POWELL: 'Connecticut commitment' isn't for poor college kids

Published on Tuesday, 3 November 2020 21:01
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When he was inaugurated as president of the University of Connecticut a year ago, Thomas C. Katsouleas made a grand gesture. He said that henceforth the university would waive tuition for new students from families with annual incomes below $50,000. Katsouleas called it the "Connecticut Commitment."

Last week that "commitment" turned to dust. Katsouleas regretfully announced that the university is running too big a deficit, around $70 million, and can't find the $5 million needed to extend the program beyond the current class, so it is being suspended.

If Katsouleas had done a little research before accepting his job, he might have avoided embarrassing himself and the university with that "commitment." For at UConn, as with most of state government, as a matter of law and contract it is almost impossible to reduce or even reallocate the budget in any significant way. Most costs at UConn are personnel and by contract all state employees are protected against layoff for another year and recently began getting raises estimated to cost $350 million annually.

That is the only "Connecticut Commitment."

Still, if students from poor families mattered enough, Katsouleas might tap the UConn Foundation for the scholarship money, since the foundation is sitting on more than $500 million. After all, a few years ago the foundation found $251,000 to pay Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for an insipid public conversation on campus with Katsouleas' predecessor as UConn president, Susan Herbst.

Now Herbst herself is enjoying a year's paid vacation costing UConn more than $700,000 before she transitions to a cozy professorship.

Money goes fast at the university.

But maybe Connecticut should be grateful to Katsouleas for the embarrassment of the "Connecticut Commitment." For it highlights the phoniness of what passes for political liberalism here. That is, it's not really liberal at all. It's just cover for government's always taking care of itself first.


State government often likes to think big, which would be fine if it could do well with the basic stuff. Otherwise thinking big is a waste of time - like the elaborate report issued last week by Governor Lamont's Workforce Council.

The council describes its objective as creating "a workforce that is inclusive, modern, and high-performing." But how about a workforce that can even read, write, and do basic math?

While most Connecticut students never master high school English and math but are graduated anyway, and most students entering the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system require remedial high school courses, the report's only relevance to basic education is its recommendation to increase computer science courses.

Connecticut is not going to get many of its young people into the highly skilled and highly paid technical jobs to which the Workforce Council's report aspires if they lack basic education as badly as most do now. But addressing that problem would require restoring standards in school, which would be terrifying politically. Just finding the parents of poorly performing students is often impossible.

Until students get a basic education, the council's report will remain another pipe dream sitting on a shelf in the state Capitol's basement, just as demands that employers pay a "living wage" will remain dishonest when so much of the workforce is unskilled.


Is big money in political campaigns bad?

That depends.

In the campaign just concluded U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, was sore about facing her first serious challenge since entering Congress 30 years ago. The Republican nominee, real estate magnate Margaret Streicker, spent a lot of her own money on nasty TV commercials about the congresswoman. This prompted DeLauro to remark, "It shows what happens when corporations and billionaire families can use their money to try to determine who will represent the people."

Of course Governor Lamont, a descendant of great wealth and, like DeLauro, a Democrat, lavishly financed his own campaign two years ago and ran some nasty commercials too without complaint from the congresswoman. So DeLauro's lesson is that their big money is bad and our big money is good.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, Editorials on Tuesday, 3 November 2020 21:01. Updated: Tuesday, 3 November 2020 21:04.