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HomeHigher EdRestoring Trust and Demanding Truth for the Community

Restoring Trust and Demanding Truth for the Community

Despite claims by some state and college officials, sufficient resources are available to fully fund the dreams of students in our public higher education institutions. That is the clear message of a recently published commentary by the president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated UConn-AAUP, which represents teaching and research faculty at the state’s flagship university. History Professor Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (in photo, above) makes a well-researched case that “restricting critical resources to higher education is wrong-headed, un-wise, unfair and destabilizing:”

“[F]or the University of Connecticut (UConn) to compete with the Berkeleys (no. 1), University of Michigans … and Penn States … of the academic world in terms of prestige, research grants, bright kids and topflight faculty, the governor and legislature are going to have to do more than toss UConn a few crumbs in election years.”

These words convey today’s facts, but were published in a 1998 newspaper editorial. Over a quarter century later, we bear witness to an eerie sense of being in a veritable Groundhog Day. Just last year, the university community – students, faculty, staff and administrators – rallied to demand a stronger budget for the state’s flagship university. Thousands of people, over several weeks, wrote letters, testified, marched, and met with lawmakers demanding more support to narrow the shortfall from the state’s block grant to UConn.

Click here to watch highlights of last year’s student-led “Save UConn” rally.

Ultimately, it was narrowed with one-time funds, yet the university is mobilizing yet again for more demands, requests, meetings, and, some would say, begging, for a sufficient budget.

In stark contrast, however, others have argued that UConn is well-funded, a “drag” on the state, and that monies are wasted on mismanagement. Gov. Ned Lamont has noted that the level of state support is more than ever, while some have noted that UConn receives 16 percent of its budget from the state, while the percentage of state funding for budgets for universities like Michigan are in single digits.

What do the numbers say? According to the National Science Foundation, per student state support for higher education in Connecticut – when adjusted for inflation – decreased from $16,075 in 2001 to $12,344 by 2021. That is a decline of 23 percent.

Click here for recent reporting on faculty and student advocacy to resist budget cuts.

According to research from Lyle Scruggs, professor of political science and fellow UConn-AAUP member, the state’s block grant has significantly decreased since 2010, adjusted for inflation. At the start of fiscal year (FY) 2011, the block grant was $235.5 million. In the governor’s proposed budget for FY 25, it is $219.6 million. Cumulative inflation exceeded 40% in that period. This is over a 34% decrease.

Yet, if the block grant had increased in line with inflation, it would be $325 – over $25M more than the current request from UConn for FY 25.

Click here for additional reporting on faculty demands for better choices by the Board of Trustees.

The two newest schools categorized as peer institutions, University of North Carolina and University of Kansas, have state support at 18 percent and 16 percent respectively – in line with UConn’s level. However, the endowments at these schools are many times higher than UConn’s, at over $5 billion and $2.3 billion. These endowments compare to Michigan’s $17.8 billion. In stark contrast, UConn’s endowment sits around $600 million.

What about faculty salaries? Since 2010, UConn faculty salaries increased slower than all but two peer institutions. Other Connecticut workers’ salaries increased at a rate over 20 percent faster than UConn full-time faculty salaries in that same period. Over 55 percent of UConn full-time faculty have real salary declines since September 2020, adjusted for cumulative inflation September 2020 to January 2024.

The unequivocal facts are that UConn has been confronted with austerity measures intermittently for the last 15 years, beginning with the Great Recession. Salary freezes, rescissions, furloughs have targeted UConn employees and other state workers, stagnating wages and constricting resources.

Click here for Scruggs’ recent commentary on state officials’ failure to prioritize workforce recruitment and retention.

Graduate programs have been pared down and contingent (adjuncts, in-residence) faculty hired to teach courses that would otherwise be taught from full-time tenure-system faculty who are expected to research, publish, secure grants, and engage their respective disciplines in a manner commensurate with a research intensive or “Research-1” university, which is UConn’s categorization.

Can the state afford to do better? Note that these real decreases in resources from the state, and proposed cuts, are not unfolding due to a financial downturn or recession. In fact, the state had so much money in recent years that it exceeded the legal amount permitted in the Rainy Day Fund. Budget surpluses since 2017 exceeded $10 billion.

These funds could have been used to fill gaps that remain after years of parsimony and austerity. Between 2010 and 2023, there was a 4.6 percent increase in real per capita income in Connecticut, an increase of nearly 43 percent, if not adjusted for inflation. In 2022, Connecticut topped all states but Massachusetts in per capita income. Unemployment rates in Connecticut are at a low of 3.8 percent.

Click here for reporting on the governor’s budget proposals for FY 2024-25.

What is at stake? It is impossible for UConn to be a world-renowned university if it is forced to bear devastating budget reductions. Ninety-eight percent of the budget in UConn’s largest school or college – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) – is salary. It does not have the anticipated 15 percent to cut, unless it eliminates graduate programs, phases out graduate fellowships, ends research accounts, closes labs, and curtails hiring.

UConn cannot attract world-class scholars who innovate in labs, produce award-winning books, award-winning art, secure patents in engineering, and science, and train thousands of the next generation’s leaders by reducing its capacity to do the critical work.

Click here for photos from union members’ recent “teach-in” on UConn’s inadequate budget.

The people of Connecticut deserve better for their higher education. We can do better. In one of the richest states in one of the richest countries in history, restricting critical resources to higher education is wrong-headed, un-wise, unfair and destabilizing to the fundamental mission of the state’s flagship university. Support higher education with a real budget that does not demand that UConn – as well as other public institutions – will be required to suffer the repeating travails of protests and demands for sufficient resources to do the critical work that the people of our state deserve.

Click here for Ogbar’s original published commentary in CT Viewpoints.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connorhttp://aftct.org
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.
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