NEW BRITAIN - Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian visited Central Connecticut State University on Tuesday afternoon for a town hall-like discussion about his consolidation strategy for the CSCU system. However, not everyone was pleased about the proposed solution.
Prior to Ojakian’s town hall, a few dozen CCSU faculty, staff and students held a rally in protest of the consolidation plan.
“Why is it that our system seems to be in a constant state of crisis? And more importantly, why are these crises being put on the backs of working middle class people?” said Brian Becker, a senior studying sociology at CCSU.
Becker said that higher education is an investment in the community and services shouldn’t be cut. Tuition for students has increased year by year and this consolidation plan isn’t putting students first.
“When students are first, we’ll have fully funded, free public higher education. When students are first, we maintain the integrity and autonomy of our campuses not diminish it. When students are put first, we improve the quality of our schools, not lessen them.”
Louise Williams, a history professor at CCSU, was also at the rally before Ojakian’s town hall. Williams said she thinks CSCU leadership should look at increasing revenue rather than looking at cuts to save money.
“I think the plan is going to hurt students, not help them,” Williams said.
After a welcoming from CCSU President Zulma Toro, Ojakian explained the plan and some of the reasoning behind it.
“My motivation, no matter what you might think of the strategy or the plan, is students first,” Ojakian said. “As I have traveled around this state and met with many of the student leaders on campuses just like this … I want to find the best way to provide them (students) with the opportunities they need and deserve.”
Ojakian’s “Students First” plan calls for the consolidation of “back office” services in the CSCU system - such as purchasing, human resources, information technology and facilities management.
This consolidation would essentially have colleges and universities share these services, rather than having different departments and faculty at each institution providing similar services.
The plan has two facets - a system-wide consolidation of administrative services and an organizational consolidation for Connecticut’s 12 community colleges. Both parts of this plan are expected to be fully implemented in about two years.
Ojakian explained to the crowd at CCSU that there is only so much CSCU leadership can do when it comes to budgets proposed by the state.
On the low end, Ojakian said, the CSCU system will have a deficit of $38 million. On the high end, the CSCU system would have a $90 million to $100 million deficit. This is based on current budget proposals from Gov. Dannel Malloy.
“It’s my responsibility to look at those numbers and try and figure out a way to make things balance,” Ojakian said.
After Ojakian spoke about the plan, members of the CCSU student body, faculty and staff were given a chance to voice their opinions.
David Blitz, a philosophy professor at CCSU, proposed a no confidence vote in CSCU leadership recently. After more than two hours of discussion, the vote of no confidence in CSCU leadership passed 39-10 at the CCSU faculty senate meeting Monday evening.
“One of the motivating factors (for the vote) is the way in which the resolution was presented and approved by the Board of Regents,” Blitz said.
Blitz said the consolidation plan was approved by a voice vote without a written resolution or discussion.
Blitz suggested that before cuts are made to institutions, leadership should look at other ideas like raising money from the private sector or making cuts to the Board of Regents.
Brendan Kruh, president-elect and current treasurer of the CCSU Student Government Association, said the CCSU student body, as well as students from other CSCU institutions, need to get organized and get involved with what is happening at a legislative level.
“We have to recognize that what we have to do is go to the legislators and lobby, and do a better job of it than we’re doing,” Kruh said. “But we’re not being organized, and it has to come from the top. I challenge you (Ojakian). You want to be here until 2020 so I challenge you. Organize us.”
Sharon Clapp, a librarian at CCSU, said she has experienced firsthand the effect cuts have on students, specifically related to the consolidation of library services in the CSCU system.
“My fear is that as you centralize and consolidate - when you lose your local connections and you lose your ability to make decisions that are related to specific local feedback loops - we’ll run into bigger problems with both the value of service that we’re providing and the overall student experience,” Clapp said.
Before the town hall meeting concluded, Ojakian said he appreciated the feedback and asked people to get involved in the planning process for the consolidation strategy.
“Please, I encourage you to try and be part of the process,” Ojakian told the crowd. “As this unfolds, please feel free to communicate with us.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at email@example.com.