Madison — Community college professors and labor leaders met with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski in Madison on July 1 for a listening session.
The professors, including Diba Khan-Bureau, who teaches environmental engineering and technology at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, said the meeting was significant because Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, did not meet with them. They were joined by state representative Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, for the July 1 meeting.
“Lamont showed no desire to meet with us,” Khan-Bureau said. “It’s almost like we’re not important enough because we’re community college teachers.”
“Our current governor has not met with us for three and a half years despite repeated efforts to reach him,” said Francis Coan, a history professor at Tunxis Community College.
Khan-Bureau explained the impetus for the meeting: “Lamont didn’t listen to a word we said. Maybe we need to do something different, maybe we need to talk to Stefanowski, see what he has to say. Maybe he will surprise us.
The faculty union even paid for a billboard in Hartford several months ago to get Lamont’s attention, reading, “Governor Lamont: Please HELP our students! Stop the consolidation of our 12 community colleges.
“It was a really good conversation and incredibly valuable to hear the perspective of community college faculty,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “They tackle important issues, are passionate about providing the best education for 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, proposed in 2018, is coming to an end, but the struggle of professors to stop it has only deepened.
The consolidation is designed to consolidate the state’s 12 community colleges under a centralized administration, called Connecticut State Community College, through CSCU’s Board of Regents and its accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. of New England. Proponents and administrators argue the consolidation will make it easier to transfer students between schools and reduce excess costs.
Faculty say the merger will take local decision-making away from 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 drive decision-making, including the closure of community colleges. Establishments like Three Rivers will essentially become branches of an administrative office.
“I know the main concern of many professors is that now that you’ve created this community college system, a college with branches, it’s much easier to close individual branches,” Cheeseman said. “If there’s a real lack of registrations there may be a case to make, but right now I think all this consolidation is confusing the issue on that anyway.”
In this year’s legislative session, the Higher Education Committee passed a bill that could cripple consolidation. This would empower the state legislature to prevent any mergers or closures of community colleges. But the bill was never called to vote.
The professors speculated on why Democratic leaders refused to call 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 call the bill — they are unwilling 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.
“At this point, we haven’t encountered a lawmaker willing to risk their careers on this issue,” Coan said.
The CSCU has not been clear on 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 administrative staff’s projections.
“All the savings they show me are from attrition. I thought the bottom line was that you were going to save money from your central purchasing, your central HR funding, all of those things,” Cheeseman said. “If the majority of the savings you identified were attrition, wouldn’t that work anyway without creating this whole new layer of bureaucracy?”
The professors say they are about a year old, as CSCU aims to open the single college on July 1, 2023, “at which time the 12 independent colleges will cease to exist,” Khan-Bureau said. They have not given up on stopping the consolidation and believe that a change of heart in the legislature or a change of direction within the executive could stave off what they consider to be the worst-case scenario.
Cheeseman doesn’t know if the consolidation can be stopped at this point. CSCU’s accrediting body accepted the consolidation proposal, much to CSCU’s delight, but still pointed out some shortcomings.
“They still had a number of issues that they felt they needed to address before they could accredit the single community college system,” Cheeseman said.