The stench coming from the Board of Regents

The October 9th Wait, What? post was entitled, “There is something very, very wrong going on at Connecticut’s Board of Regents.

But no, it was not a blog post about the growing controversy surrounding the effort to jam through the ill-conceived and damaging “Transform CSCU 2020” plan that is being pushed by Regent President Gregory Gray and the members of the Connecticut Board of Regents.

The Wait, What? blog with that title was posted more than two years ago (October 2012) and dealt with the myriad of problems that surfaced when the previous president of the Board of Regents, Robert Kennedy, illegally hand out nearly $300,000 in pay raises to employees in the central office despite state law and the SEBAC labor agreement that prevented such a maneuver.  Three days later, Kennedy submitted his resignation and was gone.

But the sad and shocking reality is that the notion that “there is something very, very wrong going on at Connecticut’s Board of Regents” is even truer today than it was two years ago.

In fact, the action being pursued by the Board of Regents and its current president may well be the worst proposal for public higher education in Connecticut history.

Rather than improve the quality and accessibility of a college education for tens of thousands of Connecticut students, their new plan, would leave Connecticut’s state universities and community colleges a sad empty shadow of what they once were and could be with the proper leadership and support.

To begin to understand the situation, all you have to do is read some of the recent news stories in the CT Mirror and Hartford Courant.

Faculty decry provost’s departure, president’s plan for CSCU’s future and ECSU faculty union gives president’s plans an F and Faculty push back on president’s plans for Connecticut State Universities and Regents Provost Resigns Abruptly After Less Than 8 Months and ECSU Faculty OK Organizing ‘No Confidence’ Vote On Regents President and Smart Classrooms Discussed At Board Of Regents Meeting

But the real problem behind the proposed “Transform CSCU 2020” is far more serious than the media coverage has yet explained.

When William Cibes served as the Chancellor of the Connecticut State University System and Mark Herzog served as the Chancellor of the Connecticut Community & Technical Colleges, the two not only worked to include faculty, staff, students, alumni and the greater community in the decision-making, but they stood as strong advocates for their institutions, rather than tools of any sitting governor.

When push came to shove, these higher education administrators understood that while they were part of the state government, their primary duty was to serve their institutions and their respective missions.

However, the focus of the leadership all changed when Governor Malloy decided to merge the two systems into one entity called the Board of Regents.

Malloy’s disastrous proposal would not have passed but for the lobbying effort of Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman who called Democratic members of the Education Committee to tell them to overrule their chairperson, State Representative Roberta Willis, who was rightly demanding significant changes to the legislation.

The merger of CSU and the Community Colleges was a bad idea to begin with and the situation has only gotten worse over the last three years.

Rather than recognize the importance of both systems, including the growing quality of the Connecticut State University System and the vital importance of the Community College System, the Malloy administration – through its state budgets and appointments to the Board of Regents – has consistently undermined the fundamental mission of those institutions.

The plan to “transform” CSU and the community colleges is but the latest and most profound reminder of Malloy’s disastrous approach to public higher education in Connecticut.

Instead of appointing people who appreciate and understand the vital role that the Connecticut State University and the Community Colleges play, the Malloy administration and the people appointed to the Board of Regents have been engaged in a full-scale effort to limit the institutions’ ability to succeed while transferring the costs of running these public institutions onto the backs of the students and their families.

The problem is that the “Transform CSCU 2020” plan was developed by people who don’t appreciate the role these colleges and universities play in the fabric of Connecticut.

Incredibly, the Board of Regents appears equally blind.

Faced with the need to develop a strategic plan for these public institutions, the Board decided to overlook the expertise here in Connecticut or properly include the input of the faculty, staff, students and alumni of the universities and colleges.

Instead, President Gray and the Board of Regents paid $1.8 million to a multi-national consulting company called the Boston Consulting Group.

The Boston Consulting Group is an entity dedicated to the notion of privatization and implementing “efficiencies.”

One of the Boston Consulting Group’s “claims to fame” is the recent plan to privatize Philadelphia’s public school system, a plan that was adopted by a right-wing governor and has led to the closure of public schools across that city and the rapid expansion of privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter schools.

Some are rightly focused on the question of why the Boston Consulting Group would be allowed to develop such a disastrous “Transform CSCU 2020” plan?

But an equally important question is why the Board of Regents would even hire the consulting group in the first place and whether the majority of the board even knew about the Boston Consulting Group’s history or the appearance of what could be considered serious conflicts of interests?

Insiders at the Board of Regents report that Boston Consulting Group came via the endorsement of President Gray and Nicholas M. Donofrio, the chairman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

When announcing their decision to hire the Boston Consulting Group to develop the plan to transform the state university and community college system in April 2014, Regent President Gray said he was confident that the private company with 81 offices in 45 countries had the credentials to do the job.

