McKinney: professor’s speech violated UConn ethics [CT Post]

September 22, 2014

Ken Dixon | CT Post

HARTFORD — A University of Connecticut economics professor violated professional restrictions against political speech recently when he made disparaging remarks about Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley to a university newspaper, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney charged on Friday.

But UConn President Susan Herbst is standing by Fred Carstensen, professor of finance and economics and director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA), and his rights to free speech.

McKinney, in a two-page letter to Herbst, said he believed that Carstensen, in a recent interview with the Yale Daily News, crossed the line when he said that if Foley were elected in 2010 “the economy would have been much worse off” and “Foley would have given us the worst recession since World War II.”

McKinney, a graduate of Yale and the UConn School of Law, said in an interview Friday that state law and UConn’s code of ethics prohibits partisan political activity.

“Professor Carstensen’s comments are so over the line, they are more partisan political speech than they are economic analysis,” McKinney said in a phone interview. “I read Professor Carstensen’s remarks and was disturbed at how simply outrageous and unsupported those comments were.

“I’m a big fan of hers (Herbst), but UConn has an obligation to not get drawn into political partisanship on the eve of an election.”

Stephanie Reitz, spokeswoman for Herbst and the university, stressed that the institution is nonpartisan.

“Professors are free to express their opinions under both First Amendment protections and the tenets of academic freedom,” she said. “They speak for themselves, not the university. The university would not, and could not, try to censor the speech of any faculty member on any issue.”

She noted that over the decades, UConn has received “tremendous support from Republican and Democratic governors alike,” as well as both parties in the General Assembly.

“We believe we are obligated to demonstrate the university’s value to Connecticut and its economy,” she said. “To that end, UConn began the economic impact study a year ago so the report would be ready this fall, in advance of the legislative session that begins early next year.”

Carstensen said Saturday that in 2010, the CCEA, in a routine study of the state’s economy, surveyed two possible scenarios for the multi-billion-dollar state deficit.

“The scenarios reflected the approaches that the candidates had suggested: Tom Foley’s commitment to across the board cuts without any tax increases; Dannel Malloy’s commitment to an approach involving some tax increases and some expenditure reductions,” Carstensen recalled.

“The analysis projected that relying only on cuts would generate very significant additional job losses, losses that would have potentially made the contraction even larger than that of the early 1990s; in part the economic costs would be so high because such massive cuts in state expenditures would themselves significantly reduce state revenues, compounding the fiscal challenge,” he said.

“An approach that both increased taxes and cut expenditures would still have contractional impacts, but not nearly as severe,” Carstensen said. “In 2010, I talked with Tom Foley by phone on this very point: his approach was, in my opinion, simply undoable. That was not a political judgment–because he would be dealing with a Legislature controlled by the Democrats–but an economic judgment. So the bottom line is that Tom knew exactly to what my comment referred; the study is publicly available, as it has been since 2010, on the CCEA website.”

Daniel J. Klau, a Hartford lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment, said the issue appears to be less about the freedom of speech and more about terms of conduct as established in the bargaining agreement that led to Carstensen’s university tenure.

He didn’t have an opinion on whether Carstensen crossed a line.

“As a professor at a public university he does have some First Amendment protections,” he said, adding that in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the limits of workplace speech. “I think there is a little less First Amendment protection since that case. This is more of a university policy issue.”