The Constitution State: <br>How an Unfavored Group <br>Must Settle for Euphemisms

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The New York Sun

Another Connecticut public college official has hit the jackpot, this time Michael Gargano, provost for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, who seems to have resigned in a dispute with Board of Regents President Gregory Gray over the system’s development plans.

Mr. Gargano was earning $225,000 annually and will be kept on the payroll for 16 weeks, worth another $69,000, in exchange for his promise not to say anything bad about his former employer. At first the arrangement was denied by the spokesman for the college system but the contract confirming it was unearthed by the Connecticut Mirror news service.

Confronted about having misled everyone, the college spokesman retreated to the non sequitur of government bureaucracies everywhere: The provost’s departure supposedly can’t be discussed because it’s a personnel matter — as if most of government isn’t a personnel matter and as if government officials don’t discuss personnel when it is favorable.

This arrogant nonsense continues only because Governor Malloy, who purports to be the most hands-on governor in the state’s history and who appoints the college trustees, is indifferent to it and is never questioned about it by state legislators or news organizations, though sometimes legislators criticize it in statements carefully aimed anywhere but at the governor.

A General Assembly that had more self-respect than hunger to share in the feast at the government trough might call a public hearing on this, inquiring particularly into whether the deal with the former provost forbids him to tell the truth even to the legislature.

In any case the higher education bureaucracy and the state employees were big parts of the coalition that re-elected the governor and the General Assembly’s Democratic majority last month, so four more years of feasting and concealment must be expected.

* * *

Interviewed the other day by the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper, the Daily Campus, UConn President Susan Herbst noted that public college presidents are spending less time on campus and more time traveling and socializing to solicit donations to their schools.

Herbst attributed it to a decline in state government appropriations for the colleges, though the financial pressures also result from administrative empire building and refusal to restrain personnel costs.

But that private donations are funding an ever-larger share of public college budgets is more reason to require transparency about private fundraising and to repeal the UConn Foundation’s exemption from Connecticut’s freedom-of-information law, an exemption that allows donor identities to be concealed.

When appropriations for state agencies are public, the reasons for them can be discerned and accountability can be exacted. But private appropriations for public colleges may come with hidden conditions; donors may want favors or influence, as some donors to the UConn Foundation have wanted influence and have exercised it. A public university should answer to the public, not secret donors.

* * *

Last month this column lamented Governor Malloy’s budget cuts targeting groups that are especially needy and without political influence — the mentally ill and retarded. Two state representatives wrote a letter complaining that “retarded” was uttered, now that children treat it as a slang term of disparagement. Indeed, there is a national campaign to banish even the most clinical use of the word.

And yet the two state representatives seem not to have protested the budget cuts themselves even as about 3,000 retarded adult children of aging parents long have been waiting for placement in group homes that are yet to be established, perhaps state government’s most disgraceful failure.

For state government finds money for nearly everything except the group homes. It figures that the retarded and their parents can settle for euphemisms.

Mr. Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer at Manchester, Conn.

The New York Sun

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