Stakes high for next UConn pres­i­dent

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Linda Con­ner Lam­beck

Who­ever be­comes the next gov­er­nor will not only be ex­pected to fix the state’s fis­cal mess, but also weigh in on the next pres­i­dent of its flag­ship univer­sity.

While some might say solv­ing the econ­omy is tougher, oth­ers main­tain the tasks are nearly equal — and in­ter­twined.

“Hir­ing a flag­ship univer­sity pres­i­dent is a big deal,” said Terry Har­tle, a vice pres­i­dent at the Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tion. “The stakes are high.”

Har­tle, as well as a num­ber of the state’s gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates, say the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut can and should play a role in the state’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

Although it will be up to the UConn board of trustees to make the fi­nal call, the board is ex­pected to con­sult with the out­go­ing and in­com­ing gov­er­nor, as the ex-of­fi­cio head of the board of trustees, in keep­ing with past prac­tice.

Those ea­ger to be gov­er­nor rel­ish the thought of chim­ing in.

“The per­son we hire (as UConn pres­i­dent) has to rec­og­nize the state of Con­necti­cut is not an un­lim­ited spigot of cash,” said Danbury Mayor Mark

Boughton, the Repub­li­ca­nen­dorsed can­di­date for gov­er­nor.

“UConn is im­por­tant,” said Ned La­mont, the Demo­cratic-en­dorsed can­di­date. “I know how im­por­tant the right univer­sity pres­i­dent can be to­ward eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and job cre­ation . ... I think we could be do­ing bet­ter.”


Su­san Herbst, UConn’s 15th and first fe­male pres­i­dent, an­nounced she will leave the role in July 2019 af­ter serv­ing eight years.

“Step­ping down was not an easy de­ci­sion for me, by any means,” Herbst said. “But a univer­sity is for­ever, and each of us knows that we are only its tem­po­rary care­tak­ers and cham­pi­ons. None of us are in­dis­pens­able and the right time for a change al­ways ar­rives even­tu­ally.”

Her change will not be to leave the univer­sity, but rather shift roles, be­com­ing a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at UConn-Stam­ford once she steps down as pres­i­dent.

Her ten­ure co­in­cides with that of de­part­ing Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy, who in 2010 tasked her with build­ing UConn’s aca­demic strength, fu­el­ing eco­nomic growth and el­e­vat­ing its place in Amer­i­can higher ed­u­ca­tion. De­spite di­min­ished state fi­nan­cial sup­port, Herbst said she ac­com­plished the task.

Pro­grams in bio­science, busi­ness and en­gi­neer­ing have ex­panded and at­tracted busi­ness part­ner­ships, in­cu­ba­tion start-ups and in­vest­ments.

En­roll­ment, the num­ber of tenured fac­ulty and the en­dow­ment have grown. Re­search dol­lars re­main strong and the univer­sity’s na­tional promi­nence has risen.

In 2010, the year be­fore Herbst ar­rived, UConn was ranked 26th among pub­lic re­search uni­ver­si­ties, ac­cord­ing to U.S. News & World Re­port. It is now 18th best out of 132 in­sti­tu­tions na­tion­wide.

“Su­san Herbst has been a tremen­dously ef­fec­tive leader for this univer­sity,” UConn board Chair­man Thomas Kruger said.

Lawrence D. McHugh, who served as board chair­man from 2009 through 2017, called Herbst a tough act to fol­low.

De­pends on who you ask

Tim Herbst, a for­mer Trum­bull first select­man and Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor, has been highly crit­i­cal of the UConn pres­i­dent, call­ing her ten­ure one marked by bud­get mis­man­age­ment and tinged by pol­i­tics.

“I do feel her com­mit­ment to ex­pand­ing UConn’s vi­sion be­yond coun­tries’ borders was no­ble. I do be­lieve she cares about stu­dents,” Tim Herbst said. “But I am both­ered by the pol­i­tics that in­jected it­self into her ten­ure on more than one oc­ca­sion.”

