At UConn, a case of slamming the door shut behind you

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In times of need every university turns to its alumni for help and support. But what is a university like the University of Connecticut to do when among its alumni are state senators and representatives who would vote for a budget that cuts over $300 million from their own Alma Mater, a cut that, quite simply, amounts to the dismantling of a major public university?

A $300-million cut would mean the closing of many campuses, departments and programs, UConn Health, even the disbanding of the UConn Huskies (this list is partial). After years of effort and commitment resulting in success and duly gained recognition, this cut is a huge step backward

We as an institution are proud of alumni who reach the kind of national prominence that these senators and representatives have reached. For instance, Sen. Heather Somers, a native and resident of Groton, professes a particular interest in education. She is a member of the Appropriations Committee and serves on both the Education Committee and the Higher Education Committee. But what are we to make of it when this UConn alumna champions the destruction of her own Alma Mater?

It has been argued that students who are natives of Connecticut, as is Sen. Somers, should pay the higher tuition that private universities charge. Why shouldn’t UConn students also pay tuition fees that exceed $50,000 a year as students do at Connecticut College, Trinity College, or Wesleyan University? It is a question asked by some senators and representatives. But this rhetorical question deflects attention from the budget’s devastating attack on the many Connecticut families who cannot afford that kind of tuition since the cuts savage the financial aid and scholarship support for those who can barely afford $5,000, let alone $50,000 per year.

In other words, this budget attacks those who have accomplished and sacrificed to earn their spots at UConn but will never be able to afford it if these drastic cuts go into play. Many of those who voted for this $300-million cut seem to be arguing that only the wealthy deserve access to any kind of higher education, cutting off the rest of the state from what has been widely recognized as the single most effective ladder for helping to propel people into prosperity.

We ask: How can senators and representatives who themselves enjoyed an affordable education be prepared to slam the door behind them? How can they countenance the damage they risk doing to the institution that has vaulted to the ranks of our nation’s best universities by taking such reckless action without appropriate hearings about its impact?

Among them is Republican Sen. John A. Kissel, who grew up in Windsor, received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Connecticut’s School of Education in 1981 and then returned to UConn for a bachelor of arts degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a major in history (2002). He voted for the $300 million cut.

Democratic Sen. Paul Doyle, who received a juris doctor degree from UConn, as did Republican Sen. Kevin Kelly. They voted for the $300 million cut. Republican Sen. Toni Boucher holds an MBA from UConn Business School and is the Co-Chair of the Education Committee; she voted for the $300 million cut. Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo, also an alumnus, member and past chairman of the UConn Parents Committee; he voted for the $300 million cut.

Beyond the senators and representatives who directly benefited from their educations at the University of Connecticut are those whose children have gone to UConn, enjoying the kind of education only a top public university can deliver.

We at UConn recognize that the state’s financial woes are real and that all of us must bear the burden of getting through these difficult times. To this end, UConn has embraced the State’s efforts and has already committed to a major budget reduction, over $100 million dollars over two years. If the goal is to help save the economy of Connecticut, however, the present proposal is the kind of remedy that risks killing the patient.

Roger Celestin is a Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut.

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