The proposed budget cuts to the University of Connecticut could be ruinous to the state’s already feeble economy, said UConn Board of Trustees chairman Larry McHugh.
“We are in a moment where our public leaders must make a choice as whether or not they want an outstanding flagship university,” McHugh said. “So much of our economy depends on that choice. If the quality of UConn shudders, so will the economy. And it will lay square at the feet of those who sacrifice the University of Connecticut.”
The board of trustees met on Wednesday to further discuss the ramifications of the budget cuts and the impact they could have on Connecticut’s workforce with the state economy already in trouble.
“Our state's economy is coming back, but it is still fragile,” McHugh said. “Regardless of the type or size of the business, the one common thing is how important it is to have a well-educated workforce. Because the majority of our students remain here to live and work in Connecticut after they graduate, UConn is the source... for future hires.”
UConn was expecting about $100 million in cuts in the original budget proposed by Gov. Malloy, McHugh said, in addition to the $142 million in cuts sustained by the university since 2010.
“We never complained,” McHugh said. “To propose triple that cut is not something that anyone in this room can stay quiet about.”
President Susan Herbst, who presided over the board meeting, reiterated the stance she took on shutting down programs, satellite campuses and other functions of the university in order to sustain the cuts.
“I ask that folks listen to what we say and watch the hard things we’ve done in the past to cut budgets. They are not pleasant actions, but we take them when we are left with no other realistic choice,” Herbst said. “On the one hand, we are told we must absorb massive cuts, but are then told by some that we may not cut anything significant. But everything is important to someone. There is no low-hanging fruit or mythical fat adding up to $300 million, or even a small fraction of that, that could easily go.”
Herbst restated the fact that budget cuts were the cause of UConn closing its Torrington campus last year, and the closure of other campuses could be reality with the proposed cuts.
“There is a belief in some quarters that we will not make major cuts, such as closing colleges or campuses, in the face of massive state budget cuts. We have and we will,” Herbst said. “We have closed colleges and eliminated dean positions in recent years.”
Though suggestions have been made to cut the salaries to major administrators, and though women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma volunteered to forgo his pay in order to close the gap, staff wages only make up a fraction of the cut, Herbst said.
“We could zero out the salary of every single senior administrator and it would be a tiny fraction of our overall budget, and barely make a dent in a $300 million reduction,” Herbst said. “There’s some very poor and woefully distorted data out there in very pretty charts on the Internet. Don’t be fooled, as hard as this is to read through.”
McHugh urged the general public to pay attention to the legislative decisions that will occur as the budget deadline draws closer, and to keep in mind the importance of UConn to Connecticut’s financial well-being.
“UConn is a catalyst for economic growth. A strong UConn will help make our economy continue to move forward,” McHugh said. “These large cuts, just for the sake of getting to a particular budget number, are short sighted.”
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.
Stephanie Sheehan, Managing Editor for The Daily Campus contributed reporting.