Turmoil in the State School System

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by Joshua L. Durkin

WCSU's Old Main.

A bill introduced by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy has rankled people in and around the Connecticut State University System for months.

The bill calls for the restructuring of the state school system, a 10 percent cut to the state school budget, and the creation of a board of regents to govern over the system, which some worry will reduce the autonomy of the schools. The bill is still in legislature.

The Connecticut State System of Higher Education reformation would include the University of Connecticut and all its branches, state colleges — which will still be known as the Conn. State University System — the community-technical colleges, the Board for State Academic Awards, and the members and staff of the proposed Board of Regents.

by Joshua L. Durkin

 


 

A bill introduced by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy has rankled people in and around the Connecticut State University System for months.

The bill calls for the restructuring of the state school system, a 10 percent cut to the state school budget, and the creation of a board of regents to govern over the system, which some worry will reduce the autonomy of the schools. The bill is still in legislature.

Dan Ravizza, middle holder of flag, at the state capitol protesting the budget cuts to state schools. Photo c/o WCSU's newspaper, The Echo.

The Connecticut State System of Higher Education reformation would include the University of Connecticut and all its branches, state colleges — which will still be known as the Conn. State University System — the community-technical colleges, the Board for State Academic Awards, and the members and staff of the proposed Board of Regents.

UConn is not considered a “constituent unit”, unlike the other schools in the current writing of the bill. This removes the power, by choice, of the proposed Board of Regents to govern over UConn.

The Mercurial spoke with Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) Director of University Relations Paul Steinmetz last week on the subject of the state school system being restructured.

“The range of ideas are all things that we can deal with and succeed in,” said Steinmetz, speaking on the potential merger and change in governance of the state school system.

“We can do well if that happens,” said Steinmetz, “It doesn’t restrict us as a university, and it may actually make it easier for students to move from two-year colleges to the four-year colleges, which of course is a good thing.”


“Some people are worried about the university degrees somehow being devalued because of a closer association with community colleges, but that is not our position. We do different things than a community college and we don’t have a concern about that.”

-WCSU University Relations Director Paul Steinmetz

 

“Some people are worried about the university degrees somehow being devalued because of a closer association with community colleges, but that is not our position,” said Steinmetz. “We do different things than a community college and we don’t have a concern about that.”

The Mercurial spoke with Dan Ravizza in a separate interview late in March on the same subjects. Ravizza, a former student of Western Connecticut State University who interned at the state capitol, is active in state-level processes.

“As an intern at the capitol you get a very in-depth understanding,” said Ravizza of Connecticut’s political mechanics.

One dangerous part of the bill to students, according to Ravizza, is how the public perceives the restructuring of the schools.

WCSU's Old Main.

“So, people are going to say, ‘what is this new monster you came out of? Do you have the same accreditation?'” Ravizza asked. “It’s going to make employers

question the worth of your degree,” and they would question the degree because of the sway of public perception, according to Ravizza. Ravizza is concerned that even though accreditation would not change, employers might not care, because the schools will look different to the employers.

However, Steinmetz at Western Connecticut State University did not think there would be degradation in the public perception of diplomas coming from the state schools.

A press release from the Governor’s office dated February 9 said: “Governor Malloy’s plan will empower Connecticut State University System and community college local campuses without closing or combining them, while at the same time, saving taxpayers and students tens of millions of dollars over time.”
The next line of the press release states: “The University of Connecticut will function separately from this governance.”
Minnesota’s higher educational system is cited, which according to the press release, “is a comparable system to the one Governor Malloy has proposed.”
The release also states that the Connecticut State University System and community colleges in Connecticut spend less of their total operating budget on teaching than comparable northeastern states.

The Governor is quoted as saying, “This won’t be easy, and certainly there are a lot of people listening to this who believe things are fine just the way they are. I disagree, and that’s why I’m proposing this overhaul to help put more money toward teaching, and less toward central office and board hierarchy. We need to adapt to a broad and changing economy and this will help us do that.”

Steinmetz was asked about the proposed 10 percent budget cut that would affect every school in the restructuring process.

“So far it looks like some classes, not all, but some classes will be slightly larger,” said Steinmetz.

Ravizza was less optimistic.

 

 

“We have a certain number of teachers, somewhere between 20 and 30, who work on one-year contracts, and some of those will not be renewed. They probably would have been otherwise [if there was not a 10 percent cut]. Probably as few as seven. Which is significant to those seven, but it’s not a wholesale bloodbath.”

-Steinmetz

 

 

“You’re going to see more mega sections,” said Ravizza. “At five percent, you might lose some student workers and maintenance, but at a ten percent cut, you’ll see more adjuncts and mega sections and less classes offered and a situation where students, even enrolled full-time, may not be able to graduate after four years simply because the proper classes aren’t being taught.”

WestConn, according to Steinmetz, is concerned about students being able to take the necessary classes, and having appropriate class sizes, and graduating in a normal amount of time (which for community colleges and commuter schools like WestConn, looks more like five to six year lengths of study, as opposed to the traditional four).

“We are looking at the schedules to make sure we can offer the right classes at the right times,” said Steinmetz, “So far we’re confident that we can avoid any problems like that.”

“We have a certain number of teachers, somewhere between 20 and 30, who work on one-year contracts, and some of those will not be renewed. They probably would have been otherwise [if there was not a 10 percent cut].” He went on to say, “Probably as few as seven. Which is significant to those seven, but it’s not a wholesale bloodbath.”

Additionally, Steinmetz noted that there will be a 2.5 percent tuition hike for all four CSU schools.

