Members of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee questioned Connecticut State University officials Wednesday about President Cheryl Norton’s controversial dismissal from Southern Connecticut State University. They received few answers.
CSU Chancellor David Carter, who recommended Norton’s dismissal and oversees all four CSU campuses, stayed mum on many of the committee’s questions and relied heavily on the advice of his attorney, R. Bartley Halloran of Farmington.
Carter recommended Norton’s dismissal in February just weeks after CSU’s Board of Trustees implemented a policy granting him authority to dismiss presidents with no reason or explanation. He also does not need a vote of the full board.
The legislative committee focused questions on the process and policy behind Norton’s dismissal. No questions could be asked about the reasons behind the dismissal because a settlement between CSU and Norton prohibits both from commenting on the matter.
CSU Board of Trustees member John R. Sholtis, Jr. filled in for Chairman Karl J. Krapek and often tried to help Carter answer questions. The committee asked Sholtis several times to let Carter provide the answers.
“I did not dismiss anyone,” Carter stressed. He said reasons prompt dismissals or terminations, whereas a “non-continuation” requires no reason or cause. He also said the ultimate authority lies in CSU’s Board of Trustees.
Carter and Sholtis stressed that personnel matters should remain private and in the hands of the Board. They also addressed the change in policy earlier this year granting Carter’s authority to dismiss presidents.
“The change in procedure is just that, a change in procedure,” Carter said. “Consistent with every other change in procedure.”
CSU Board of Trustees member Gail H. Williams said Carter recommended the change in policy. She said the legislation probably would not have been brought to the Board if he had not introduced it.
Williams also said she felt a separation of power in the Board, describing an “A Team” comprised of the executive committee and a “B Team” of “others.”
“I don’t feel like I’m a part of either side, but I feel it’s my duty to question changes or policies that I’m not comfortable with,” she said.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, asked Carter if CSU’s Board of Trustees ever took a full vote on Norton’s non-continuation. Minutes obtained from Board meetings indicated the issue had been introduced, but did not indicate if a full vote had taken place.
Reading from a statement written by his attorney, Carter said, “There was no hearing on non-renewal.”
“You need your lawyer to write out answers for you?” Meyer asked
“Well I also understand lawsuits,” Carter said.
“I consider this to be a ducking and evasion of the actual facts,” Meyer said.
Higher Education Committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Roberta Willis felt CSU’s Board of Trustees needed to discuss the change in policy that granted Carter’s new authority and reconsider it in terms of its consequences.
“This is an extremely alarming process to me. They didn’t violate any rules because they didn’t have to take a vote,” she said. “We can take legislative action to change this. The power should rest ultimately with the board of trustees.”