Scrap the Board of Regents

April 17, 2015

By State Senator Joe Markley

On April 8th, the Connecticut State Senate passed an amendment on a bill to keep the Meriden campus of Middlesex Community College open. Specifically, the amendment prevents the closure of any state college without legislative approval. I voted for the legislation because it was the right thing to do. It passed the House on April 14th and is headed to the Governor’s desk.

Community colleges fill a vital role here in Connecticut. They provide a cost effective avenue for people to improve their lives. Locally speaking, the Meriden campus of Middlesex Community College anchors a struggling downtown that is important to our region.

It shouldn’t be the regular business of the General Assembly to countermand the actions of state agencies, but with the growth of self-interested bureaucracies, administrative oversight has become a key responsibility for legislators. In this case, because of Governor Malloy’s budget cuts, the Board of Regents, the bureaucracy which oversees Connecticut’s community colleges and state universities, directed the President of Middlesex Community College to find $880,000 to cut.

The President decided her only choice was to close the Meriden campus, which would save approximately $500,000. It’s a sour bit of irony, since the more appropriate target for cuts is the Board of Regents itself.

Back in 2010, the legislature’s Office of Program Review and Investigations did an extensive study of the structure and cost of the Board of Regents. At the time, the Board had 65 administrators, making an average salary of $102,339. By eliminating only a handful of these positions, the state would achieve the savings needed to keep the Meriden campus open.

That solution never occurred to the administrators at the Board of Regents. Rather they chose to direct cuts at the schools. This whole episode proves that an oversized, overpriced bureaucracy like the Board of Regents will, almost inevitably, come to value its own perpetuation above its mission.

The Board of Regents is not the only example of this tendency, but it is a particularly egregious one. The Board is inept, even for a bureaucracy. For instance, it never occurred to any of the administrators to consult with the legislative committee handling the higher education budget—or its chair, who represents Meriden—before they closed the campus. Wouldn’t that seem wise?

When I ran for State Senate in 2010, voters asked me to identify areas of waste in government. The first thing that came to mind then was the state’s higher education bureaucracy. Nearly five years later, it’s still the first thing that comes to mind.

The purpose of this piece is not to pick on the individuals who make up or work for the Board. I know they are well-intentioned. But they look for ways to preserve their positions rather than serve the citizenry. Part of my job as your State Senator is to identify inefficiency in government. The Board of Regents system epitomizes some of the worst, most expensive vices of an over-sized government. It is an inefficiency which ought to be eliminated.