As was widely expected, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday that he had appointed Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti as interim president of the new Board of Regents of Higher Education.
Meotti, 57, was an early supporter of Malloy's proposal to consolidate the state's higher education systems. He said he thinks the reorganization, which became effective Friday, "will create savings to benefit campuses and students in the short run and over the long term will be a better governance structure to achieve the goals everyone wants."
In March he testified that consolidation of the three central offices - the state university and community college systems and the Department of Higher Education office - alone would save the state an estimated $4.3 million annually. The savings, he said, could be used to pay for 50 faculty positions.
Meotti, who lives in West Hartford, was appointed higher education commissioner in March 2008, and Malloy kept him on when he took office in January. Meotti also serves as an ex-officio member of the State Board of Education, focused particularly on coordination between state colleges and local schools with an emphasis on college readiness and teacher education programs.
Last week, legislators and higher education officials voiced concern that the higher education consolidation and the appointment of the new Board of Regents and its leader had been stalled.
"It's very unsettling," Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for the community college system, said. "It's a very disconcerting time, particularly for staff in the office because there are so many unanswered questions."
The consolidation - proposed by the governor and approved by the legislature - 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 Thursday that the uncertainty about who would lead the Board of Regents and how the consolidation would work had caused "a lot of anxiety."
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, also a member of the higher education committee, said she was "very concerned" about the transition. "It's not going to be simple. It's complex."
Still to be named is a chairperson for the new Board of Governors.
Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, who is overseeing the consolidation for the governor, said the new 15-member Board of Regents would be constituted "in a very short timeframe."
Ojakian said it's not a problem that the new board has not yet been appointed because during the transition over the next six months, 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.
Meotti is a member of the New England Board of Higher Education. In July 2010, he was named to the executive committee of the national association of state higher education executives (SHEEO).
Meotti previously served as president of United Way of Connecticut and president of the Connecticut Policy and Economic Council. He was a state senator for eight years, during which he was assistant majority leader and vice chairman of the education committee. He has been a visiting lecturer in public policy at Trinity College and was president of the Manchester Community College Foundation from 1998-2002.
Ojakian said Malloy has been looking at candidates nationwide for the president's job.
The consolidation 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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