An Executive Steering Committee was also named to oversee the process, a group whose membership failed to include any faculty, staff, students or alumni members.  Instead the Executive Steering Committee consisted of Board of Regents Chairman Nicholas Donofrio; Board of Regents President Dr. Gregory Gray; J Puckett, Boston Consulting Group Partner and Managing Director; Catherine Smith, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; and John Rathgeber, President of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

As the controversy surrounding the Boston Consulting Group plan grows, the role of the Board of Regents, and especially its Chairman Nicholas Donofrio, become increasingly important.

The question now is whether the Board will stand up for what is in the best of the state and its citizens or will it continue to align itself with the corporate junk being delivered by the Boston Consulting Group.

The answer may very well rest with Nicholas Donofrio, the Chairman of the Board of Regents.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy nominated Nicholas Donofrio, a former high-ranking IBM executive, to the Board of Regents when the Board was created in 2011 and made him Chairman of the Board on December, 12, 2013.

Despite Connecticut’s Campaign Finance System that was supposed to keep pay-to-play and big money out of politics, Donofrio is what could best be described as one of Malloy’s “super donors.”

After Donofrio was put on the Board of Regents, he and his wife donated $20,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s “federal account,” the entity that Malloy and his campaign operation used to funnel $4.6 million into his re-election campaign on top of the $6.5 million he got from the taxpayer funded State Elections Fund and the $15 million in out-of-state money that was spent to support Malloy’s candidacy this year.

After Donofrio was named chairman of the Board of Regents, he donated another $20,000 to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee’s “federal account,” making him one of Malloy’s largest donors.  During the same period, Donofrio and is wife also gave the Democratic National Committee more than $103,000.

At the time Malloy appointed Donofrio to serve as the Chairman of the Board of Regents, he praised him for his connections to the “business community” noting that “Donofrio consults and speaks nationally and internationally on a broad range of topics including innovation, technology and education for a broad range of clients and audiences.”

What Malloy didn’t explain was the depth of Donofrio’s real or potential conflicts of interests when it came to serving as the chair and as a guardian of Connecticut’s state universities and community colleges.

Some of those issues might explain how Boston Consulting Group got a lucrative $1.8 million contract to develop a plan that is counter to what is in the best interests of Connecticut and its citizens.

But the record fails to indicate whether Malloy or Donofrio even informed the Board of regents about the potential conflicts of interest.

It turns out that Nicholas Donofrio not only serves as Chairman of the Connecticut Board of Regents but he is a twenty-year veteran of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Board of Trustees and a long-time member of Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees.   He also chaired a special committee that recommended that the University of Vermont have more private trustees and fewer appointed by public officials.

In addition to his relationship with other universities that recruit students from Connecticut,  Donofrio serves on a long list of corporate boards including of The Bank of New York, Wigix, Inc., The MITRE Corporation, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., Liberty Mutual Holding Company, Inc., TopCoder, Inc., Sproxil, Inc. and Delphi Automotive PLC.  He also serves on the boards of StarVest Partners, L.P, Atlas Research LLC., and O’Brien & Gere Limited.

Interestingly, this year State Treasurer Denise Nappier used her voting authority as head of the state pension fund to cast votes for Donofrio for the lucrative board positions on Delphi Automotive plc, The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.  The State Treasurer did the same thing in 2012.

Donofrio also served as one of the members of the Bush administration’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, thanks to the appointment he received from Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Thanks to a number of these positions, Donofrio has had extensive contact with Boston Consulting Group and those associated with the company.

For example, after leaving her position as Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings formed an education consulting firm and now serves as a senior adviser to the Boston Consulting Group.

Donofrio’s role on the board of The MITRE Corporation also puts him in contact with another senior Boston Consulting Group adviser, Michèle Flournoy.

And other companies Donofrio is affiliated with have retained the services of the Boston Consulting Group, including Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. who brought in the Boston Consulting Group to advise the company on strategy when it decided to restructure and lay off thousands of employees.

While these connections may or may not rise to a conflict of interest, the decision to hire the Boston Consulting Group to “transform” CSU and the Community Colleges is extremely troubling.

And the decision is made worse because of the unlikelihood that Regent President Gray or Regent Chairman Donofrio will do the right thing and throw out this flawed proposal so that a proper plan can be developed with the true input from faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community.

Perhaps even more troubling is Malloy’s conflict of interest.

For someone who claims to be right even when he is wrong, there is ample reason to believe that he won’t demand that the Board of Regents do the right thing when one of his biggest donors is Nicholas Donofrio, who as Chairman of the Board of Regents appears committed to the flawed “Transform CSCU 2020” plan.

