At a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building at Central Connecticut State University the governor expressed confidence that people will embrace his consolidation of the state’s four regional universities, community colleges, and the online Charter Oak college.
As part of his budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created a Board of Regents to oversee the 12 community colleges, four state universities, and Charter Oak State College. It also creates an advisory board and gives each entity the ability to appoint someone to that board.
Some were skeptical of the decision including school administrators and Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, who worried that the regional schools would lose their individual identities in the process.
But on Wednesday Malloy said he’s expecting people will look back and see it was a good move.
“I think as we unify our systems, as we work together, as we move forward in preparing our young people, people are gonna say, ‘Wow. What a great system that we’ve put together to ensure the success not only of our students but of the corporations that consume our product, our human capital,’” he said.
Malloy reassured Central that higher education is still a priority and said he wants to be seen as a friend to the institutions he placed under the new Board of Regents “because now we’re all one.”
On Monday he appointed Robert A. Kennedy, formerly the president of the University of Maine, as interim president of the board. He said part of what attracted him to Kennedy was his ability to establish closer ties between the university’s curriculum and what the business community needs in its workforce.
But according to newspapers in Maine, Kennedy took some heat for deciding to focus more heavily on science, engineering, technology, and math than languages and the humanities.
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said that as a supporter of the consolidation, she heard firsthand throughout the session the concerns and fears of higher education officials. But many have come around, she said. The positive feeling at Central on Wednesday was palpable, she said.
Bye said an administrator who was vehemently opposed to the change during the session told her the transition was going well. In his short speech, the governor did a good job reassuring Central and the other regional schools that he would be supporting the higher education system, not tearing it down, she said.
“If fences needed to be mended, I think his approach was a positive one,” she said.
Malloy helped break ground on a $38 million construction project to create a new classroom building on the university’s campus in New Britain.
The new building will provide a permanent location for the school’s social science programs, which are currently located in Willard and DiLoreto halls. When construction is completed, about two years from now, the departments will vacate those buildings, enabling the school to renovate them.
The building, designed by Boston-based Stantec Architecture, will have four floors and around 75,000 square feet. It will include 17 classrooms, five seminar rooms, and seven labs, as well as 71 faculty offices.
Malloy told the school to expect help from him on future projects as well.
“For the life of me I don’t understand why the state of Connecticut has not invested more in our regional university system. That is going to change,” he said. “As we move projects forward, as they are ready to break ground, I can assure you the dollars necessary to move the projects along will be there.”
When the consolidation was first announced, some questioned why the University of Connecticut was largely untouched. It continues to overseen by its own 21-member Board of Trustees. On Wednesday Malloy told CCSU that he doesn’t play favorites.
“Let me go so far as to say there is no academic institution, which the state of Connecticut owns, which is more important than this one,” he said.