue in the SUNY system.
Best asked if there are any plans for consolidation of departments or programs.
Gray described the role of the Board of Regents.
“Their purpose is to set policy and direction for the state system of higher education. My job then is to work with the colleges to make sure those broad objectives are met. Whose broad objectives never get into the idea of consolidation of departments of colleges,” said Gray.
Gray emphasized the importance of access to higher education.
“We can’t continue to put tuition higher and higher because we are going to limit access, not because we don’t have room, but because students can’t pay. We can’t put that financial burden on the backs of our students,” said Gray.