Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently announced his "deal" to reorganize most of Connecticut's public higher education. It was crafted by one political appointee and one legislator. It's typical of such "deals" done in the dark — it's bad public policy. It's even worse educational policy. It's not the way our elected representatives should allow laws to be made.
This "deal" didn't actually produce a bill that the public could read or understand. We don't know when all our legislators will have the opportunity to debate and vote on this "deal." Will it be one of the "end of session" bills passed by number and shuttled between the House and Senate under "suspension of the rules"? Will it be part of the "implementers bill" passed at the end of the session when our legislators are too tired or too constrained by the rules to debate its mandates? Who knows? One of the dealmakers said the "deal" was a "leap of faith" with "a lot that hasn't been filled in." Very comforting.
Here's what we do know. This "deal" is a power grab, pure and simple.
It politicizes higher education. It gives the governor top-to-bottom control, from the naming of the top paid "executive" to negotiating employee contracts for most of Connecticut's higher education personnel. The University of Connecticut, with the greatest number of highly paid administration and other staff, apparently doesn't need any "reorganization." But this doesn't matter because the governor's proposed budget makes no claim of any dollar savings from the reorganization.
Another curious twist the Malloy proposal takes is to require that a strategic plan be developed for public higher education (a good idea) but to legislate a new governing structure for our state universities and community colleges before the strategic plan has even been written. Talk about a scheme in search of a justification!
Here's what we can expect from the "deal":
Our state universities will be run by political hacks and bean counters.
Faculty free-speech rights will be threatened.
The separate state universities will increasingly be referred to as "regional," marginalizing them and their students and devaluing the diplomas of present and future graduates.
People with no required expertise in or commitment to education, student access, academic independence or research excellence will impose policy and control collective bargaining.
The number of full-time tenure-track professors will drop and the number of cheaper, less qualified adjunct teachers will increase.
If this "deal" becomes law, the availability and quality of public higher education in our state will begin a sharp, steady and irreversible slide. Goodbye to internships and other opportunities for students to gain valuable supervised experiential training. Hello to two tiers of public education in Connecticut — one elite (UConn) governed by educational policy, and one "regional" run by politics.
And what of the special missions that are the hallmark of our state university and community college systems — access and affordability? Will the bean counters and politicians recognize that in many cases the Connecticut State University System and community college students drop in and drop out of their institutions on their way to a degree because they need to work to pay their bills? Since there's no requirement for the politically appointed CEO to know anything about higher education, much less how graduation and retention rates are affected by economic and other circumstances, will our most determined students be shut out of their dreams?
There are no regions in Connecticut. Students from throughout our state select colleges within CSUS based on long-developed curriculums at those institutions that are tailored to their interests and career aspirations.
Connecticut's tradition of building our workforce through education began 160 years ago. It was dedicated to providing the individual an opportunity for a top quality education. Will that tradition be sacrificed in 2011, not for the sake of economy but for the blatant demand for political patronage and control?
John A. Doyle of Barkhamsted is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University. He serves as a trustee of the Connecticut State University System.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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