Earlier this month, University of Connecticut spokesperson Stephanie Reitz announced through an article in “UConn Today” that the board of trustees approved a $48 refund for the student U-Pass fee, which allows UConn students free access to the state’s public bus lines and trains.
The refund was negotiated between university and state officials, with the former arguing that UConn students should not have to pay for transit through a student fee while bus fares are suspended statewide by the Connecticut Department of Transportation through March of this year. According to Reitz’s announcement, their unanimous decision to approve the fee refund demonstrates “the board of trustees’ pledge to explore potential cost reductions and pass them along to students.”
UConn officials indeed showed regard for the financial concerns of students through this decision; it is also evident that they are capable of identifying problems such as discrepancies between state and public university costs and working with government officials to resolve them. For this reason, The Daily Campus Editorial Board looks with additional scrutiny on the board of trustees’ decision to drastically increase student fees last December, as we have discussed. We are once again wondering why the university seems so averse to lobbying for public funds that reduce costs for students and reward university employees for their contributions to our community.
Again, we are far from opposed to UConn’s success in reducing total student transit fees by almost one-fourth; rather, we find it alarming that UConn has not launched similar negotiations with the state to make it less costly to attend and work at a university that makes multi-billion dollar contributions to Connecticut’s economy.
There is precedent to leveraging UConn’s manifold economic benefits to lobby for increased public funding: In 2020, former President Thomas Katsouleas pitched a report of the university’s economic impact to members of the state legislature as well as Governor Ned Lamont to rally lawmakers in favor of additional funding for UConn. Unfortunately, the effort garnered no material support from the executive or legislative officials present, leaving UConn to make up for its increasing deficits with steadily increasing tuition and fees.
In spite of previous failures, there is little preventing UConn administrators and trustees from advocating to bolster support from the state. In fact, the sole purpose of the UConn Office of Government Relations is to engage in “effective communication” between the university and state and federal governments; however, a look at the OGR’s Annual Legislative Report for 2022 — which lists any and all bills passed by the Connecticut Legislature related to UConn — will reveal that virtually no bill passed in 2022 improved UConn’s affordability. This legislative dry spell coincides with a historic $3 billion surplus in the state budget. While the infrastructure and resources for demanding change certainly exist, it is obvious to those enduring the consequences of UConn’s financial decisions that the will does not.
The answer as to why concerns about cost of attendance have never been substantially met by UConn or state officials, unfortunately, is all too clear; while UConn as an institution is a significant driver of economic growth in Connecticut, the students and workers who make this institution function are not considered the constituents of administrators, trustees or government officials. That status is held by the corporations being courted for grants and the lawmakers who must be convinced of UConn’s long-term financial viability. As such, the board of trustees can wash their hands of a growing $53 million budget deficit on the athletics program by giving each student less than $50 in refunds — all while UConn President Radenka Maric earns a comfortable base salary of $610,000 and UConn’s top coaches earn a combined $4,850,000 annually.
The ideology of neoliberalism that pervades administrative offices and Hartford serves to transform UConn into an institution that produces maximum revenue at as little cost to the state as possible; hence, the already vulnerable finances of students, workers and our families are the first sacrifices. If UConn’s pride in its Huskies is of any value, it has a responsibility to aggressively and relentlessly lobby the state for increased public spending; otherwise, it ceases to be a public institution. It is against all of our interests to allow UConn to be governed by private interests over the people who shape it.