Higher Education Board of Regents Debacle

October 16, 2012

It is an unfortunate reality that rising tuition costs have left higher education out of reach for many students. With personal finances under water and many parents struggling to keep their homes, paying for college often falls on the backs of students, who are assuming greater and greater debt. Connecticut’s recovery is predicted to be later than any other state’s. Many of our bright young people are looking to community colleges to begin their college education journey. Connecticut’s community colleges are great institutions at a more affordable price.

However, when the President of our Board of Regents for Higher Education unilaterally awards $50,000 pay raises and garners a $350,000 salary while working ‘remotely’, from out of state , it raises troubling questions about the stability of our higher education system.

What is on display is a serious disconnect between the reality of what the public is facing and the attitude of many in government. Despite the increasingly difficult economic climate, and continued increases in the number of foreclosures in Connecticut, even as that number declines nationally, our state government continues to spend as though nothing as changed.

The Chairs of the Higher Education Committee and those of us who are ranking members convened a meeting to address this expeditiously, and resignations were immediately forthcoming. Dr. Robert A. Kennedy, the President of the Board of Regents admitted his actions were wrong and resigned his position. Executive Vice President Michael Meotti has also resigned. The raises have been rescinded and management is being held responsible.

I am encouraged by the appointment of former University of Connecticut President Phil Austin as interim President of the Board of Regents and hope he will take the necessary steps to resolve the board’s management issues. The most important question that must be answered is why Dr. Kennedy did not comply with state law by first submitting these raises to the board for its approval.

When previous chancellors got into trouble with excessive executive compensation, we on the Higher Education Committee called for an inquiry and public hearings on the matter. The recent consolidation of our higher education system was supposed to rectify those egregious past failings. Instead we find ourselves facing the same problems as before, only worse.

As a ranking member on the Higher Education Committee, I urge my co-chairs to call for a full inquiry to what went wrong and the practices of the administration of this consolidation system and of the board relationship.

Our students must be able to access higher education at a cost they can afford. Our first priority must be the education of our students so that they can have a future and provide and young and vibrant workforce for our state.