Sen. Beth Bye conducting listening tour at state's universities
February 23, 2011
"Do you see yourself as students of Southern or as part of a state university system?" state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, asked about 20 Southern Connecticut State University students.
"Southern," they responded resoundingly. Their answer was at the heart of what Bye heard Wednesday morning during her first stop on a listening tour at state universities. Bye is gathering views about the governor's proposed budget cuts and his plan to consolidate state universities with community colleges.
Top administrators, faculty members and students raised questions and concerns about the governor's proposal and how it would affect Southern's identity and mission.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he could save millions by merging oversight of the state university and community college systems under a single board of regents. He also has proposed consolidating the schools' central offices under a single chief executive.
The details of how the proposed merger would work are not yet known, but during a session with administrators, Bye asked Stanley Battle, Southern's interim president, what would happen if faculty or staffing positions had to be approved by a central office.
"That would be a disaster," Battle said, "an absolute disaster. We have to be very creative, but if we have to stand in line ... it's really going to hurt us. We need the flexibility to go out and hire the best faculty. If we lose that, we'll be in trouble."
In Bye's session with professors, English professor Steve Larocco said it's crucial to understand the distinct missions of the community colleges and the state university system.
If the emphasis is on streamlining and easing transfers between community colleges and state universities one of the objectives of the proposed merger Larocco said there could be some ill effects.
"There's a risk of homogenizing course offerings, particularly at the first- and second-year level," Larocco explained later. "You end up potentially putting a damper on curricular innovation and intellectual ferment."
A first-year community college course may be similar to a first-year state university course, but it's not the same, Larocco said. "It ought not be the same."
Another English professor, William Hochman, questioned why the University of Connecticut was not included in the plan. It appears, he said, that the plan was to keep "UConn the elite, above everyone else."
"I hear your question," said Bye, who co-chairs the General Assembly's higher education committee. "If it's a unified system, why keep UConn out If you want to be strategic, why not include everyone?"
Students also voiced many concerns. Dan Rosa, a student from Greenwich, said a merger could lead to confusion over Southern's identity. People might think, he said, "Oh, Southern it's an extension of the community colleges."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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