NEW BRITAIN – “Regents Proposals Stink” read the giant sign attached to “Skunkzilla,” a 14-foot inflatable skunk that stood at the forefront of a rally held at Central Connecticut State University Friday morning.
Dozens of students and faculty from Connecticut’s four regional universities – Central, Eastern, Southern and Western – along with community leaders stood on the lawn in front of Davidson Hall holding signs protesting the Board of Regents’ contract proposals.
Some of the signs read: “Excellent Education. Fair Contract” and “Respect Us. Don’t Bully Us.”
“As everyone here knows the Regents’ proposals are scary. They would compromise the education that students receive, injure our faculty and threaten the integrity of our universities,” CCSU student Francesca Palmer said. “The Board of Regents is exploiting a painful crisis so they can restructure our institutions and bust a union. As our skunk clearly indicates, the BOR’s proposals stink and they need to be taken off the table.”
State Senator Matt Lesser, who is also chair of the state’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee and Deputy Majority Leader, supported the faculty and students at the rally.
“Today we’re standing right in front of Connecticut’s natural resource. We don’t have any coal, oil, gas or diamonds in this state. We don’t have any other natural resource than the people who live in this state,” Lesser said. “As we work to rebuild this economy, we are dependent on Central and all of the other Board of Regent schools to step up and to provide us with the skilled workforce we’re going to need for the decades ahead. We should be looking at this institution as our state treasure and that means we should start negotiating fairly, get you a fair contract and look to the faculty of this institution as critical partners for our state’s economic recovery.”
Josh Elliott, a State Rep and chair of the Higher Education Committee, believes the terms of the contracts are disrespectful and treat faculty like chattel. There is a lack of transparency and communication, he said.
“You (professors) are our state’s resource and if we aren’t treating you well then really we aren’t treating ourselves well,” Elliott said.
Those in attendance said the Board of Regents’ proposals were a major issue to the universities progression and would ruin the quality of education for students.
“What’s really disturbing is when I read through the proposals and understood what’s going on in these negotiations I couldn’t believe it,” said Julie Kushner, State Rep and chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. “I could not believe there was anybody at the Board of Regents who would think that this would be good for the university system of Connecticut. This is not just about protecting faculty, but has a great deal to do with protecting education. There’s absolutely no way if you accept these proposals that the students of Connecticut will benefit. This isn’t about just getting another dollar, it’s about preserving a good education system in our country. We as legislatures have an obligation to be here with you in support of you to understand these issues and to make sure that the people who are running this place realize that they can’t make these negotiations secret or private, that we’re going to shine a light on what’s happening here and demand they come to the table and negotiate a fair contract that not only benefits the faculty but benefits the students.”
Those at the rally said the BOR should be giving the teachers more tools to do their jobs and not less.
“My department is quite small, it has five full-time faculty members and almost three times that number of adjunct faculty who serve the needs of our students,” said Sadanand Nanjundiah, physics professor at CCSU. “Our efforts are to provide a very high quality accessible and affordable education to all our students and, of course, you know a vast majority of them come from the state of Connecticut. We also want to provide them opportunities to engage in faculty assisted research which is something that is very important for them so that they have better career prospects. All of this is made possible by our faculty and the fact that we had support in the past. But the BOR proposals are corporate business proposals that will cut funds for our faculty student research even while increasing our teaching load. We have a new engineering building coming near the library. This is supposed to have state of the art equipment, but if we cut funding for all of our campuses, this engineering program will suffer.”
Another issue those in attendance had was the demand for full-time faculty to increase their teaching load, which will put adjunct professors who are vital to departments teaching specialty courses at risk.
“The BOR wants to take away certain safeguards that the professors have that will not allow students to gain a quality education and a promising degree,” said Johanna Zukowski, CCSU senior and student government senator. “Allowing limits on class sizes aids the professor in teaching the material as well as harbors a positive learning environment for students. Students want to attend a class where they feel seen, go to professors to ask questions and discuss topics of shared interest. This support will undoubtedly disappear under the BOR’s new proposals. For example, while performing well in an otherwise difficult legal class I was approached by my professor about perusing a legal education after graduation. After expressing my interest this professor has been integral I advising me about the steps I have to take. It is with this individualized attention and support form professors that I’ve been able to succeed academically and apply to some of the top law schools in the nation.”
The proposals will also jeopardize accreditation of the universities, strip academic freedom and destroy shared governance, those in attendance said.
“I came here with a goal to build a research program to bring students into a world of archeology and drive their creativity and thinking about the big picture of human social change,” said Sarah Bines, anthropology professor at ECSU. “The AAUP put forward contract proposals that would improve the education of our students; we prioritized supporting families, supporting equity, supporting free inquiry and working for the community. And the BOR’s contract proposals alternatively will devastate our campuses.”
Collectively everyone believed the teachers deserve more.
“They deserve Regents who not just support, but celebrate them. They certainly don’t deserve Regents who seek to steal their academic freedom, creative activity, shared governance and collective bargaining,” Palmer said. “According to the Regents’ website their mission is to supposedly quote ‘Offer exemplary instruction and advance and extend knowledge, research, learning and culture.’ Yet, their contract proposals actively undermine each of these goals.”