Editorial Big job ahead for UConn leader
In what will be one of the first major decisions under Gov. Ned Lamont’s new administration, the University of Connecticut is narrowing its choices as it seeks a president to succeed Susan Herbst.
According to the CT Mirror, a finalist for the job is Thomas C. Katsouleas, of the University of Virginia. The committee making the selection works in secret and the other two candidates are unknown, but Katsouleas appears to have the inside track, and could be named the winner as early as next week.
If that’s the case, he will take over a flagship university in a strong position nationally but facing plenty of questions, as well as a desire by the new governor for the school to take a more prominent role in economic development.
It’s the kind of initiative that shouldn’t be surprising from a businessman-turned-governor, and it could pay important dividends. Connecticut has famously lacked much good news on the economic front lately, and UConn is a bright spot in the state firmament. Bringing the university more closely into economic development planning, not only in Storrs but also at its regional campuses, is an idea with merit.
It’s at regional campuses that UConn has shown some forward thinking lately, introducing a residential component at its Stamford branch and moving its Hartford campus out of suburbia and into downtown. For a university that started as an agriculture school and whose main campus retains a distinctly rural feel, it’s been welcome to see it look to the cities as it grows.
And that’s where economic development comes into play. Connecticut doesn’t have a Boston or New York, but what it does have could be better utilized. The new vitality in Stamford is testament to that, and continued investment both in Hartford and Waterbury will help ensure that UConn is leading the way in getting the most out of our urban centers.
Then there’s the question of the athletics department. Sports is a big deal at UConn, especially basketball. But after being left behind in the great conference reshuffling of the past decade, UConn is now in a backwater league with teams like East Carolina and Central Florida. Fan interest has waned, TV money is down and, also not helpful, the football team has been historically terrible.
All that came together in a report this month that showed a $40 million-plus deficit for the athletic department, money that needs to be made up from elsewhere in the university’s budget. It’s not a tenable situation in the long term, and is something that will demand the attention of the next president. If Lamont has one demand for whoever takes over, it should be this: “Get us out of the AAC.”
Of course, there’s much more to the job than sports and development. The university has grown in prestige and enrollment, and represents a legitimate good-news story for Connecticut. The next president needs to keep that momentum going.