UConn

Chris Powell: Avoiding teaching at UConn; Kansas vs. Conn.; why the 'buffoon' won

Main quad of the flagship campus, in Storrs, of the University of Connecticut.

Main quad of the flagship campus, in Storrs, of the University of Connecticut.


At least some Republicans are refraining from the gush that usually insulates the University of Connecticut from scrutiny of its budget and political correctness. UConn President Susan Herbst's plan to retire for a teaching position early next year has prompted not just reflexive praise for her administration but also criticism of the university's financial excesses, particularly at the ever-troubled UConn Health Center in Farmington.

State government long has been reducing its subsidy to the university, causing it to raise tuition, and while UConn's facilities have improved greatly, fair questions abound, starting with administrative staff and salaries. But similar questions should be asked about instructional staff.

UConn prides itself on being a "research" university, the euphemism for a school where professors don't have to get their hands dirty teaching mere undergraduates, work that can be delegated to less expert and untenured instructors.

How much teaching are professors at UConn really doing, and is the state better served by their doing "research" instead? UConn seems never to have answered the question, perhaps because governors and legislators have never asked it.

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EVEN KANSAS MIGHT BE A STEP UP: "Conservative businessman" Bob Stefanowski, as he styles himself in his television commercials, implicitly recognizing that no one ever heard of him, hasn't even qualified for the primary for the Republican nomination for governor. But the other day the Democratic Governors Association criticized him exclusively among the many Republican candidates.

Stefanowski had boasted in a commercial that his state budget plan had been developed in part by the economist Arthur Laffer, who had advised President Reagan. The DGA scoffed: "Conveniently Stefanowski forgot to tell voters about another one of Laffer's more recent credentials: chief architect of the Kansas budget disaster."

Yes, Kansas isn't doing well under Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican. But Connecticut seems to be doing even worse, especially since Kansas never had the advantages Connecticut had before its government employee unions took over.

If the budget plan of an obscure candidate is the worst thing the DGA can cite about Republicans here, maybe Connecticut really has a chance of political change.

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ISN'T THERE SOMETHING IN BETWEEN?: Venal, crude and stupid as the Trump administration can be, it may be most damaging not for any particular policy but for giving the impression that what it offers are the only alternatives to the failures and corruption of the liberalism that has been the country's political ethos since the 1960s.

Many people sense those failures and that corruption at least vaguely. That's why Hillary Clinton could not carry three ordinarily Democratic states in the 2016 election, losing  many working-class voters and forfeiting the presidency to someone who strikes many people as a megalomanical buffoon. But so many liberals now are on the government payroll that liberals are incapable of considering whether anything that passes as liberal policy might be mistaken.

As the Democratic nominee for governor of California in 1934, the socialist Upton Sinclair titled his platform "End Poverty in California." Big money was against him and he was defeated, causing him to observe that it's hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Though Sinclair's side is in charge of Connecticut now, it is even harder here.

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

 

Chris Powell: At UConn the fascism of political correctness


Everyone except, apparently, the administration of the University of Connecticut could see coming what happened in a lecture hall there last week. The script is a cliche and UConn let itself be stereotyped by it.

First the College Republicans plotted a provocation, inviting a hyperbolic young "conservative" agitator to speak to them on campus. He obligingly selected a topic calculated to prompt indignation from the university's Stalinist left -- "It's OK to Be White" -- recognizing that the Stalinists would protest and try to obstruct his presentation, thereby giving him his 15 minutes of fame.

Having at least noticed similar confrontations and disruptions at other institutions of "higher education," UConn stationed police officers in the lecture hall. But the university failed to caution people planning to attend that disruptions would not be permitted.

The Stalinists dutifully packed the hall and discovered that disruptions were permitted. As soon as the speaker began his remarks, the Stalinists chanted and shouted to prevent him from being heard. If he advocated any oppression, journalistic reports did not note it. For amid the disruption he could hardly get started. He had provoked the fascist reaction he was meant to provoke -- and then it got better.

One of the Stalinists -- not a student but a state employee from Quinnebaug Valley Community College -- walked up to the podium, swiped some of the speaker's papers, and walked away, prompting the speaker to chase after her and grab her around the neck to recover his papers. 

The police who couldn't be bothered to remove the disrupters or protect the podium broke up the tussle and arrested the speaker but not the woman who swiped his papers. Having achieved martyrdom, the speaker was thrilled.

Whereupon university President Susan Herbst, Connecticut state government's million-dollar woman, issued a hand-wringing statement lamenting the affair without actually taking sides against the Stalinists, who, after all, seem to constitute a majority of the university's faculty and students, as they do at most universities lately.

