State officials and manufacturing executives recently gathered at Pratt & Whitney’s East Hartford headquarters as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a $2 billion plan to position the University of Connecticut as one of the country’s top public research institutions.
Flanked by towering Pratt & Whitney-built jet engines, Malloy detailed a proposal to invest in new facilities and renovations, more than 250 new faculty, new dormitories and an expansion of multiple academic disciplines across UConn’s Hartford, Stamford and Storrs campuses over a decade.
“As great as UConn is … it needs facilities that are world-class to bring additional research to be done in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said at the Jan. 31 unveiling of his “Next Generation Connecticut” initiative. “In the absence of that research, it’s done someplace else, and the spinoff opportunities, the monetization, the creation of new products happen in other places rather than here.”
Malloy concluded, “What we need to do to reinvigorate Connecticut’s economy is think big, because we spend far too much time thinking small.”
However, the plan has already come under fire with a top Republican in the state legislature questioning its timing given the projected $2.5 billion budget deficit facing the state for its 2014 and 2015 fiscal years.
“The state’s finances are perilous at best because of massive debt, high unemployment, vanishing cash reserves and diminishing revenues and now we get an unclear proposal to borrow even more money on things such as scholarships and teacher salaries,” said state House Republican Leader Larry Cafero in a Feb. 1 statement. “This gets labeled as an ‘investment’ in our future. Right now we can’t afford the present.”
Under the proposal, which was included as part of Malloy’s Feb. 6 budget, the state would issue bonds for $1.54 billion in capital upgrades and would invest another $137 million in the university’s continuing operations, such as the expansion of various academic departments.
The university’s contribution would include $235 million for capital improvements that would be redirected from funds already allocated by the UConn 2000 plan, which was launched in 1995. UConn would also spend $149 million as part of plans to expand its academic offerings.
Proposed changes to the Stamford campus include the creation of a School of Fine Arts and Digital Design & Media, the expansion of the existing School of Business programs in financial management and risk management and the construction of the campus’s first dormitories.
Over the course of the 10-year investment, enrollment at the Stamford campus would increase by 1,500 and 35 new faculty would be hired.
“The Stamford campus is a gem for UConn,” said Susan Herbst, the university’s president, at the Jan. 31 press conference. “There are tremendous needs at the Stamford campus … we can expand, we can take a lot more students, and we want to expand in the area of digital media in particular down there because that’s a great need.”
The comments seemed to represent an abrupt turnaround for Herbst, who just six months ago called Stamford “a remote campus” in relation to the diversity of subjects offered at Storrs.
Last July, speaking at a meeting of the Business Council of Fairfield County and subsequently on WNPR’s “Where We Live” radio show, Herbst said UConn had approached developers about the potential for student housing in Stamford but that no formal requests for proposals were in the works.
“We can’t start to dissipate all of our resources across campuses,” Herbst told WNPR. “None of the campuses except Storrs are to be full-service. They need to have particular brands and niches.”
A UConn spokeswoman said the plan changed when Malloy approached Herbst and university administrators to inquire what resources they needed to play a major role in improving the state’s economy.
“At the time she spoke that was accurate — we did not have plans to add student housing,” said Stephanie Reitz.
Reitz said, “It’s been recognized for a long time that it was a need (in Stamford) and that it would benefit UConn,” but added that the funds just weren’t available.
The “Next Generation Connecticut” proposal began to take shape after a recent visit by Malloy to the Storrs campus.
“We brought the governor over to our dilapidated science and technology buildings on campus to show him that we needed capital investment,” Herbst said at the Jan. 31event. “We wanted to show him that we needed help to build these labs and these classrooms so that we could attract better faculty and students. And he said, as he often does, ‘Is that it? You can’t dream bigger than that?’”
Herbst called the proposal “a transformational investment in any university” and said it could help the region to become more like North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle.
Other elements include the relocation of UConn’s Hartford campus to the downtown and hundreds of millions of dollars for the expansion of the school’s STEM facilities and disciplines.
The plan aims to increase total undergraduate enrollment by 6,580, or 30 percent, and to boost the university’s pool of graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — fields by 47 percent.
To accommodate the expansion, 259 new faculty would be hired in addition to 290 new faculty in UConn’s current faculty hiring plan.
Malloy said that over the next 10 years, the expansion is expected to attract $270 million in research grant dollars, spur $527 million in business activity and result in the creation of 30,000 construction jobs and more than 4,000 permanent jobs in Connecticut.
At the initial press conference, Malloy said tuition would not be raised to finance the plan, but offered few other details as to how the state would pay for the expansion.
“We are under our bonded cap. We’re going to stay under our bonded cap,” Malloy said.
Malloy was joined by the top Democrats in the state Senate and state House of Representatives and executives from United Technologies Corp. units Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in endorsing the plan.
“Here at Pratt & Whitney and across United Technologies, we understand the importance of investing in education and in the development of a highly skilled and talented workforce,” said Bennett Croswell, president of military engines at Pratt & Whitney.