HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said his nominee for president of Connecticut’s higher education system is shouldering a heavy but critical responsibility: ensuring its graduates leave campus with the job skills to compete against the world’s best and brightest.
Robert Kennedy, the former president of the University of Maine, was introduced Monday as Malloy’s choice for president of the newly formed Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education.
The board will oversee the state’s 12 community colleges, the online Charter Oak State College and the four regional state universities: Eastern, Western, Southern and Central Connecticut state universities.
Nearly 95,000 students attend those schools. However, Malloy said many have not been able to complete their degrees in the expected two-year and four-year periods and in general, the schools spend less of their budgets on teaching than comparable colleges and universities.
Those days are over, he said.
“We need to make sure that we’re preparing our young men and women to have a competitive edge, and at the moment we’re not doing enough toward that goal. … That all changes today,” Malloy said Monday as he introduced Kennedy in a gathering at the state Capitol.
Kennedy starts the $340,000-per-year job on an interim basis in September, but his nomination requires the approval of the regents board and confirmation by the General Assembly before it is permanent.
He said Monday he is humbled and excited about the task ahead and, like Malloy, feels strongly about the need to focus on preparing students for jobs in growing fields.
“Connecticut is well-known for educational excellence and for the quality of educational institutions at all levels, and I’m extremely honored to be part of this exciting new direction in this great state,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, 64, was interim president of the University of Maine from 2004 to 2005, and then was president until he resigned in June.
He previously was Maine’s executive vice president and provost; held senior administrative positions at Texas A&M University and the University of Maryland; and was on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Washington State University and The Ohio State University.
Kennedy comes on board as Connecticut’s new Board of Regents for Higher Education still is taking shape.
A new Connecticut law that took effect July 1 eliminated the Department of Higher Education and merged management of the Connecticut State University system with the community colleges and Charter Oak.
The old boards still hold meetings and make decisions that dictate day-to-day operations on their campuses. But the Board of Regents will have the authority to overturn decisions it considers impractical or impossible under the reorganization.
Malloy has made appointments to six of the nine positions he has authority to fill. The General Assembly will appoint four more. The board also will include two students and four nonvoting state agency commissioners.
Malloy said Kennedy is “the right person to help lead us in a new direction” as the head of the higher education system, both because of his classroom experience and his time in administrative spots.
He praised Kennedy’s work creating the Student Innovation Center at the University of Maine to help students, faculty and staff members develop their business and entrepreneurial ideas. The center provided assistance with public relations, seeking funding, networking and other help.
Malloy said he has “very great hope” that Kennedy will be among the three presidential nominees on a list that the Board of Regents is required by state law to provide to the governor in early 2012.
Malloy will select the permanent president from that list, which then requires General Assembly confirmation.
Michael P. Meotti, the current interim president, will become executive vice president starting next month and report to Kennedy. Malloy praised Meotti for his work, calling him “a rock on which much of this educational endeavor has been based.”