Connecticut Democrats Handed Over Community Colleges to Union Busters

As working-class youth, we are told that community colleges are an accessible way to get a start in life. Not in Connecticut. Here, the Democrats—and the capitalists they represent—have conspired to squeeze every last penny out of students and their education.

Back in 2017, the colleges were so underfunded that they were declared financially unstable, with two of the state’s twelve community colleges at risk of being permanently closed.

Democratic Governor Ned Lamont decided something needed to be done. So he did what any capitalist politician would do when money is tight and people are getting angry: He brought in a professional strikebreaker to carry out the necessary cuts.

Democrat Ned Lamont brought in a professional strikebreaker to preside over Connecticut’s community colleges. / Image: The Office of Governor Ned Lamont, Wikimedia Commons

The governor decided that David R. Jimenez—a lawyer for the notorious anti-student, anti-faculty union-busting firm, Jackson Lewis—was the man for the job. Before being appointed to preside over the Board of Regents, Jimenez got plenty of practice ruining workers’ lives during his time working with Fortune 500 companies. The New York Times called Jackson Lewis “one of the most aggressively anti-union law firms in the US.” Now he was given a new task: to treat the state college system as though it were a failing business.

And this is precisely what the regents have done. Although they have virtually no experience in the field of education, this group of unelected capitalists was entrusted with running an operation they called “Savings Through Attrition.” This was just a slick way of avoiding the more accurate term, “austerity.”

Many professors, faculty, and students could clearly see what this plan really entailed. However, anyone who spoke out was pushed aside or dismissed from their positions under shady circumstances, with new rules being written on the spot. All opposition was effectively silenced.

Meanwhile, students have watched the quality of their education plummet, while statewide tuition has spiked across all of the schools under the Board of Regents’ supervision, including state universities. When the state raised grant money for “students in need,” the regents saw this as an opportunity to raise tuition in direct proportion. As a result, students like me—who need to have our tuition fully covered—are only able to break even with tuition costs. Before the recent changes, I would have had $800 left over to cover the textbooks and supplies for my five classes. Instead, I now have to pay nearly $700 out of pocket for books and online class codes.

Nearly every full-time student I know who has their tuition fully covered with state assistance was in the same boat and had to pay out-of-pocket for their books and supplies. To add insult to injury, students learned that some campus bookstores were marking items up as high as 400%. Part-time students were also screwed over, as they usually have to pay more regardless and are now even more marginalized with these higher costs.

Despite the fact that this whole mess started “in order to save the two colleges that were at risk of closure,” those colleges are still at risk now that consolidation has been enacted. Far from solving the problem, the Board of Regents released a statement to the entire student body claiming that they had to lay off 6,500-plus staff and faculty across the 12 colleges on top of closing two campuses.

In short, the Connecticut community college system is operating the way a business would: lowering staff and increasing workload, maximizing profits while mitigating costs. The Democratic-appointed board is rubbing salt in the wound by cutting things like mental health services and tutoring which help hard-pressed students succeed.

The Board of Regents are lining their pockets with poor students’ money. / Image: Connecticut State Colleges & Universities

As bad as this is, it is only expected to get worse. Admission rates have already been plummeting and will probably continue to decrease if students cannot afford the overpriced supplies they need, don’t receive the help they need mentally or homework-wise, and especially if staff need to take on second jobs.

After carrying out their program of attacks, the Board of Regents had the nerve to suggest that if students wanted to stop the budget cuts, they could protest at the state capitol “wearing the school merchandise of the campus [you] reside in”—a cynical merchandising cash grab.

The only reason students and faculty are in this mess to begin with is because of the terrible policy and planning of the regents. They expect students to skip class and spend days down at the capitol protesting a crisis they themselves created. This is especially gross considering all of the people on the board are busy building multi-million dollar mansions up in northern Connecticut while ordinary state residents fight to make ends meet.

It is starting to feel like public higher education is dead for the poor in Connecticut. This is the reality facing working-class students under capitalism across the country. For now, the Board of Regents are lining their pockets with poor students’ money. But they’re also creating the future gravediggers of their system. The homepage of the Connecticut State Community College system features the slogan “Reach Higher, Go Further.” And we intend to do just that, by overthrowing the decrepit capitalist system that’s holding us back.

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