Malloy moves to undermine public higher education’s most important law.

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.

Shared Sacrifice? What about the unshared sacrifice to date?

UConn Storrs (photo by uconnruf)

Are Connecticut’s public colleges and universities in the cross-hairs again?

Yeah…yeah… we’ve heard all it all before…“A well educated workforce is the key to economic growth and prosperity” and “The percentage of college educated workers is one of the single most important factors to a state’s economic health.”

However, when it comes to adequate state support for our public colleges and universities, Connecticut has a long and sad record of failure.

Twenty years ago, when we already ranked at the bottom of the nation, about half of UConn’s budget came from state funds.

This year, the state of Connecticut will cover less than a third of the University’s total operating expenses.

A similar story holds true at Connecticut State University and Connecticut’s Community and Technical College System.

Without enough state funds to fulfill their missions, Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education have been forced to become increasingly reliant on students and their parents to pick up the costs associated with running high quality educational programs.

Whether at UConn, CSU or the Community/Technical Colleges, tuition and fees are now paying for the lion’s share of the total operating cost.

Adding to the problem, at UConn, not only have there been record tuition increases but the University has dramatically increased the number of students as a way to raise additional revenue. Their rationale is simple – more students mean more tuition and fees, even if the end result is larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and the need to take more than 4 years to complete a basic bachelor’s degree.

Since the UConn 2000 infrastructure program began in 1995, the number of students at UConn has jumped from 14,500 to 21,500.  However, in a stunning tribute to the notion of “pay more, get less”, while the number of students has increased by 48 percent, the number of full-time faculty is up barely 15%.

As Governor Rell and the Legislature grappled for ways to “balance” this year’s budget without having to deal with any political ramifications they did something that had never, ever been done before.  Rather than “cut” the budget for Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education, they actually reached into the school’s internal operating fund and transferred more than $30 million in student tuition and fees over to the state’s General Fund.

Not only did the gimmick mean students and parents paid more in tuition only to see the money go to the state’s non-higher education costs but this maneuver amounted to the deepest percentage cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges in state history.

In recent weeks, the Malloy Administration has made it clear that they will be calling for shared sacrifice as they look for record budget cuts.  The problem is that that Connecticut families seeking a college degree have already sacrificed far more than their fair share.

Further complicating the notion of shared sacrifice is that fact that the new Administration and the Legislature fully understands that there are significant areas of the state budget where cuts are simply not possible – either because there is a consensus that the services are just to vital to cut or there isn’t the political will to make those cuts. 

For example, State government can’t cut its debt services payments; we’ve already learned the disaster associated with failing to make pension payments; Malloy has promised not to cut local education funding and every dollar cut from Medicaid (health programs) means an immediate loss of 50 cent in federal reimbursement.

So the notion of across the board cuts is absurd.

Certain areas will be cut deeper than others and Connecticut’s history is to cut our public colleges and universities knowing that if the schools really need the funds they can get them by increasing tuition.

While the Malloy Administration would not be alone in targeting cuts to higher education, California’s new governor has proposed nearly $2 billion in cuts to their colleges, it is important to note that not all states are undermining the work of their universities.

Gov. Robert M. McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican Governor recently proposed adding $50 million to their higher education budget.  It would be part his longer term plan to create a more educated workforce

Meanwhile, Sam Brownback, the new ultra-conservative Republican governor of Kansas has actually proposed a three-year, $105-million plan to enhance their university programs that educate students for high-paying jobs in areas such as aviation, cancer research, and engineering.

And not to be outdone, this year, North Carolina actually increased their higher education budget this year by 6%.

Of the 50 states, the average percentage of the state budget devoted to public higher education is 9%. 

Virginia already devotes 14% of its state budget to its public colleges, North Carolina 16% and Minnesota 23%. 

Connecticut is at 7.3% and dropping.

Cutting our colleges is bad for our economy, bad for middle class families and bad for our society.

Next Wednesday, budget day, will tell us a lot about what “shared sacrifice” really means

FYI – Two-Thirds of the cost of the Burton Family Football Complex and Shenkman Training Center came from Connecticut taxpayers.

Over the past week or so a lot of attention has been given to Robert Burton’s request that UConn return his $2.5 million donation and that they take his name off the building that honors him for that contribution.

Yesterday Chris Keating of the Hartford Courant went a long way in setting the record straight with his blog post – http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2011/01/burton-family-football-complex.html

Along with what the Courant laid out, here are the facts:

In May 2002, UConn announced that Robert G. Burton was making a contribution of $2.5 million to the University of Connecticut and his donation would “be used to build the Burton Family Football Complex on the Storrs campus.”  A naming ceremony for the Burton Family Football Complex was then held May 7 at UConn.

(Burton has already donated about $1 million to established the Robert G. Burton Endowed Scholarship Fund at UConn and the Michael G. Burton Scholarship Fund (named for his son who was captain of the Husky football team in 1999) Both are given to football student-athlete in the School of Business).

In February 2004, UConn announced that “Preliminary designs have been completed for The Burton Family Football Complex and the Indoor Facility on the Storrs campus.”  The projected cost of the project at the time was about $40 million.

In August 2005, the UConn Board of Trustees approved a “Final” project budget of $45.5 million with $31 million coming from UConn 2000, $10 million from gifts and $5 million from Athletic Department Accounts (the bulk of which is comes via the general UConn student fee).

In September 2006, the UConn Trustees approved a “Revised Final” project budget.  The total cost rose to $48.8 million of which UConn now reported $31 million from UConn 2000, $15 million from gifts and $2.5 million from Athletic Department funds.

In its April 2007 semi-annual report to the Governor and Legislature, UConn wrote that “The Intramural, Recreational & Intercollegiate Facilities Project is complete, operational and occupied. This facility houses the football program including offices, training rooms, locker rooms, dining facilities, lounge, strength and conditioning room and an indoor practice field.  When not used by athletic teams, the indoor field is used by the recreational programs.

In fact, as we learned during the UConn 2000 investigation, UConn students have very limited access to the facility.  Hartford Courant investigative reports discovered that while UConn students lined up to use exercise equipment in the old Field House, they were not allowed to use the top of the line exercise equipment in the Burton Complex that is reserved for year around use by the football team.

Most recently UConn has been moving forward on implementing a new recreation fee for students to generate enough funds to actually build a new recreational facility for students.