Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)
The Governor’s initiative is wrong and bad, but it is the deafening silence from those who know it that is really disturbing.
Inside Governor Malloy’s package of budget bills is a proposal to undo the single most important higher education law in Connecticut history
His completely unwarranted, inappropriate and misguided attack is on the 1991 bi-partisan effort that shifted Connecticut away from an out-dated higher education governance operation to a new, more modern system that successfully positioned our colleges and universities to compete in the 21st Century.
Following literally years of work, the Governor, the Office of Policy and Management, the Legislature, the Department of Higher Education and Connecticut’s institutions came together to develop and pass this historic reform.
The bill – An Act concerning Operational Responsibility and Accountability for Public institutions of Higher Education – become Public Act 91-256 on June 26, 1991.
I know, because as the legislator from the 54th House District, the district that includes the University of Connecticut, it was my professional life’s work to develop the bill and help shepherd it through the process.
By giving Connecticut’s constituent units of higher education the independence and authority to fill positions, pay its bills and manage its affairs, we ended an era in which bureaucratic micromanagement was destroying our public colleges and universities.
In its place, Connecticut adopted a system that ensured that our colleges and universities had the tools to make the most of scarce public funds.
Written by a team that included the Secretary of OPM Bill Cibes and his Deputy Secretary Lori Aronson, Senator Kevin Sullivan, Representatives Naomi Cohen and Nancy Wyman (the leadership of the Education Committee) and myself along with Republican legislative leaders Bob Ward and Bob Farr and key staff from the constituent units of higher education, we put together legislation that passed the Education Committee, Government Administration and Elections Committee and Appropriations Committee before being unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives on May 21, 1991 and passed by the Senate on consent a week later.
As someone who considers himself to be one of UConn’s greatest supporters and fiercest critics, I am very confident that I speak for everyone who was involved in that historic effort that the 1991 Higher Education Act has been an extraordinary success and without it our colleges would not be what they are today.
Of the 68 provisions within the bill, the single most important change – by far – was the decision to shift position control from the Office of Policy and Management to the institutions themselves.
Prior to that change Connecticut’s public colleges and universities had to fight with OPM staff every time they wanted to hire a faculty member, a librarian, a clerk for the registrar’s office, a residential life director or a maintenance worker. I remember going to OPM once to explain why UConn should be given authority to hire a philosophy professor (the staff person felt philosophy was a dying field) and another time when OPM was fighting with the state maintenance workers union so they rejected a request from UConn to fill maintenance positions even though the semester was about to start and the positions were going to be funded with tuition dollars and not state budget allocations.
Now 20 years later, Governor Malloy, who has more than enough on his plate already, is proposing to return to the era in which OPM must approve filling every single non-faculty position at UConn, CSU and the Community College System. If he wanted policy changes to limit the number of administrators he could have proposed strengthening the Administrative Caps language that was developed by Senator Sullivan. If he wanted to ensure senior administrators aren’t overpaid he could have proposed salary caps. If he wanted to protect against the problems associated with UConn 2000 he could have checked and found out that the laws and policies were already changed thanks to action taken by the Legislature and University. But his proposal isn’t about those important issues; instead it is the incredible demand to return to the dysfunctional era of the 1980s.
When asked about the potential for problems, under Malloy’s proposal, Ben Barnes, Malloy’s OPM Secretary said “It’s all done electronically. It doesn’t sit for more than a day. We are not talking about a lot of time,” he said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the governor and [the Office of Policy and Management] to ask for justification.”
New to OPM and without higher education experience, perhaps Mr. Barnes doesn’t understand the weeks it took to get OPM to review the “justification” documents let alone process the paperwork needed to hire someone.
But even more importantly, to suggest that the Governor doesn’t have oversight authority is shocking.
At UConn for example, operational authority to manage the university is vested in the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees. The Governor appoints 12 members of the Board including its chairperson. In addition, the Governor’s Commissioners of Education and Agriculture serve on the Board and Connecticut law requires that the Governor himself is the President of the Board of Trustees and the Governor’s Office has always appointed a representative to speak for him at Board meetings.
Since the President of the University is selected by the Board and Board policies govern all hiring the Governor has incredible power to seek justification for the filling of positions.
In addition, the Governor proposes the budget for Connecticut’s colleges and universities and can use that process to ensure his goals are met. Not to mention the Governor already has extraordinary rescission authority. He can unilaterally remove up to 5% of a university or colleges block grant without anyone’s approval. (A separate Malloy proposal is to increase his rescission authority from 5% to 10%).
Furthermore, it is impossible to believe that Governor Malloy was unaware of the present law and its history. This landmark piece of legislation would not have passed without the help of Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman who was then a key legislator, Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan, Deputy OPM Secretary Mark Ojakian (who was serving as the Department of Higher Education’s legislative liaison in 1991) or Lori Aronson who is the Spouse of Malloy’s Chief of Staff Tim Bannon. Aronson actually left OPM to work at UConn and served for nearly a decade as UConn’s Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and where she was responsible for the day-to-day management of the University including control of positions.
So the problem is this; Governor Malloy says that higher education and the maintenance of a well educated workforce is one of his highest priorities and yet he puts forward a proposal that would cripple the ability of Connecticut’s colleges and universities to succeed. Worst of all, he is surrounded by people, including his governing partner, Nancy Wyman, who know how damaging this proposal could be and yet remain silent as Malloy seeks to destroy the accomplishments they helped to create.
Last but not least, when the Legislature passed the 1991 Act Concerning Responsibility and Accountability for Public Institutions of Higher Education we argued that with only 50% of the total UConn budget coming from the State’s General Fund it was particularly appropriate to grant the institutions flexibility since so much of the operating funds came from students and families whose resources should not be tied up by bureaucratic maneuvers. Now, in 2011, the state’s General Fund accounts for less than 30% of UConn’s operating budget and yet OPM argues that it needs the authority to micromanage the 70% of dollars that don’t even come from state coffers.
If Governor Malloy wants control over whether UConn or any other college hires a maintenance worker rather than a librarian he should appoint good people to the Board of Trustees, appoint a good Chair of the Board to lead the Trustees and perhaps attend some meetings himself or at the very least send a representative who will ensure the Governor’s directives are heard.