  • Jim Spellman

    Jon, Your investigative journalism is brilliant , your courage to inform is laudable . How incredibly frustrated you must feel in knowing you are shouting in to the wind .
    It is a done deal . Malloy got reelected and will do as he pleases for another four years . Nothing short of a Federal Indictment will prevent the insider games from continuing to be played And that , my Friend , is not going to take place .

  • henryberry

    Forget about a Federal indictment. The FBI is crippled as a credible, effective law-enforcement agency in CT. Over roughly the past decade, the FBI (and other state-security agencies) and Connecticut state’s attorneys and accomplices have spent $3,000,000 or so keeping me under surveillance with harassment, threats, etc., for exposing criminal activity at the Pullman and Comley law firm, now with close ties to Malloy especially in the area of bonds and real-estate deals. See the case Dillon v. Bailey for references to the FBI’s practice of making false statements in affidavits. Bailey took to reprisals against Dillon for even mentioning this to him. The matter of the FBI criminal activity was glided over. It’s obvious to anyone interested in having a look that the FBI and state’s attorneys have been partners in crime in Connecticut for many years—as evidenced by the systematic, long-running targeting of me, as well as other corruption I’m sure if one starts looking. In fact, the FBI already shut down one investigation which may have brought to light illegal activity by the Pullman and Comley law firm benefiting Malloy. This was a bond deal some years ago involving some medical facility (I don’t recall the specifics right now) having the appearance of illegality that the FBI soon stopped investigating, in all probability because the investigation was leading to Pullman and Comley lawyers closely associated with Malloy. Don’t expect the state media to do anything to expose serious wrongdoing by Malloy and his cronies. Like the FBI, the media is intimidated.

  • Bluecoat
  • Bluecoat

    That should have been CT Teacher

  • sprinkles

    Jon, how does one access a list of the education bloggers mentioned on Diane Ravitch’s website?

  • Mary Gallucci

    Boston Consulting Group has also been tapped by Stefan Pryor and assorted charter school promoters, like Paige MacLean of Achievement First: http://www.achievementfirst.org/about-us/leadership-team/#PaigeBio

    The private sector favors BCG for its never-fail neo-liberal flair for recommending down-sizing: http://articles.courant.com/1995-04-08/business/9504080032_1_aetna-life-study-long-term-strategy-boston-consulting-group
    Check it out–they’ve been using the same code-word “transform” for decades!
    “Connecticut Mutual has been working with The Boston Consulting Group for a few months on a companywide strategic study, Rie Poirier, Connecticut Mutual spokeswoman, confirmed Friday.
    “It’s not a straight cost-cutting study,” Poirier said. “It’s a long-term strategic [review] on our businesses, what we’re doing, how we can best be profitable. It’s not a study that says we need to cut `X’ percentage of the work force.”
    The review will help determine how to increase revenue and better manage expenses, she said.
    The study follows the company’s 1994 “Transformation Project,” a massive overhaul of jobs…
    It’s too early to say whether the Boston Consulting Group study will lead to layoffs, and “that’s absolutely not what we’re trying to do,” Poirier said.
    But studies by The Boston Consulting Group at some other companies have preceded job cuts.After using The Boston Consulting Group in 1993, Aetna Life & Casualty Co. announced in early 1994 a huge charge to earnings to discontinue certain pension business, lay off 4,000 employees and add to reserves in the workers’ compensation line.

    • RJEastHartford

      Very good analysis, this paradigm is the new way of doing business in the private sector and will come to the public sector. Interestingly, unions national and local have not spoken out or pushed back against this paradigm in the private sector. A lot of public sector unions are white collar: an anomaly today. They should be supporting white collar workers in the private sector, I know these workers want the support, they have no voice. Good positions with good wages and benefits commensurate
      with education, skill set and experience are being lost in this country due to
      outsourcing and offshoring (including the loophole in the H1B Visa guest worker program). In other words, they cost too much, no matter what
      the profits are this quarter — equity and cash at an all-time high, ROI put to
      good use, etc., etc.

Good jobs that were being done by employees here in CT have been sent overseas or replaced here by guest workers. These lost positions supported the local
      small business owners – losing their customer base! -the tailor, the
      mechanic/garage owner, the restaurant owner, the bakery — local mom and pop
      businesses. 

When jobs are sent overseas or become contracted here, it shrinks the
      pool of workers and trades good jobs for temporary positions with lower wages
      and no benefits. Fewer people then have the income to save (invest in the
      markets) for retirement, buy health care for themselves and their
      children. It is no wonder the state is experiencing revenue loss in the budget as unemployment declines. Unions need to step it up and begin to speak out against these policies in the private sector; not just when it encroaches on the public sector domain.

