UConn gets a boss, 'lower' education struggles

Maybe Thomas C. Katsouleas will make a great president of the University of Connecticut. His appointment this week was announced with all the hyperbole the university and Governor Lamont could muster.

Katsouleas has been executive vice president of the University of Virginia, which is said to be a major "research institution," and he told UConn's Board of Trustees that he aims to "grow research" here too. Translated from the academese, this means relieving more professors of the grubby work of mere teaching. The trustees approved.

The trustees have given Katsouleas a five-year contract worth about $700,000 a year, more than four times the salary available to the governor for running the whole state, a stipend reflecting higher education's opinion of itself.

As did his predecessor, Susan Herbst, who is transitioning to a cozy professorship at UConn's Stamford campus in preparation for a spectacular state pension, Katsouleas comes to UConn with no connection to Connecticut or special knowledge of the state. Maybe the trustees and the governor are just thrilled to discover that anybody wants to come here, but they shouldn't be, since so many state government salaries are excessive.

Why are the trustees and the governor apparently never sufficiently impressed by any accomplished person with a record in Connecticut's public life, someone whose qualifications for the presidency of the state's flagship university might also be evaluated by state residents themselves, someone for whom the honor of the office might be more important than the potential for topping up a pension?

If part of its mystique is to make the locals feel inadequate, higher education is not just too expensive but a racket as well. Really, what's so impressive about Virginia these days now that its governor has been exposed as a world-class bozo? Who wouldn't want to get out of Virginia right now?

In any case higher education isn't Connecticut's biggest educational problem. Lower education is. But that hasn't stopped Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz from joining the fantasy that is sweeping Connecticut's Democratic Party now that it has gained absolute control of state government. Many Democrats are dreaming about all sorts of free stuff, from medical insurance to paid family leave.

At a forum the other day at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Bysiewicz endorsed making attendance at the state's community colleges free. Of course her administration has not yet even proposed a state budget that will close the huge projected deficit. So the deficit will be a problem with Bysiewicz's idea, unless she suggests that community college teachers and administrators should work for free.

At the same forum House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, noted that despite the belief that there are not enough jobs in Connecticut, the state's manufacturing companies say they have 20,000 openings. The manufacturers long have been complaining that Connecticut's schools aren't producing enough qualified job applicants. This is no mystery, since, because of the state's policy of social promotion in lower education, most high school graduates never master high school work but are graduated anyway, with many promoted to community college only to take remedial courses there.

Elementary education is already free, but much is negated by social promotion, which won't produce qualified applicants for anything. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

 

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