The proposal for substantive change presented by the Connecticut Board of Regents to the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and College, (NEASC) called “Students First” offers many promises but little evidence and even less that is new except more budget cuts that diminish local campuses and the services they provide to their students and communities.
NEASC, the accrediting body for New England’s educational institutions, guides its members through performance standards; Standard Nine deals with Integrity, Transparency, and Public Disclosure requiring that “Truthfulness, clarity, and fairness characterize the institution’s relations with all internal and external constituencies.”
The “fast track” development and rushed introduction of the most recent consolidation plan from the Board of Regents largely ignore these underlying principles that call for integrity and transparency in the actions, priorities, decision making and relationships of an accredited institution. The draft plan’s acknowledgement of the responsibility for integrity focuses only on the continuation of long-standing mandatory policies that call for integrity: the System Code of Conduct for Regents, Employees, and Volunteers; the Student Code of Conduct; bargaining agreements; policies against discrimination, harassment, and workplace violence, and in support of Affirmative Action, Equal Employment Opportunities, and ADA Compliance.
But the plan itself, its reliance on discredited statistics, its false assumptions about enrollment losses, its claims of widespread participation in the development of the plan, its unrealistic timeline, its reliance on completion of work by committees that have not yet met or been fully identified — all undermine the integrity of the plan itself. The feedback survey for an earlier draft was simplistic and largely ignored. Listening sessions at the colleges failed to address community concerns. The plan was not reviewed by current college presidents as the document claims. The plan relies on a history of centralized services at the community colleges, such as financial aid, information technology, and student success initiatives, cited in two places as a strong foundation for further centralization. While positive, this history of centralization suggests there may not be many more savings available through this strategy. At the same time, the plan offers little that is new or innovative. Success strategies introduced through participation with Achieving the Dream, such as Guided Pathways, began in Connecticut in 2005. A Kresge Foundation grant for success centers is supporting its continuation.
The plan is more a promise than a plan. The savings predicted are unclear and will likely be diminished by the costs associated with implementation. The numbers equating faculty in the “new” institution to faculty currently in place is a very low benchmark to be considered a goal. Five years of budget reductions and rescissions have resulted in hundreds of positions being held vacant to meet continuously reduced funding. Staying at the same level is hardly a stretch.
Removing administrative duties from faculty to increase classroom time will be costly and will not solve the problem of acknowledged underfunding and inadequate staffing. It will undoubtedly diminish advising and program oversight. A promise to sustain student services at campuses by increasing staff and coordination in an ever-growing central administration is disingenuous. One advisor to 900+ students is not acceptable, nor is maintaining the reliance on nearly three times more part-time faculty than full-time faculty. It doesn’t seem the Board of Regents is being transparent, “clear, truthful, or fair.”
And despite their own Code of Conduct, the Board of Regents has a very spotty record for fulfilling promises. The plan speaks of this history of failed leadership briefly, largely ignoring their responsibility for the integrity of management, leadership, and financial stability. They have had five presidents and three board chairs in six years and strategic planning never “advanced” as they admit in describing their new planning process. Nothing has changed substantively about the Board of Regents that would inspire trust in their ability to lead change with integrity.
Perhaps requiring the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee to create and oversee a plan would encourage hope and trust. We continue to ask: where do the savings come from and where do they go? Will any of the proposals for substantive change actually improve the educational experience? This is far from clear.
Booker DeVaughn of West Hartford is former president of Northwestern Connecticut Community College and Three Rivers Community College. Jonathan Daube is President Emeritus of Manchester Community College. They write on behalf of the Connecticut Community College Roundtable, a group of past and present community college employees, primarily retired presidents and former long term members of the Board of Trustees for Connecticut’s community colleges.