      • jane

        I agree with everything you say. It’s disheartening when you realize that your union is only interested in raising money through dues to support political campaigns. I have been a union member for 10 years in and those 10 years they union has only negotiated givebacks, raised my union dues, and then have given all my money to a political candidate I did not vote for. I go to work every day. Try and do my very best. I am not getting anywhere. Just treading water. If the unions are not standing up for their own public union workers they will never speak out against what is happening in the private sector.

  • Mary Gallucci

    This is even better (Transform 20/20 also promotes online learning and such nonsense):
    http://btownerrant.com/2012/05/18/in-the-city-of-corporate-love-and-beyond-the-boston-consulting-group-gates-and-the-filthy-rich/
    “BCG heavily promotes online learning in K-12 and college. In “Unleashing the Potential of Technology in Education,” the
    consulting firm calls for an “aligned set of educational objectives,
    standards, curricula, assessments, interventions, and professional
    development,” all centered around online technology. Deeming charter schools the leaders of internet schooling, the “study’s” authors quote online profiteer and Democrat for Education Reform’s Tom Vander Ark, praises Rocketship for hiring low wage non-teachers, and thanks their senior advisor, Margaret Spelling, Bush’s U.S. Secretary of Education. The” report” also praises the conflict-of-interest-laden School of One in NYC and KIPP’s BetterLesson program.”
    Sounds like BoR chair Gray bought the Boston Consulting Group’s plan hook, line, and sinker.
    I do think that it would have been more prudent if the faculty leaders of the CSUs and CCs had done a little investigating of the BCG as soon as they were announced.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Check this out–how do they get by having their “public” Board of Regents meetings when much of the time is spent in executive session? Most of this meeting seems to have been conducted in secret! I thought executive session was for personnel matters.
    How come the Boston Consulting Group gets to be in executive session discussing Transform 20/20 for over two hours (!!)? Jonathan, is this exec session FOI-able due to the participation of the Boston Consulting Group?:
    At 1:03 p.m. on a motion by Regent Cohen seconded by Regent Fleury, the Board voted to go into Executive Session for the purpose of discussion concerning matters related to preliminary drafts (related to the Transform 2020 initiative).
    Chairman Donofrio announced that no votes would be taken in Executive Session. President Gray, Provost Gargano and Erin Fitzgerald, along with the following representatives from Boston Consulting Group, remained in Executive Session with the Board: J. Puckett, Lane McBride, and Nithya Vaduganatha.
    RETURN TO OPEN SESSION
    At 3:15 p.m. Chairman Donofrio announced that the meeting was in Open Session and that no votes were taken in Executive Session, which was limited to discussion concerning matters related to preliminary drafts (related to the Transform 2020 initiative).
    See page 5 here: http://www.ct.edu/images/uploads/BOR-Minutes-07-17-2014.pdf?104658

    • Mary Gallucci

      http://ballotpedia.org/Connecticut_Open_Meetings_Law
      Executive sessions may be called to discuss the following matters:
      To discuss public employees
      To discuss pending claims and litigation
      To discuss security information
      To discuss planned purchase or sale of real estate, until all transactions have been completed
      To discuss any records which are exempt under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act[1]
      The public body may only invite individuals who are needed to give testimony or provide opinions for the subject of the executive session. The attorney-client privilege is to be narrowly construed so as to only include the above justifications for calling an executive and no others.[8]
      No other business shall be considered at special meetings.

      Footnote: http://www.state.ct.us/foi/2000FOIA/Sec.%201-231.htm
      Sec. 1-231. (Formerly Sec. 1-21g). Executive
      sessions. (a) At an executive session of a public agency, attendance shall be limited to members of said body and persons invited by said body to present testimony or
      opinion pertinent to matters before said body provided that such persons’ attendance shall be limited to the period for which their presence is necessary to present such testimony or opinion and, provided further, that the minutes of such executive session shall disclose all persons who are in attendance except job applicants who attend for the purpose of being interviewed by such agency.
      (b) An executive session may not be convened to receive or discuss oral communications that would otherwise
      be privileged by the attorney-client relationship if the agency were a nongovernmental entity, unless the executive session is for a purpose explicitly permitted pursuant to subdivision (6) of section 1-200.
      (P.A. 75-342, §11; P.A. 81-431, §5; P.A. 86-226; P.A. 97-47, §9).

    • Mary Gallucci
  • Mary Gallucci

    This is it. I can’t bear to look at Transform anymore, but contemplate this, gentle reader! From page 21:

    15
    Smart Classrooms of the Future

    Paradigm shift to a learner

    centric model of teaching and learning.

    Movement away from a physical time and space and into a native digital
    space.

    Meeting student in and on their digital platform