The Day – Community college professors meet with Stefanowski about consolidation
Madison: Community college professors and union leaders met with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski in Madison on July 1 for a listening session.
Professors, including Diba Khan-Bureau, who teaches environmental engineering and technology at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, said the meeting was consistent because Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont has not met with them. State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, joined for the July 1 meeting.
“Lamont has shown no inclination to meet with us,” Khan-Bureau said. “It’s almost like we’re not important enough because we’re professors at community universities.”
“Our current governor has never met with us in three and a half years despite repeated efforts to get there,” said Tunxis Community College history professor Francis Coan.
Khan-Bureau explained the impetus of the meeting: “Lamont has not heard a word of what we have said. Maybe we should do something different, maybe we should talk to Stefanowski, to see what he says. It may surprise us. “
The teachers’ union even paid a billboard in Hartford a few months ago to get Lamont’s attention, where it read, “Governor Lamont: Help our students! Stop the consolidation of our 12 community colleges.”
“It was a very good conversation and incredibly valuable to hear the perspective of community school teachers,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “They are addressing important issues, passionate about providing the best education to their students, and I appreciated their time.”
Lamont’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The process of consolidating the state’s community colleges, which was proposed in 2018, is about to end, but the struggle of teachers to stop it has only intensified.
The consolidation is designed to bring together the state’s 12 community colleges under a centralized administration, called Connecticut State Community College, through the CSCU Board of Regents and its accreditation body, the Board of Education. Superior of New England. Supporters and administrators argue that consolidation will facilitate the transfer of students between schools and reduce excessive costs.
Teachers say the merger will eliminate local decision-making for faculty, staff, and administrators closest to students. Instead, they say, a new administrative office in New Britain, in addition to an existing office in West Hartford, will be behind decision-making, including the closure of community schools. Institutions like Three Rivers will essentially become branch offices of an administrative office.
“I know the main concern among many of the professors is that now that you’ve created a community college system, a university with branches, then it’s much easier to close individual branches,” Cheeseman said. “If there’s a genuine lack of enrollment, there may be a case to be made, but right now I think all this consolidation confuses the issue anyway.”
At this year’s legislative session, the higher education commission passed a bill that could slow down consolidation. It would empower the state legislature to stop any merger or closure of community schools. But the bill was never called for a vote.
Professors speculated as to why the Democratic leadership refused to convene the bill, noting that former Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, led the consolidation process.
“The fact that the Democratic legislature refused to introduce the bill, they are not willing to defend their state against their party,” said Lois Aimé, director of educational technology at Norwalk Community College. “So it’s deeply disappointing. It was a partisan process, and it shouldn’t have been.”
“Right now, we haven’t met a legislator willing to risk his career on this issue,” Coan said.
The CSCU has not been clear about the finances of this project. During a public hearing on the bill that would give legislative oversight, several lawmakers asked for more information and questioned the projections of administrative staff.
“All the savings they’re showing me come from wear and tear. I thought the issue was that you’re going to get savings from your core purchases, core human resource funding, all of that stuff,” Cheeseman said. “If most of the savings you identified were wear and tear, wouldn’t that work anyway without creating this new layer of bureaucracy?”
Teachers say they are about a year old, as the CSCU aims to open the only school on July 1, 2023, “when the 12 independent schools will cease to exist,” he said. Khan-Bureau. They have not given up on stopping consolidation and believe that a change of opinion in the legislature or a change of direction in the Executive could prevent what they say is the worst case scenario.
Cheeseman isn’t sure if consolidation can be stopped at this point. The CSCU accreditation body accepted the consolidation proposal, to the delight of the CSCU, but still highlighted some shortcomings.
“They still had a number of issues that they felt needed to be resolved before they could grant accreditation to the single college system,” Cheeseman said.