As the saying goes, Connecticut’s most precious natural resource, perhaps one of its only natural resources, is its people. We have one on of the highest percentages of college graduates in our work force. Although we’ve dropped behind Colorado and Massachusetts, we remain one of the most educated work forces in the world. While labor, energy, insurance, and property costs may be among the highest in the country and our transportation system is a disaster, we believe that we can continue to attract and retain jobs since we have the one thing many successful businesses really need—the people to make things work.
Our colleges and universities (both public and private) have been the unwritten foundation of our state’s economy for decades. The problem is, our state government forgot this truth and but for a massive construction program at our public campuses, it has systematically undermined our schools, our students, and our economy.
Twenty years ago, half of UConn’s budget came from state funds. This year, the state of Connecticut will cover less than a third of the university’s total operating expenses. In response, Connecticut’s public universities and colleges have turned to students and their parents to pick up more and more of the cost. In 1990, tuition covered 18 percent of UConn’s budget and fees and provided another 15 percent for other operating expenses. Now, tuition and fees account for 48 percent of the budget and that is before UConn’s Board of Trustees increased tuition by more than five percent a few weeks ago.
As any visitor to the campus will note, the campus has had a massive physical makeover. UConn has also tried to fill its budget shortfall by dramatically increasing the number of students on campus. Their argument is simple—more students mean more tuition and fees. Since the mid-90s when the UConn 2000 infrastructure program began, the number of undergraduates has skyrocketed from about 14,500 to 21,500, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the number continues to grow.
Of course, any reasonable person would assume that a 48 percent increase in the number of students should mean more faculty. However, in a stunning tribute to the notion of “pay more, get less,” the total number of full-time teaching staff excluding those at the health center increased from 1,211 in 1991 to 1,321 in 2009. But for a recent hiring effort, we would actually have fewer faculty members teaching 7,500 more students.
Connecticut’s economic development strategy? More students without more faculty. This is not a great way to ensure Connecticut remains the place businesses must come to find the workforce they need.
As if this policy failure was not enough to drive home our state’s failure to confront the economic needs of its citizens, a far more disturbing development has come to light.
With the governor both presiding as the statutory president of UConn’s Board of Trustees and appointing virtually all of its members, we have seen the unprecedented corporatization of our flagship university. Along with that has come a Wall Street sense of entitlement and opulence.
Over the last few years as we watched the state’s fiscal health collapse and the governor announce record funding cuts to the state’s public colleges and universities, UConn’s senior management moved forward with all the nuance and sensitivity of AIG, Citibank, and other Wall Street luminaries.
Two years ago, UConn turned to Iowa’s Mike Hogan to lead our university to the next level. Arguing that the competitive marketplace for education administrators, quality requires investment. Connecticut would need to shell out $550,000 a year to attract someone of Hogan’s capabilities. Still new to the job and overseeing the complete and utter failure of the John Dempsey Hospital initiative, President Hogan pocketed $625,577 last year alone. On top of a $30,000 pay increase in July 2008, he received $67,500 in bonus payments in just the last 20 months. Although with much fanfare and editorial tribute, he did turn down $100,000 in performance bonuses in 2008 and 2009.
However, like his brothers on Wall Street, the true financial benefits go far beyond large salaries and bonuses. Our public resources (from state funds and tuition and fees) are used to rent him a $1 million home for $4,000 a month. The private residence comes with full housekeeping and landscaping services. Note that this residence is not the university’s newly renovated $1.2 million dollar presidential mansion.
Hogan and his wife had refused to move into the mansion because of an apparent mold problem – a mold problem that for some reason was not addressed during the million dollar renovation process. Perhaps most shocking of all is that since moving into this privately-owned residence, Hogan has demanded more than $240,000 in additional renovations. Again, these renovations were paid for with public dollars. Imagine telling a landlord that you might only want to rent for a year or two, but the landlord will need to invest a quarter of a million dollars into the property while you are there, and without raising the rent.
But the pièce de résistance came to light just last week. The Hartford Courant reported that last fall, with Connecticut’s fiscal disaster now apparent and ripping at the very fabric of our state’s essential programs and services, UConn saw fit to spend at least $475,000 from its precious operating fund (primarily comprised of student tuition and fee dollars) to make over the president’s office. The project included $75,000 in interior design fees, installation of a $9,200 wood floor, the purchase of a $4,000 Karastan rug, $8,000 for window treatments, complete renovation of the private bathroom and the installation of unspecified new office furniture and fixtures for $30,000.
Just to make things more interesting, the Courant reported that the university managed to violate numerous OSHA regulations when workers unknowingly uncovered asbestos and removed it without appropriate precautions, requiring an emergency test of workers and intervention by asbestos experts.
As Connecticut considers where it stands and whether a new path is needed, we need only look to the University of Connecticut to fully appreciate just how far off track our state government has become.
Jonathan Pelto served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1984-1993. He was Deputy Majority Leader and member of the Appropriations Committees during the income tax debate of 1991. He presently works as a strategic communications consultant.