Evolving proposals to fix a strapped state budget threaten to force the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system to close campuses, eliminate student services and lay off workers, President Mark Ojakian revealed Wednesday.
Ojakian did not commit to taking any of those actions, only saying they could be considered depending on the state’s final budget scenario. But he sent a letter throughout the university system detailing the possibility of sharp cuts that would go much deeper than $38 million in reductions Governor Dannel Malloy outlined in February. Under various proposals suggested by the governor and state lawmakers, the university system could lose as much as $90 million. A cut of more than $62 million in the next biennium might be the new best-case scenario, Ojakian wrote.
Those cuts to state funding could affect a consolidation effort that is already underway as the system -- which does not include the state’s separately governed University of Connecticut flagship -- attempts to save money. Ojakian in April moved to consolidate administrative and non-student-facing personnel across the system and to consolidate CSCU’s 12 community colleges into one centrally run organization. That process, dubbed Students First, was intended to save $41 million annually.
Ojakian argued it was necessary because state funding has been falling. System enrollment has also declined in recent years, and the state of Connecticut faces a projected drop in the number of high school graduates in the future, placing pressure on tuition revenue.
But the consolidation plans proved to be controversial among faculty and staff. They prompted a vote of no confidence in system leadership from Central Connecticut State University’s Faculty Senate at the end of April and faculty protests at a Board of Regents for Higher Education meeting in May.
Nonetheless, Ojakian warned that the latest state budget information could lead to even more profound changes.
“These budget figures go well beyond the savings targets we were planning for under the Students First strategies,” Ojakian wrote Wednesday. “If our system does get a cut of this magnitude, it will force us to go back and explore options that we frankly did not want to consider, including closing campuses, eliminating certain student services and making significant work force reductions.”
At this point, the system is still moving forward with the previously announced consolidation process, however. Shortly after sending the letter on the state budget Wednesday, Ojakian posted another letter providing an update on the progress of Students First efforts.
The Connecticut State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors balked at the latest message from Ojakian.
CSCU system leaders should not make the situation worse by “engaging in educational violence,” CSU-AAUP President Elena Tapia said in a statement. She called for Ojakian and the Board of Regents to fight to tax the wealthy and raise revenue in order to make investments.
“Balancing the budget on the backs of Connecticut students and at the expense of quality public higher education is akin to shooting oneself in the foot just as the marathon begins,” she said.