CT’S PUBLIC HIGHER ED IN DESPERATE NEED OF NEW LEADERSHIP & OVERSIGHT

Students and parents can’t do it; the state legislature and the governor won’t do it; but until some entity demands new leadership and accountability, the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State University system will continue to operate like out of control children. Maybe this has been building up for some time but it has manifested itself in three high-profile ways in the last month. A glimpse at the serious problems:
1. UConn President Michael Hogan bolts Storrs after just three years of a five year contract to become president of the University of Illinois. There may be some legal nuances of Hogan’s contract that allows him to leave before the five years are up. If that’s the case, what good is the contract? The state should have looked into the possibility of exacting some compensation from Hogan—some sort of penalty. Instead, the school has to spend even more money to search for another suitable candidate.

Even worse, no one was particularly sad to see Hogan go. Some people connected to the Board of Trustees and various fundraisers say they had about had it with Hogan. Students were rightly upset that their tuition was going up while Hogan renovated his offices and moved to a living space (at state expense) other than the president’s residence. But as consolation, we might still own those cardboard cutouts of Hogan we bought at more than $3,000. Maybe we can get the Fighting Illini to buy them.

2. Men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun is accused of “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance [with NCAA rules].” Worse, UConn officials knew the NCAA was about to accuse the basketball program of rules violations and chose to go ahead and reward the coach with a new, $13 million contract. That’ll show ‘em. And if Calhoun didn’t get the message that “anything goes” where he’s concerned, school officials also failed to conduct any audit of his lucrative summer camps which would have indicated who got free game tickets and how many.

The comment that Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway made at the news conference announcing Calhoun’s big payday extension is the most troubling of all and got little attention. “The NCAA review never played into these conversations [about the new contract].” Huh? Is he serious? If what he said is true then Hathaway’s competence must be called into question. When negotiating Calhoun’s new deal, Hathaway didn’t think it necessary to mention or consider pending NCAA rule violations and possible subsequent penalties? Just hand over the $13 mill? Yikes.

The fact that Calhoun is a bully whose language during games should make any parent think twice before taking the kiddies and using those prime seats behind the UConn bench, does not differentiate him from many other successful coaches. But the degree to which he has no oversight and seems accountable to no one is truly unbelievable. Are his cardboard cutouts on order?

3. The mind-blowing, self-serving, money-wasting ways of CSU Chancellor David Carter were on display recently when he appeared before a legislative committee. In question was how it came to be that Central Connecticut State University was in essence, paying for two presidents; one who can sit at home doing nothing after being forced out by Carter under a new policy but still being paid.

Yet it was Carter’s condescending, arrogant attitude when appearing before the legislature’s Higher Education committee—shown live on CT-N—that spoke volumes about what he thinks of the committee. He routinely had an attorney write out answers to questions asked of him. Only state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford) had the guts to say what others must have been thinking: Carter needs to be replaced.

He may need to be replaced if for no other reason, there doesn’t appear to be a real need for his office or staff. Each of the four universities in the system (Northern, Western, Central and Southern) has its own president (two in Southern’s case as previously mentioned) and its own administrative staff. Why not divide up the duties of Carter’s operation among the four presidents and save a ton of money?

The reason nothing has been done about any of the above is that there isn’t the political will to take a stand on them. In Calhoun’s case, WNPR radio’s Colin McEnroe got it right when he wrote, “I don’t think there’s anybody in state government who has both the power and the nerve to stand up to Calhoun’s program in a meaningful way. The fortunes of the basketball team are inextricably wound up with fiscal and psychological issues that spill far beyond it.”

It is time for the governor (not unlikely) and the legislature (also not happening in an election year) to step up and address these systemic problems in the state’s public higher education institutions.