- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The continued viability of the state’s fledgling Board of Regents for Higher Education is being questioned as its second leader in about four years announces plans to step down.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, the leading House Republican on the General Assembly’s Education Committee, said Monday that lawmakers should be reassessing the board’s role overseeing four state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College under the recently merged Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system rather than just finding a replacement for Gregory Gray.

“Talk has already turned to the question of who will replace Dr. Gray,” Lavielle said. “A far more important question, however, is why the Board of Regents is failing to produce real added value.”

Last Friday, Gray announced he planned to resign effective Dec. 31, ending a rocky two-year relationship.

Lavielle, who contends the mission of CSCU is unclear, suggested the legislature conduct a full-scale review of the board to determine what is or is not working, what changes need to be made and whether it should continue to exist.

Since the decision to consolidate the governance of the 17 state-run schools under one board, there have been a series of missteps. Earlier this year, state legislators successfully pushed to reverse a sudden decision by the board to close the Meriden branch of the Middlesex Community College and a manufacturing program in response to the governor’s proposed budget.

Meanwhile, faculty members at many of the system’s campuses have voted no confidence in Gray. Professors and students complained they were shut out of decision-making and voiced opposition to the Transform CSCU improvement plan. Gray’s predecessor, Robert Kennedy, resigned in 2012 after awarding $250,000 in pay raises to employees without the board’s knowledge.

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, co-chairman of the Higher Education Committee, said, “For those working in the system, it’s been a rocky, rocky road.”

While she originally opposed merging the governance of the different systems - an idea pushed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as a way to cut costs and make affordable higher education more accessible - she said she believes the Board of Regents now needs to find the right person to fill the presidency job and get the system “back on track.”

“I’m hopeful that maybe a president within our system or with familiarity with Connecticut might be something the board should look at,” she said. “Obviously, whoever steps up to the plate, they’re going to need a system that will support them and help them to implement policies and agendas at the state college and university system. They can’t waste time here.”

Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the Higher Education Committee, agreed the next president needs to be a better fit.

“There have been challenges in finding the right president,” Bartolomeo said. “But at this point in time, I don’t see the benefit to the students ultimately if we just scrap the entire system.”

Malloy spokesman Mark Bergman said the governor is standing by the Board of Regents concept.

“The governor believes that the Board of Regents has made progress at reducing administrative costs as well as providing a quality higher education for Connecticut students,” he said. “But there is more work to do to continue that progress.”

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