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Tri-campus plan would offer four-year degrees

During his more than 30 years at UConn, Robinson Grover has often traveled from Hartford to Torrington to teach class. He takes the ride in stride.

Grover, a philosophy professor and president of UConn's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), may soon be driving between campuses with a mission, as may many of the other 60 or so professors who work at the Torrington, Waterbury, and Hartford regional campuses. The three campuses are pieces of a proposed Tri-Campus Initiative - an ambitious plan crafted by Grover and five other faculty members from the regional campuses, then fine-tuned in Storrs - that would cut administrative costs and provide students with the opportunity to earn four-year degrees while staying close to home.

"The idea of four-year degrees being offered at the regional campuses is something we all have looked forward to for a long time," Grover, a former Torrington campus director, says. "It's especially good for Litchfield County residents. There are no four-year programs available to us west of Hartford or north of Waterbury. And a lot of students who attend Torrington are bound here, by jobs or family," Grover says.

The plan, which by next September could bring nearly a dozen degree programs to the three campuses, springs from the University's strategic plan. A portion of the plan addressed the need to "develop the use of the regional campuses as centers that meet the needs of traditional and non-traditional students, part-time students and the community for degree-oriented programs, continuing education, and as centers for delivering University programs."

According to the proposal, administration at the three campuses would be restructured to make the delivery of instruction more efficient. Rather than appointing directors for each campus, there would be one director, based in Hartford, with overarching responsibility for scheduling and operations of the system. Each campus would maintain an associate director who would oversee day-to-day operations for that campus. Each associate director would also be the primary liaison between the campus and the director, and would act as an advocate and community relations coordinator for the campus, says Mark A. Emmert, chancellor and provost for university affairs.

Other professional staff services would remain the same or be enhanced, Emmert says. The proposal includes programs at all sites, with the schedule arranged to minimize commuting. The $50,000-$100,000 in anticipated savings would be used to bolster the University's academic offerings, he said.

Initially, four-year programs have been proposed in urban studies, English, computational mathematics, economics, environmental management, ethnic studies, history, liberal arts, sociology and women's studies. Without the consolidation, only the urban studies program, based at the West Hartford campus, had a faculty cohort capable of delivering the course work necessary for a four-year degree. But, by pooling faculty from all three campuses, the opportunity exists to deliver other four-year programs.

Grover says regional faculty are excited by the chance to teach upper division course work. And Daniel L. Landau, an economics professor at Waterbury, agrees that the plan was well enough crafted to gain the support of faculty at his campus.

"The students definitely want the chance to obtain their degrees at the regional campuses," Landau says. "A lot of them put in long hours at work, and they've always wanted the chance to finish here."

Landau points out that some faculty members, remembering previous discussions during the past 10-20 years about closing the campus, are nervous, he says. But President Philip E. Austin says they have nothing to fear.

"There are no plans whatsoever to close campuses." Austin says he is aware of what transpired previously, adding that "This initiative is not, as some have feared, the first step toward closure or diminution of the regional campuses. It is simply what it appears to be on the face of it.

"The proposed initiative is a matter of attempting to enhance academic opportunities for students at each of those campuses. By restructuring some administrative roles this becomes one of those few cases where we can enhance our academic offerings and save dollars at the same time," Austin says.

Enhancing and finding a special niche for the University's other two regional campuses, at Avery Point and Stamford, are issues that are already being addressed. The Avery Point campus will soon begin offering a four-year degree in coastal studies, as it positions itself as a major player in the marine sciences, and the Stamford campus is focusing on business education and is poised to become a major center for information technologies. It also offers four-year programs in several other areas.

The plan must gain the approval of the University's Board of Trustees, and the new "role and scope," for the regional campuses must be approved by the state Department of Higher Education. Fred Maryanski, vice chancellor for academic administration, discussed the plan with DHE officials last Thursday. He and Emmert hope the plan will be ready to bring to the trustees in time for their November meeting.

Richard Veilleux