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.