In its first year of existence, Connecticut’s new Board of Regents for Higher Education has accomplished quite a bit. Unfortunately, those accomplishments have mainly contributed to a huge scandal that has led to the resignations of two members of the board and a rollback of raises for 20 more members and staff.
To prevent a similar recurrence, board members have fully committed to design a new set of polices that will regulate the government the agency going forward — a timely, necessary development in light of the fact that three officials charged with the task have had a hard time figuring out which policies have been governing the Board of Regents prior to now.
Naomi Cohen, Yvette Melendez and Michael Pollard, the board members who form the special committee, decided they not only want to work on the development of policies on control the board will have over staff, but also set standards for future employment contracts and determine if the raises former President Robert Kennedy doled out were justified.
Kennedy resigned earlier this year after the raises, which totaled over $260,000, were discovered. Additionally, Kennedy’s handling of community college presidents during one of the meetings — making them think that they were about to lose their jobs — was also questioned. Earlier this week, chairman of the board Lewis Robinson emailed the presidents to let them know that their jobs were not in jeopardy and to disregard any attempts made by Kennedy to make them hand in their resignations.
Resigning with Kennedy was the executive vice president of the board, Michael Meotti, who was the beneficiary of the largest single raise when his salary was bumped by more than $47,000 a year.
University of Connecticut President Philip Austin will step into Kennedy’s shoes as interim president. His appointment was approved by a vote of the full board last week. Although Austin has not yet taken up his new duties, he has begun meeting with key staff to plan strategy and get up to speed on the situation.
When the Board of Regents was created by the General Assembly at the urging of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year, it replaced not only the state Department of Higher Education, but the governing bodies of the state’s 12 community colleges, four state universities and Charter Oak State College, an online degree program.
The only public higher education institution not under the board’s control is the University of Connecticut.
One of the first issues confronting the committee to reform the Regents will be what to do with the portions of unauthorized raises that have already been paid out. It is possible that the members might decide in the end to ask for the money to be repaid.