May Help Quell Staff's Confusion; Higher Education Consolidati
By Kathleen Megan
July 01, 2011
The appointment of an interim president of the new Board of Regents is imminent.
Mark Ojakian, who is overseeing the consolidation of higher education for the governor, said Thursday the appointment will be made "before July 1."
Ojakian also said that Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti would take over the position in the absence of an appointment.
Many believe that Meotti will in fact be named interim president, but this was not clear late Thursday afternoon.
An apparent Web page for the Board of Regents carrying Meotti's photograph identified him as president and Ojakian as the contact for more information about the consolidation. However the Web page - ctregents.org - could not be opened later Thursday because it was under construction.
Legislators and higher education officials have expressed concern that the consolidation - which becomes effective Friday - and the appointment of a new Board of Regents have been stalled.
Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for the community college system, said early Thursday that she had heard "not a thing, completely up in the air, no official communication" on the reorganization.
The community college system has been in flux particularly because of the recent resignation of longtime Chancellor Marc Herzog. Herzog was hired back for the month of June, but Thursday was his last day.
Cox said that with his departure, she and two other community college system administrators will lead the agency until a new vice president for community colleges is appointed.
"It's very unsettling," Cox said. "It's a very disconcerting time, particularly for staff in the office because there are so many unanswered questions."
The consolidation calls for merging the administrative offices for the Department of Higher Education, the community colleges, the state university system and Charter Oak College. It also calls for a reduction in staff, which would be compounded by the more than 400 layoffs in the higher education system that the governor's office has said are needed to help balance the state budget.
Rep. Roberta B. Willis, D-Salisbury, who co-chairs the General Assembly's higher education committee, said the uncertainty about who will lead higher education and how the consolidation will work is "causing a lot of anxiety. ... Someone said, 'I don't know who my boss is on Friday.' "
"People are just at a loss and feeling very frustrated and unsure," Willis said.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, also a member of the higher education committee, said the silence on the consolidation "has been deafening. ... We are very concerned about the transition. It's not going to be simple. It's complex."
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the failure of the state employee unions to agree to concessions and the need to come back and reconsider the budget has slowed down progress on agency consolidations.
"I think everyone had a curve ball thrown," said Bye, the committee's other co-chair. "No one was expecting this. ... Frankly, this changes the reorganization because there are more cuts. You need to do this [the budget] and take into account the cuts before you do reorganization."
"Everybody's unsettled, but after today, we'll get out of here with a balanced budget and over the next week or so there will be cuts," Bye said. "And the Board of Regents will have a sense of what they are dealing with. Money is a big part of it. They've got to know what their resources are."
Ojakian said the priority has been for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to select a president and a chairperson for the new Board of Regents. Earlier in the week, Ojakian wasn't sure whether those selections would be made before Friday.
"Once those announcements are made," Ojakian said, "you'll see the [Board of Regents] being constituted in a very short timeframe."
He said that in the meantime, the commissioner of higher education - Meotti - would be in charge.
Ojakian said Malloy has been looking at candidates nationwide for the president's job.
As of Friday, the Board of Governors that oversaw higher education will be eliminated, to be replaced, under the higher education reorganization plans, by a new 15-member Board of Regents.
Ojakian said it's not a problem that the new board has not yet been appointed because during the next six months, which is transitional period, the existing boards for the community college and state university systems will continue to function.
During that period of time, however, those boards cannot take any action unless the Board of Regents ratifies it.
As of Jan. 1, the Board of Regents also will serve as the board for the community colleges, the state universities and Charter Oak State College.
The legislation requires the governor to appoint an initial president. Then on or after Jan. 1, the board must recommend a president. The governor then will appoint the president, who will be subject to legislative confirmation. The president's term will be the same as the governor's.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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