The Senate gave final passage Thursday to legislation responding to last year’s Board of Regents compensation scandal by giving the governing board of the state’s public universities the ability to choose its own president.
Lawmakers on the Higher Education Committee proposed the bill this session in response to a controversy last year in which Board of Regents President Robert Kennedy resigned after it was revealed that he handed out raises to his top executives without the approval of the 15-member board.
Kennedy, who was paid a salary of $340,000 a year, also was criticized for spending weeks at his second home in Minnesota doing “professional development.”
Previously, the authority to appoint the president of the Board of Regents rested with the governor. Kennedy was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and the bill the legislature approved would leave the responsibility of recommending and approving a leader with the board itself.
The bill passed on a 28-8 vote.
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said lawmakers were seeking to prevent a repeat of the controversy Kennedy created.
“I think we have an example before us where a leader of the Board of Regents made some very poor decisions related to compensating employees and the Higher Education Committee did take a number of actions, this being one of them, to ensure this didn’t happen again,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney sought to change the bill to restrict the board from granting a president a contract of more than four years. He said his research indicated that best practices were for higher education executives to serve between three and five years.
“It’s not a surprise that the last president of the Board of Regents was a disaster, he was overpaid, the compensation was grotesque, and he didn’t perform his job,” McKinney said.
The amendment failed along party lines.
In her closing remarks, Bye thanked the state’s higher education workers, who she said have had a difficult time with the controversy. She said the legislation would move the higher education system beyond the scandal.
“This bill is very important for our higher education system to turn the page,” she said. “We’re very frustrated with what happened with the president of the Board of Regents and all that followed. But day-in and day-out, the faculty have been going to work, working with the students and looking for new leadership.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said the governor supports the bill and intends to sign it when it reaches his desk.