By JAMES MARCHESE
President of the Board of Regents for Higher Education Robert Kennedy has resigned amidst pressures from state legislators after improperly authorizing $262,206 in raises to the Board of Regents executive staff. State legislators also feared future reforms wouldn’t be carried out properly by him.
“I did not interpret that as a threat, I know some others did voice that opinion, but I did not,” said President David Levinson.
Kennedy was appointed to his position by Governor Dannel P. Malloy and was to be at the forefront of the new education reforms being implemented by the state. Malloy admits the recent actions taken by Kennedy have damaged Connecticut’s central office, but that over the past year he has made a lot of accomplishments and should be praised for his work.
Kennedy acknowledges the fact that he has erred on a couple things as of late, including the unwarranted raises and the meeting in which he offered the Connecticut community college presidents a “buyout.” Kennedy says these were unnecessary distractions to the new reforms coming to the state.
The meeting which took place on Sept. 24 left a few of the 12 Connecticut community college presidents feeling threatened and one was quoted as saying: “We are on the chopping block.”
President David Levinson stated that the meeting was only to give the college presidents an option to exercise their contractual rights if they found themselves in a situation where they couldn’t support the agenda being mandated by the state. The idea was to give the presidents an option to leave.
“The goal was to do it in the gentlest and kindest way, not outright terminate people. As a president that works for the state of Conn. if I said I am not going to implement this law I think I would and probably should be fired, to be quite honest,” said Levinson.
Levinson stated there really is no choice in the matter of carrying out the reforms required by the state, but that doesn’t mean your opinion can’t be heard. There will be many future discussions both on and off campus about the new legislation; feedback and ideas from whomever the legislation affects is necessary.
“Either you do it or you violate the law. Nobody says you have to go meekly and quietly and without being critical though,” said Levinson.
According to Laurel Peterson, English professor, there are problems present with the bill. The remediation centers that will be necessary for students in need of more intensive help have not been clearly planned out yet and there is no way to tell if they will be more successful at remediating than the courses offered now.
Peterson went on to say the state has forced community colleges to change their mission in order to pass this bill. Community colleges used to be open enrollment; now there are entrance requirements put on students. This creates a bigger divide between students who have had opportunities to succeed in the past and students who have not.
“A concern people have raised and a concern I have to is that we don’t want to forfeit the open access of community colleges. There are worries about students who do need to take a sequence of developmental studies,” said Levinson.
As stated in the legislation itself high schools won’t be required to meet requirements of the bill until two years after the colleges do. Levinson says 83 percent of students coming from Norwalk and Stamford high schools need at least one remedial course. Some of these students receive Pell Grants and other valuable state resources and aren’t receiving any college credits for classes they are enrolled in.
“Decisions get made at the legislative level by well-meaning people who don’t necessarily know how their ideas will be carried out. I think that legislation, especially in this economy, is being made for primarily fiscal, not educational, reasons,” said Peterson, English Professor.
There are also the concerns of students who can’t return to high school to reap the benefits of the future reforms and may need intensive remediation.
“I’m thirty-three years old, what about a person my age and older returning to college that needs remediation? I feel like they’re taking away our options,” said Mario Pena, student.
Levinson wants to assure everyone that the new legislation been written with the best intentions for all students. The idea is not to take away remediation entirely, but to have students earning college credits faster.
“What studies have shown is that if you embed remediation with something a student is interest in they’re going to perform a lot better. If there needs to be remediation let’s do it in a quicker more intensive fashion,” said Levinson.
Senate Bill 40 Public Act 12-20 (An Act for College Readiness) was initially proposed by The Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee and was signed into law on May 31, 2012 by Malloy.
“The idea of the bill is really to promote college readiness at both the college and high school and below level,” said Levinson.
Provost Pamela Edington stated if the bill should result in a greater attention being paid by all members of the education system to getting people the help they need then there should be an increase in student success at all levels. This legislation addresses an area that needs better answers.
“I believe in the importance of promoting excellence in public education,” said Edington.
According to Peterson the English department is working on a workshop class that would work in tandem with English 101. The class would be worth 3 credits and offer students extra help should they need any. The English department is also working to revamp the remedial courses they offer in accordance with the new bill.
“While there is much more to do, there are a lot of smart and dedicated people trying to make this legislation work for the benefit of our students,” said Edington.
Peterson stated that she is uncertain whether the new legislation will achieve what it aims to because that would require a crystal ball. Like all human endeavors though, there may be unintended results.
“They can try it sort of like an experiment, but if things don’t work out then I hope things go back to the way they used to be,” said Junior Louissaint, student.