Herbst was up­set when Pres­i­dent Su­san Herbst — the two are not re­lated — stood with Mal­loy on the Avery Point cam­pus to “at­tack a Repub­li­can se­na­tor over (po­ten­tial) bud­get cuts” in 2017. He said he was irked that UConn de­clared it­self a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus to un­doc­u­mented stu­dents and when the univer­sity cut ties with a radio sta­tion that had con­ser­va­tive broad­casts.

If elected gov­er­nor, Tim Herbst said he would not only want to weigh in on the se­lec­tion of the next UConn pres­i­dent, but re­place the UConn board with mem­bers who un­der­stand that tax­pay­ers’ wal­lets are not bot­tom­less pits.

He said he has can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in mind, but won’t say who they are.

Guy Smith, a Green­wich ex­ec­u­tive who plans to pri­mary as a Demo­crat, said he wouldn’t mind if the next UConn pres­i­dent came from within the state.

“We need an ed­u­ca­tor and a re­searcher, some­one who can raise money and work with the Leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor,” Smith said.

The right can­di­date, Smith said, might har­ness the univer­sity’s in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal to help solve the state’s fis­cal is­sues.

Steve Ob­sit­nik, a Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date for gov­er­nor from West­port, said he wants a leader who is fo­cused on grow­ing the state’s work­force.

“UConn needs a strong leader with not only ex­cel­lent aca­demic cre­den­tials, but who will col­lab­o­rate with the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor to help keep its many ta­lented grad­u­ates in Con­necti­cut,” Ob­sit­nik said.

La­mont, mean­while, sees UConn as key to the state’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.

He likes the job Herbst has done but ex­pects her suc­ces­sor to reach out even fur­ther to busi­ness lead­ers in the state, ex­pand ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams and more de­lib­er­ately line up aca­demic of­fer­ings with avail­able jobs.

Like most gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates, La­mont says UConn costs too much.

He wants the state to do more to nur­ture stu­dent loan for­give­ness pro­grams for stu­dents who go into teach­ing or other high­de­mand jobs in the state.

Boughton and Tim Herbst sug­gest UConn should lower its ex­penses by cut­ting high ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, start­ing with the pres­i­dent’s com­pen­sa­tion pack­age.

Boughton said he doesn’t un­der­stand how some­one whose com­pen­sa­tion tops $800,000 can have two res­i­dences, a car and a driver.

Stephanie Reitz, a univer­sity spokes­woman, said by con­tract the pres­i­dent must live in the pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence in Storrs. The UConn Foun­da­tion owns a house in Hart­ford that Su­san Herbst is ex­pected to use for fundrais­ing events and alumni en­gage­ments.

Her con­tract of­fers a state ve­hi­cle and driver or a $15,000 ve­hi­cle al­lowance funded by the UConn Foun­da­tion. She took the al­lowance and has her own car, Reitz said.

Har­tle, of ACE, called Herbst’s com­pen­sa­tion pack­age com­pa­ra­ble to pres­i­dents at other pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties.

What a prospec­tive univer­sity pres­i­dent will want

Har­tle said the job will at­tract a strong pool of can­di­dates de­spite the state’s con­tin­ued fis­cal woes.

“States are cut­ting sup­port ev­ery­where,” Har­tle said. “UConn is a first-rate re­search univer­sity with a very good story to tell.”

As much as gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­fuls will be eye­ing prospec­tive UConn pres­i­dents, any se­ri­ous can­di­date for the univer­sity pres­i­dent will be watch­ing the gov­er­nor’s race, Har­tle said.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “Any se­ri­ous can­di­date for a pub­lic univer­sity pres­i­dency will ask care­fully about the po­lit­i­cal con­text of the state govern­ment where the univer­sity is lo­cated. If not, don’t hire them.”

Tara O'Neill / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

A cou­ple strolls on the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut-Stam­ford cam­pus.


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