When Governor Malloy announced plans to restructure the CSU system, Ravizza, and many others, scrambled to raise awareness about the process.

Ravizza, active on Western’s campus, formed and ran the External Political Issues Committee, or EPIC. He resigned to take a job position elsewhere. He formed the ad hoc group at WestConn to inform and mobilize the public.

Ravizza used this group to get acquainted with the Student Government Associations from other schools in order to inform them about the proposed bill so they wouldn’t be blindsided by it. Careful to avoid conflicts, Ravizza didn’t use any state funds; he picked up the tab himself when he drove to speak at Central and Southern.

There are currently two state school overhaul bills, in the state legislature that will be formed into one bill. The Governor’s bill can be viewed here, and the substitute for the Governor’s bill can be viewed here.

 

Ravizza noted that “nine out of 10 CSU students stay in Connecticut to pursue career paths,” a statistic which is also listed on the CSUS website, and helps to explain a point that Ravizza noted next: for every dollar that the state puts into the CSU system, it makes back $8.00. For WestConn, every dollar that goes in makes back more than $3.00.

 

According to Ravizza, here’s what happens with a Governor’s Bill:

The Governor gets to write and present the bill to legislators. This happened in February, but Governor Malloy had made it clear long before then that he wanted to consolidate the schools in an effort to reduce “administrative redundancies”. Then the legislature sets the operational budget for the state. “The Governor’s Bill then goes to committees, and during the process he has a lot of power to morph the bill and construct the budget,” said Ravizza.

Because it has to do with money, the bill has to go to an appropriations committee and be amended and looked at further, and then it goes to the floors of the House and Senate for votes. Then it can either be sent back to “get lost” in committees, or to the Governor at which point he would more than likely sign it.

When asked whether the House or the Senate might kill the bill, Ravizza responded:

“They’re not going to, because it’s a Governor’s Bill, and because there is such a pressing deficit and these guys want to get re-elected, so they’re not going to kill a bill that’s going to reduce spending.”

“The [bill] is dangerous, though, to students for a variety of reasons,” said Ravizza. “One, it decreases the student representation to only having two rotating UConn.students with voting rights representing many thousands of students, of which UConn get’s to be a Constituent Unit.”

The last point Ravizza made is important in understanding the proposed bill. The bill, should it be passed, restructures how all state schools of higher education are run, except for UConn — this has caused protest because many view this as unfair.

Ravizza offered that the reason for this may be the fact that UConn has many alumni in the state legislature.

“So many of the legislators came out of the UConn Law Department,” said Ravizza, who also noted that 20 to 25 other lawmakers came out of the CSUS.

Additionally, Lorraine M. Arronson, the Governor’s Chief of Staff’s wife, was the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of UConn.

Other states have tried this process, according to Ravizza. And other states have moved to a board of regents, and some have moved back. Ravizza’s concern came from what he saw as a rushed restructuring: Malloy is trying to cram this into a several month period, instead of a several year period.

There are many voices of dissent to the plan to restructure the schools.

Dr. John Briggs, a longtime Professor in WestConn’s writing department, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Hartford Courant last month.

“The plan calls for the board of regents to decide funding for the campuses based on unspecified performance standards, a potential cookie-cutter approach fraught with negative implications for campus autonomy,” wrote Briggs.

Ravizza’s position resonates with Briggs’.

Ravizza was careful to point out the loss of autonomy for the Conn. universities — except for UConn — in their ability to govern themselves in situations that would benefit from quick decisions. Basically, the Governor’s Bill, though intending to reduce “administrative redundancies”, will just shift the administrative powers and costs from one area to another — which is redundant.

“Since student needs and programs change constantly, each institution must be nimble enough to shift its limited number of positions — one meaning of institutional authority,” wrote Briggs.

Steinmetz as well was concerned about what would happen if Western Connecticut and the other state schools were cut into too deeply, as he put it.

 

“While every state agency needs to participate in the budget resolution, it would be a tragedy to cut too deeply into the university system. It’s too important to job creation and the future of young people and the future of the whole state.”

-Steinmetz

 

“Our position is: higher education in general in Connecticut, and Western Connecticut specifically, provides valuable service to the whole state, not just to the students here, but to the whole state,” said Steinmetz. “While every state agency needs to participate in the budget resolution, it would be a tragedy to cut too deeply into the university system. It’s too important to job creation and the future of young people and the future of the whole state.”

To put this in an economic perspective, many students, faculty and administrators have been touting reports that the state schools generate profitable investments for the state by existing.

Ravizza noted that “nine out of 10 CSU students stay in Connecticut to pursue career paths,” a statistic which is also listed on the CSUS website, and helps to explain a point that Ravizza noted next: for every dollar that the state puts into the CSU system, it makes back $8.00. For WestConn, every dollar that goes in makes back more than $3.00.

For a better idea of how this works, you have to consider the overall economic benefit for the State, not just the cost of the schools. An additional report on WestConn from the President’s office can be viewed here.

When asked about a study on the economic benefit of WestConn to Danbury and the Greater Danbury area which states that for every dollar the state spends on WestConn, $3.74 of economic benefit to the region is generated, Steinmetz had this to say:

“$3.74, it is true. This is based on a study one of our finance professors did four to five years ago,” said Steinmetz. “She looked at the money the state invested in WestConn and used standard economic multipliers. And what she found is for every dollar the state gives, $3.74 is generated in economic benefit to Danbury, and the region of Western Connecticut.”

“We mention it every time we can when we talk to a politician,” said Steinmetz, who then said, “A common sense argument for preserving the economic health of this university.”

by & filed under Local, Local News.