On Monday, April 30, the Central Connecticut State University Senate voted by an overwhelming majority (38-1) through a secret ballot to call for President Mark Ojakian’s resignation, a halt to implementation of all parts of the “Students First” consolidation plan not already rejected by NEASC (the regional accrediting agency), the abolition of the current Board of Regents and its replacement by a body or bodies which will help rather than hinder the colleges and universities, and full funding for public higher education in our state.
As the mover of the resolution, here are the reasons for that motion and the vote:
For nearly two years, ever since it was initiated, faculty at Central Connecticut State University, along with a growing number of faculty at other Connecticut public universities and community colleges, have protested a plan which was developed without faculty consultation, proposed unrealistic and unrealizable goals, did not account for the supposed tens of millions of dollars in savings it claimed to achieve, and was unlikely to receive NEASC approval, given the massive reorganization of staff and programs in a short space of 18 months that it proposed.
As it turns out we were right, and Mr. Ojakian was wrong, as NEASC has now turned down accreditation for the proposed consolidated community college, for reasons similar, and in many cases identical with what we had warned.
How has Mr. Ojakian reacted to this decision? Instead of recognizing his and the CSCU Board’s serious mistakes, he has doubled down on the now rejected objective, saying that he will continue with community college consolidation despite the NEASC decision, and warning that he will have to nearly double student tuition between now and 2020.
He has also stated that he cannot “hold the line” on community college closures. This is unacceptable, since it risks pricing public higher education in the state out of the reach of a growing number of students, and risks permanently dismantling key elements of college education in various regions of the state.
All the while, the system office on Woodland Street, which Mr. Ojakian heads, has burned through an average of $35 million a year, for some quarter of a billion dollars since 2011, with only failed plans such as “Transform 2020” and now “Students First” to show for that immense expenditure of money and effort.
Simply slimming down the overgrown bureaucracy on Woodland Street by one third would save more than $10 million per year, while other revenue-raising measures, which he has not considered, could add more. Faculty and staff at CCSU and elsewhere are ready to innovate for a more efficient educational process, but not at the price of demolishing what we, local administrators and our students have worked hard to achieve.
As a result of this combination of a failed plan, excessive costs, and refusal to admit defeat the CCSU Senate has voted a resolution in four parts. The first part calls upon Mr. Ojakian to resign, given his repeated refusals to listen to criticisms, and for the Board to not appoint a permanent replacement until after a new governor and legislature is elected in November, which could critically reconsider the future of the Board and CSCU.
The second part of the resolution calls for an immediate stop to all aspects of the “Students First” plan (which would more accurately be called a “system office first” plan). That plan calls not only for the consolidation of the community colleges, but also the consolidation of “back office” functions at the four CSCU universities (Central, Eastern, Western and Southern). If implemented this aspect of the plan would remove essential support staff and render the universities incapable of implementing faculty and executive decisions that actually aim at improving student education.
The third aspect calls for the abolition of the current Board, which has systematically failed to achieve its stated goals, and for the legislature to consider options to replace it with a new structure, or divide it into multiple structures which will recognize the distinct missions of community colleges and universities, as required by the legislation establishing the Board of Regents in the first place.
The fourth component of the resolution calls upon candidates for governor and the legislature to commit to fully funding public higher education, and immediately upon election to stop the decades long slide in the percentage of state funding directed to public higher education (a problem also for the University of Connecticut, which is not part of the CSCU). Public higher education is essential to the solution of the problems of our state, and is too important to that future to be sacrificed to dysfunctional plans by a misguided leadership.
As the massive vote in favor of this resolution indicates, faculty and staff at CCSU are calling for a significant correction to an aberrant situation, and we call upon other university and college senates to do likewise, along with concerned citizens throughout the state.
David Blitz is Professor of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University and a member of the CCSU Senate.