Maybe the incident will raise two issues in court: whether it is legal to try to prevent someone from stealing your stuff, and whether it is legal to steal someone's stuff when he is preaching "hate" and thereby causing you "pain," the rationale claimed by the Stalinists.

Who is to decide when speech becomes "hate" and causes impermissible pain? Of course that is to be decided by the people who don't like what is being said. They claim the power to trump the First Amendment, which almost a century ago Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. understood to protect "the principle of free thought -- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate."

A century ago free thought and speech were principles of the political left, especially in academia, but not anymore, now that the political left has gained control of it. 

Connecticut hardly needs its flagship university to coddle the fascism of political correctness. If the university cannot defend free thought and speech and instead will stand by helplessly as the political extremes spoil for violence, Connecticut can save a lot of money by forgoing public "higher education" entirely and instead trying to teach manners and the First Amendment in the primary schools. 

That's where people already are supposed to learn to ignore those who make faces at you, thus declining to give nobodies the attention they crave.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

 

Chris Powell: Hartford has run out of options; time for bankruptcy

Last week's conviction of a developer who defrauded Hartford city government of a million dollars in the guise of building a soccer stadium should crush the city's efforts to obtain more financial aid from state government so that the city can avoid bankruptcy.

The soccer stadium scandal echoes Hartford's recent baseball stadium scandal, in which city government spent about $80 million to get the stadium done a year late and 60 percent over budget even as the city was going broke. So it may not have been entirely coincidental that just as the jury in the fraud case delivered its verdict, Mayor Luke Bronin announced that the city has engaged a bankruptcy law firm to pursue the city's options.

Yes, Hartford's financial condition is not the mayor's fault. He is new to the job and he has not just been seeking $40 million more from state government; he also has asked state government to establish a commission to supervise the city's finances. Neither request has been granted, the first because state government's financial position is as bad as the city's. But no matter, since more state money won't make Hartford competent politically and administratively. That's because the city lacks the prerequisite of such competence -- a large, independent middle class of people who are not on government's own payroll.

As a result city government has grown far bigger than the civic virtue available to manage it in the public interest. On top of that, Mayor Bronin's diagnosis of Hartford's basic problem is mistaken. The mayor argues that the city is hobbled financially because half its land is occupied by government or nonprofit institutions and thus exempt from city property taxes. But state government already compensates for that by reimbursing half the city's budget. Further, even as the mayor complains about property-tax exemption, he celebrates the imminent relocation of the University of Connecticut's West Hartford branch to the former Hartford Times building downtown, which will keep still more property off the tax rolls.

The mayor celebrates UConn's move because the tax-exempt government and nonprofit operations bring the city thousands of jobs and much commerce and thereby give huge support to the taxable valuation of the remaining property in the city. Indeed, this is the rationale used by the mayor's former boss, Gov. Dannel Malloy, for awarding state tax breaks to big companies just for staying put

For decades state government has poured ever-larger amounts of money into Hartford only to worsen the city's poverty and corruption. State policy has done the same to Connecticut's other cities. Maybe different policies might do better, but state government cannot even recognize its failure, so there is no chance of different policies.

So what Hartford needs most is just to stop pretending that spending more money makes things better and, instead, to slash its financial obligations to match its resources. This can be accomplished only by bankruptcy, a court-ordered cancellation of the city's big debts, primarily those to its employees and retirees as well as the bondholders who long have enabled the city's mismanagement, confident that state government would always underwrite any amount of exploitation and stupidity in Hartford.

Mayor Bronin has failed to obtain necessary concessions from most city employee unions, but given the depth of Hartford's disaster, he shouldn't have to ask permission from the unions to do what must be done. Only bankruptcy can set things right.

 Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Storm modeling for New England

Hurricane Bob approaching New England on Aug. 19, 1991.

Hurricane Bob approaching New England on Aug. 19, 1991.

From the blog of our friend Jim Brett, president of the New England Council (NEC):

"NEC member Eversource recently announced it will add Plymouth (N.H.) State University to its partnership with the University of Connecticut to improve the predictive weather modeling systems development at the Eversource Energy Center at UConn.

"Eversource will work with the two universities to develop storm modeling and damage forecasting systems designed for the New England climate. The systems will complement the Eversource Energy Center at UConn’s current power outage prediction modeling system and allow utility companies to distribute resources appropriately across the country and region in preparation to damages to an electric grid from storms.

