Malloy may lose authority to hire, fire regents president [Waterbury Republican-American]

March 26, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

Governor not resisting move

— State lawmakers are proposing to roll back Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s authority over the higher education system — and the administration is not resisting the move.

Under current law, the governor gets to hire and fire the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. The proposed change transfers this authority to the regents themselves.

The governor’s office supports the revision, said Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff.

The Board of Regents was established as part of Malloy’s reorganization of the higher education system that the legislature approved in 2011.

The 19-member board and its president manage the four regional state universities, the 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College. The president is responsible for carrying out the board’s policies and directives and directs its executive staff.

The way that the Malloy administration set up the board gave the governor a large degree of control over the consolidated system — and caused some friction.

The legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee is now proposing to lessen the governor’s hold.

As part of the 2011 consolidation, Malloy got to appoint nine of the board’s 15 voting members. The leaders of the legislature’s four caucuses each get an appointment. The other two members are selected by student government leaders.

Additionally, the governor’s commissioners of education, economic and community development, labor and public health serve as non-voting members.

The proposed change does not alter the structure of the board or the appointment procedures.

Malloy also made sure that the governor, not the regents, appointed the board’s president, subject to legislative confirmation. The president’s term also coincided with the governor’s.

The higher education committee voted 18-1 last week to approve legislation that grants the board the authority to hire its president and set the term of service.

“We wanted to change that. We wanted to make it more like other colleges,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, the committee’s Senate co-chair.

The administration backed the change after initially resisting the idea, said Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, the committee’s other co-chair. This differed from Ojakian’s explanation of the administration’s position.

Willis said the administration appeared to recognize that the legislature was going to put the regents in charge of selecting the board president.

She believes the debacle over the appointment of the first president colored the administration’s thinking.

“We know how that process worked out,” Willis said.

In August 2011, Malloy hand-picked Robert A. Kennedy, a former president of the University of Maine. No other candidate was contacted about the job. The governor’s office exclusively recruited Kennedy.

The administration then inked a five-year contract with Kennedy that did not permit the regents to alter the $2 million-plus employment deal.

Kennedy resigned last October amid a trio of embarrassing controversies. It was disclosed that Kennedy spent six weeks in the summer of 2012 working remotely from a vacation home in Minnesota. He also mistakenly authorized 21 executive pay raises without board approval. Additionally, there was an accusation that he laid the groundwork for forcing out the 12 community college presidents.

At the time of Kennedy’s resignation, the governor’s office acknowledged there were lessons to be learned from what went wrong and that the legislature would likely propose some changes.

Ojakian said the administration did not object to changing the procedures for selecting a president or revising the president’s term. He said there were objections to other proposals being mentioned, such as reducing the number of gubernatorial appointments to the board.

Yet, the administration did not seek to revise the selection procedure as part of the revisions that governor’s office proposed for higher education this session.

The legislation introduced on the administration’s behalf on Feb. 7 only proposed to authorize the board to set the president’s term. It left unchanged the provision authorizing the governor to appoint the president.

After the higher education committee introduced its bill, Willis said, the administration still sought to preserve a role for the governor in selecting the president.

She said Malloy’s representatives suggested that the board be required to consult the governor before the regents appointed a president.

This was not acceptable to Willis and Bye, and the administration dropped the recommendation, according to Willis.

Willis said she felt strongly that the board alone to should appoint its president, but she also said she expects the regents would consult a governor as a matter of courtesy and custom before approving an appointment.

The board is now preparing to name Kennedy’s replacement. Last week, it announced three finalists for the job. Some 29 candidates applied.

Willis is concerned that the search failed to attract the best candidates because the president’s term coincided with the governor’s term. Malloy is up for re-election next year.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, the ranking Senate Republican on the higher education committee, shares this concern. “As we are currently experiencing, the unintended consequences of this change in policy has made the recruitment for a new president very difficult,” she said.