The Republican budget passed by the legislature had some terrible things in it: the elimination of the Citizens Election Program and the absorption of commissions that speak for the less fortunate into larger departments. One of the worst parts of the budget was the micromanaging of the University of Connecticut.
UConn is an economic engine for the state. The business community, the Hartford Courant, and many politicians have been critical of Connecticut’s failure to attract tech businesses as the Boston beltway is able to do. Expanding UConn’s ability to work with tech companies is a way to promote economic growth.
The Boston beltway is full of tech companies mainly because Boston has Harvard, MIT, and Tufts. All these universities have active science and engineering programs that attract graduate students and faculty from around the world. Boston University and Boston College have smaller, but still important graduate programs.
Connecticut only has Yale and UConn with graduate programs that approach those of Harvard and MIT. Wesleyan has several excellent research programs, but on a much smaller scale. UConn has brought in graduate students from around the world that have stayed here. They are scientists and engineers at many of the state’s tech companies. They are faculty at many public and private universities in the state. UConn, like Yale, has many well-known scientists and engineers on their faculty. It is these faculty and the research facilities at these universities that attract graduate students from around the world.
UConn has sought to create a technology park to bring in tech companies to work with their faculty for decades. Finally, a few years ago, the technology park was approved by the legislature. The tech companies in the Boston beltway form a huge technology park that work with the faculty of the universities in Boston. Several other states have technology parks associated with their universities that boost the state’s economy.
The Republican budget would sabotage this effort. In their bill, professors would have to teach an additional course and could not make over $100,000. Also benefits for faculty would be reduced. What these legislators do not understand is that the majority of the faculty supervise research programs that employ several graduate students. This is one-on-one teaching that permits these faculty to teach only one standard course a semester. Each member of the research faculty spends much time on writing grants that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for research each year. These funds are used for paying graduate students and purchasing needed research equipment.
If the legislature wants to shoot Connecticut’s economy in the foot, the Republican budget should be followed. If the legislature wants to boost the economy, they will increase UConn’s budget to facilitate an operational technology park.
Gary Bent was assistant head of the Physics Department at the University of Connecticut for 22 years. He has done research on chemical physics for over 25 years. After retiring from UCoon, he taught physics at E.O. Smith High School for 12 years, retiring in 2015.