“We are trying to improve the reliability and resilience of the entire electric grid, basically for New England. We’re trying to predict in advance what a particular weather pattern is going to do to our electric grid and the impact it will all have on our customers,” said Bill Quinlan, Eversource’s President of Operations in New Hampshire.

"The New England Council congratulates Eversource on the new collaboration that will continue to improve service to Eversource and other utility customers throughout New England.''

Chris Powell: At UConn: Donor conflicts, coddled students

  MANCHESTER, Conn.

Does the University of Connecticut surreptitiously give favors to people who donate to the UConn Foundation? Is that why the university wants to keep concealing the identities of most donors?

Increasingly there is reason to think so. A few years ago a big donor to the foundation, resentful that UConn's athletic director did not take his orders about the football team, got him fired. This month the Journal Inquirer reported on business connections between the university and another big donor, former United Technologies Corp. President Karl J. Krapek.

Krapek is a partner in a company that eight years ago proposed building housing near the university in Storrs, before the UConn Foundation's exemption from state freedom-of-information law became controversial. The university approved the Krapek project's request to use UConn's overburdened water and sewer systems. The state auditors criticized UConn for not putting the rights out to bid.

Back then the university was also lauding Krapek for having given $500,000 to the foundation. Last year UConn President Susan Herbst proposed naming a room in the new basketball training center for Krapek, his donations having reached $1 million.

Neighbors oppose the housing project, it seems to be fading away, and Krapek's partner denies any connection between the water and sewer rights and Krapek's donations. But even if UConn's gratitude for Krapek's donations did not facilitate the water and sewer rights, this case establishes that there are business dealings between the university and donors to its foundation.

So do such donors gain influence over contracts with the university, university hiring, and student admissions? Do donors influence university policy in other ways?

These are fair and serious concerns and cannot be addressed unless donations to the foundation become public record as a matter of law. Secrecy breeds corruption. Transparency discourages it. UConn says it is protecting donors to the foundation by concealing their identities. But people who want to support the university for the right reasons will not fear being identified and accountable. Concealing donations to its foundation, UConn is protecting only its ability to do in secret what it would not do in public.

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In any case being a university administrator amid Connecticut's oppressive political correctness isn't easy. It seems to require suffering fools all the time.

The other day, according to The Hartford Courant, a couple of dozen students attended a meeting of UConn's Board of Trustees, some wearing duct tape over their mouths, illustrating their claim that they had been silenced, though others among them carried signs and spoke to the board and the only ones who had been silenced had silenced themselves.

The students' grievances:

  • A photography exhibit about sexual orientation had been vandalized, as is half the public property in Connecticut isn't as well.
  • A "spirit rock" on which the slogan "Black Lives Matter" had been painted was painted over to read only "Lives Matter," as if that might not have been a counter-protest with a legitimate thought.
  • Students who look "stereotypically gay" are stared at, as if purple hair and piercings aren't meant to be noticed and as if even cats can't look at kings.
  • Anonymous people make racist comments on social media, as if many disgraceful things aren't said anonymously and as if anyone can do anything about it in a free country.

UConn's vice president of student affairs, Michael Gilbert, coddled the students, telling them: "We do want to hear you and we are seeking engagement to understand your perspective." And yet within living memory people in authority in Connecticut would tell pouty, self-absorbed children: "Oh, grow up."

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: The Conn. higher-education racket

MANCHESTER, Conn. Hearing complaints the other week about the supposed affront to higher education in  Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget proposal, the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee may have set a record for obliviousness.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst -- benefactor of a $251,000 honorarium to Hillary Clinton and fresh from a $300,000 raise on top of her $500,000 salary, which accompanies use of two mansions, one in Storrs and one in Hartford -- pleaded the university's poverty and warned that everything the university does might be impaired by the budget. No one on the committee asked Herbst about those grotesque expenses.

Coming along in tow were dozens of UConn students, including a women's varsity basketball player, who all knew that they didn't want to sacrifice anything, who apparently thought that somebody else somewhere does want to sacrifice, and who made no more helpful suggestions than Herbst did.

No one on the committee asked Herbst or the students if they could provide information about instructor course loads and staff salary and benefit increases at UConn or whether the university's refusal to accept oversight by the state Contracting Standards Board might get in the way of saving money.

The whole racket of public higher education in Connecticut was inadvertently exposed at the hearing by Gregory W. Gray, president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, which purports to run Connecticut's four lesser universities, whose chief executives are paid only in the $350,000-$400,000 range, just 2½ times what the governor is paid for running the whole state. (Herbst soon will be making more than five times as much as the governor.)

