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Professors Cautiously Optimistic About Higher Education Reorganization

Concerns raised about preserving liberal arts, losing uniqueness of schools

Kathleen Megan

February 16, 2011

A plan to overhaul the management of higher education in the state may have rattled adminstrators, but the rank and file appear cautiously optimistic.

It's not like the current system "is working all that well for us," said Jason B. Jones, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University.

Candace Barrington, an English professor at Central who is also president of the faculty, said she doesn't object to reorganizing the system as long as "it's done thoughtfully."

As it is now, she said, many faculty feel the central office of the state university system has been micro-managing the four state universities, Central, Eastern, Southern and Western.

"I just don't think we need 70 people in that office," Barrington said.

Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he could save millions by merging the oversight of the state university and community college systems with the state's online college under a single board of regents. In addition, the central offices or management of the schools would be consolidated into a single office under a single chief executive officer. Further details could be included in his budget proposal to be released Wednesday.

Jones, who is president of Central's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said Malloy's proposal could mean less of a voice in decision-making for the university system, and that's a concern.

At Southern Connecticut State University, Susan Cusato, a professor who is faculty president, said the "only thing at this point that we are a little concerned about" is that the governor's announcement emphasized the need to align academics with job growth.

"We want to make sure that we are not just training a bunch of students to become technical workers," Cusato said. "We want to maintain the vision of the university."

Jones voiced the same concern: "We are interested in making sure there is access to a strong liberal arts education."

Otherwise, Jones said, a liberal arts education will be available only for people attending private colleges and universities.

Community Colleges

At the community colleges, professors said they worried about whether the special mission of that system would be obscured without its own board and central office.

"A lot of us feel there is too much bureaucracy in the system," said Steve Krevisky, a mathematics professor and faculty chair of the union at Middlesex Community College. "There are so many presidents and so many deans, you have all these different boards. Do you really need all that?"

Krevisky said he sees the need to downsize, with the savings directed toward teaching and educational services.

But, he added, "We wouldn't want a situation here where the faculty would have to have a Ph.D. and where we would be evaluated the way four-year faculty are."

Krevisky said it is also important that community colleges continue to provide needed remedial and developmental courses.

At Manchester Community College, Andrew Paterno, a professor of health and exercise science, said he is concerned that with one super-board, "the uniqueness of the community college system would be kind of lost."

"The whole student population, the age group, the diversity," Paterno said. "Everything is so unique about the community college system."

Students' Views

Matt Clyburn, a senior at Central, said the proposed reorganization "is long overdue. We've had this inflated bureaucracy at the top. It seems that there is just a lot of blundering that goes on. A lot of overlapping and processing. It's almost become a sort of running joke."

He said a reorganization would save money and make it easier for community college students to transfer to state universities.

Zack Baton, a freshman at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, wasn't so sure.

Consolidation "sounds like a bad idea to me," Baton said. "The institutions are very different. They all have different needs and completely different student bases."

"It's already hard to go to one person and get an answer," he added. "If they centralize, it will just make it worse."

Barrington, the president of Central's faculty, said she would be "so disappointed" if a reorganization ends up with many of the same managers, administrators and board members in authority.

"I think the devil is in the details," Barrington said. "We don't have the details yet. This could be exciting, but I just don't know yet."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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