Professors, Students Protesting At State's Four Regional Universities
Issues Raised Include Budget, Tuition, Mission
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
March 08, 2013
Professors and students from the state's four regional universities are raising questions about the state's financial commitment to the system, the universities' mission and the system's leadership.
Last week, 12 of the university system's most distinguished professors signed a letter that said the state "has long suffered from a two-tier higher education system for its public four-year universities" with the University of Connecticut "claiming disproportionate resources."
The letter said UConn's faculty get salaries that are 30 percent higher on average and teach half as many classes as the professors at Central, Eastern, Southern, and Western Connecticut state universities.
The professors said they are "deeply troubled" that the universities' mission statement under the reorganized higher education system omits research as part of that mission.
"Dangerous signs" have emerged, the professors wrote, that "we are being downgraded from teaching and research universities to solely teaching universities."
Meanwhile, students are planning two rallies this week — at 2 p.m. Monday at Central Connecticut State University and Wednesday at Western Connecticut State University — to protest proposed tuition increases and to demand more representation on the Board of Regents for Higher Education.
Eric Bergenn, president of the student government at Central Connecticut State University, said the students want the Board of Regents to go back to the state and ask for more money.
"We're hoping to have legislators step up to the plate and appropriate more from the general fund to higher education," Bergenn said. The board is expected later this month to consider a proposed increase of tuition and fees of about 5 percent. Commuter students at the four state universities would pay $434 more next year, while residential students would pay $778 more.
"I'm dead set against the increase of 5 percent," Bergenn said. "It's terrible, we're pricing people out of the market. It makes low-income students suffer."
However, he said unless the state increases funding to the state universities, he thinks the state Board of Regents for Higher Education will have little alternative but to approve the increase.
Bergenn said students are also critical of the reorganization of higher education, which consolidated oversight of the state university system and community college system under a single Board of Regents. Under the old system, the university students had four representatives on the board of trustees, he said. The new regents board has only two student representatives — one from the state universities and the other from the community colleges.
Ever since the consolidation was proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, university and community college leaders have expressed concern that their particular missions would get lost in the merger.
When Malloy announced a plan earlier this year to direct more than $2 billion into a long-term science and technology initiative at the University of Connecticut, it left many educators in the state university and community college system feeling slighted.
James W. Russell, a sociology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University and one of those who signed the letter, said "UConn is getting more and more in their budget … while we are frozen or in fact getting less."
However, he said it's not only a money issue. He said the professors would like to see "confirmation that research is a central part of our mission… We don't like the idea that UConn is the research university and we are the teaching university. No, we both do both."
The regents' mission statement says the community colleges and universities "provide affordable, innovative and rigorous programs in settings that permit an ever increasing number of students to achieve their personal and career goals as well as contribute to the economic growth of the state of Connecticut."
"It's like the Wal-Mart of education," Russell said of the mission statement. "If it was a student essay, we would say it is too short. It's an embarrassment."
By comparison, he said UConn's statement is "perfectly dignified."
Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, said he thinks the professors letter "expressed a reasonable frustration" from some "excellent professors."
But, he said, many states do have two-tiered educational systems with a flagship universities garnering more in the way of resources than the other public universities or colleges in the state.
Philip Austin, interim president of the Board of Regents, has said the state has had a strong commitment to the state university and community college systems in the past and he's certain that will continue to be the case. Miller said the legislative session isn't over yet, and it may be that proposals from state universities will get funding.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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