Gray seemed most upset that the governor's budget neglected to appropriate for remedial education for university students -- that is, students admitted to college without ever mastering high school work, though they have been given high school diplomas anyway, academic standards in high school having been abolished.

Five years ago a state survey found that two-thirds of the university system's freshmen had to take remedial math or English courses or both. While the General Assembly and governor were horrified by this, they enacted legislation not to fix the problem but to hide it -- to outlaw remedial math and English courses and require university instructors to provide remedial help to students individually, so that there might never again be such a revealing survey.

No one on the committee questioned the premise and policy that everyone in Connecticut should be given a college education at public expense even if he has failed high school.

Nor was Gray questioned about his board's recent promotion to full professor of a Central Connecticut State University teacher while he was in jail and the university's persistence in that promotion despite his subsequent arrests and general irresponsibility.

Of course nothing better could be expected of Herbst and Gray, self-serving bureaucrats reflexively defending their burgeoning empires. It's their job, at least as they see it.

But a few critical questions from legislators on the committee might have made an impression on some of the students and encouraged them to aspire to become more than they were that day, mere props and tools for the government class.

Indeed, a few critical questions from legislators also might have made an impression on the news reporters who attended the hearing, prompting them to convey to the public more than the bureaucrats' predictable whining, to convey some of the choices that are made in state government all the time without ever being articulated --  such as salaries vs. services, actual learning vs. mere self-esteem, and efficiency in government vs. the educational inflation caused by the collapse of standards, whereby Connecticut now pays for 16 years of education but doesn't receive what it once got from 12.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, based in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Clinton's vast fee and UConn Foundation slush fund

  MANCHESTER, Conn.

Hillary Clinton,  ex-presidential spouse, former U.S. senator, secretary of state and likely presidential candidate, came to the University of Connecticut a few weeks ago and prattled about equality -- for which the university's foundation paid her $251,000.

As the extraordinary speaking fee has come under criticism, the university's defense has been that Clinton wasn't paid with state tax money or even with the university's own, that the foundation used money donated for a speakers program by a family in New Haven with various business interests. This defense is pathetic:

-- While the foundation is nominally separate from the university, it consists largely of university administrators and former students and the university pays it $8 million a year for fundraising. The foundation does nothing  that the administration doesn't want it to do.

-- The foundation exists only to use the university's name and to support its mission. If the foundation does something that can be defended only by purporting to separate the foundation from the university and state taxpayers, it disparages the university as well.

-- Somebody at UConn decided that paying Clinton $251,000 for one banal presentation was better than paying $50,000 each for five lecturers or $25,000 each for 10 or $5,000 each for 50. Since UConn President Susan Herbst spent much time on the stage in conversation with Clinton, it's a fair assumption that the decision ultimately was Herbst's and that her vanity figured in it.

-- Exactly for whom was it better for UConn to use all that money for just one speaker? Was it better for UConn's students, to whom the event was limited, giving them a look at the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, as if presidential candidates don't eventually hold many campaign events in public?

Or was it better mainly for the university administration, Connecticut's Democratic state administration, and Fusco family business interests, all of which got to ingratiate themselves with someone who has a good chance of becoming president, just as investment houses like Goldman Sachs and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts have ingratiated themselves with Clinton, paying millions to her and her family's foundation as advance bribes?

After The Washington Post reported this month that she recently had taken extravagant speaking fees from eight universities, including UConn, Clinton told ABC News that she had donated all the money to her family's foundation, "so it goes from a foundation at a university to another foundation."

That is, the money went from a foundation Clinton did not control to a foundation whose disbursements she  can control, a foundation she can staff with her friends and campaign associates, a foundation that can be used in part as political patronage.

Clinton's speaking fee at UConn is still more evidence that the UConn Foundation is largely a slush fund for university officials, the mechanism by which they get to do what they wouldn't dare do with official government money.

Before the foundation paid Clinton's extravagant fee, it was employing two presidents at once, the old one being paid nearly a half million dollars per year while the salary of the new one was kept secret; it was spending $600,000 to buy a mansion in Hartford for Herbst so she might continue to schmooze and overawe state officials when inviting them to the president's mansion on the Storrs campus a half hour away might seem too burdensome; and it was even paying for Governor Malloy's international travel.

The foundation should be deprived of its exemption from Connecticut's freedom-of-information law and its board should be separated from university officials and made more independent.

Or else the foundation should start offering Republican presidential candidates a quarter million dollars to speak. At least some of  them might be politically incorrect and thus interesting or even outrageous rather than merely banal and corrupt.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.