NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — On a rainy day, protesters stormed the Central Connecticut State University campus with anger at a proposal to consolidate some of the services of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges. The consolidation plan by Board of Regents president, Mark Ojakian, inspired angry speeches from students and staff, despite Ojakian saying it could possibly save more than $40 million.
“That’s not good enough!” yelled Kathy Hermes, Chair of the History Department at CCSU. She fears consolidation would mean layoffs for faculty and other staff who are vital to maintaining student services and a high quality of higher education.
“He intends to remove resources,” she said. “You can’t cut 41 million dollars out of our system budget without cutting resources.”
“When you remove those things from campus, the campus can’t function and he doesn’t understand that,” she said.
The protesters were also concerned that he didn’t consult faculty or students when coming up with a consolidation proposal. One student took that concern directly to him at a town hall meeting Ojakian held on campus.
“Why weren’t more students reached out to when you were doing this plan?” asked the student.
Ojakian addressed the crowd and the student with this response: “We have a student Advisory Committee — which represents you at the Board of Regents.”
Some people in the crowd gave Ojakian praise for answering each question thrown at him. But, Kathy and some others weren’t impressed.
“It’s a good show,” Kathy said.
And, when Ojakian told the crowd consolidation is one of the best ways to deal with declining money for higher education from Hartford because of state budget battles, Kathy responded with this:
“My response to that is he needs to work harder to get us more resources,” she said.
Ojakian’s appearance came one day after the Board of Regents received a vote of “no confidence”. While chanting with a megaphone, one of the student protesters articulated some of the frustration out there about the Board and Ojakian, who’s plan is called “Students First”. They say the Board of Regents doesn’t have a track record they can trust when it comes to managing money earmarked for Connecticut’s colleges and universities.
“Spending close to 20 million dollars on failed plans and consolidation doesn’t put students first,” yelled a student protestor. “Spending a quarter of a billion dollars in its 7 year history — nearly 8 times the expected deficit of our system — does not speak to me that the Board has any intention of putting students first.”
Ojakian is holding several town hall meetings at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities to hear input and feedback from students and faculty members.