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Tony hotels out, Austin tells trustees
By Thomas Becher (February 21, 1997)
President Philip E. Austin, in an impassioned public response to a newspaper article detailing traveling expenses for the men's and women's basketball teams, vowed that extravagant accommodations are a thing of the past.
"I don't like to be a Monday morning quarterback, but from where I stand, staying at a four-star hotel with a public university athletic team constitutes a serious error in judgment," he said last Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting in Stamford.
Reiterating his statement in last week's Advance, Austin added, "I have had several conversations with the athletic director and others in the administration, and we are in complete agreement that it will not happen again. Period."
In the future, beginning with this year's post-season tournaments, less tony hotels will be used, Austin said.
"It's the symbolism I'm concerned about," he said. "We must ensure that we're going to look for appropriate quality and efficiency but not be criticized for extravagance. Our objective is to ensure the safety of our student-athletes while at the same time providing an environment that maintains discipline, psychologically prepares our athletes, as well as being reasonably priced accommodations."
The Hartford Courant, in a February 8 story, reported that the men's team stayed five nights at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City during last year's Big East tournament, for a total bill of more than $73,000 for players, coaches and staff.
Critics have said this illustrates the University's emphasis on athletics over academics. But Austin vigorously disagreed.
"I, too, am concerned about the perception, which flies absolutely in the face of every piece of empirical evidence I have seen, that UConn as an institution has emphasized athletics over the pursuit of academic quality," he said at the trustees meeting. "The reason for the existence of the University of Connecticut is to put forth an environment in which teaching and learning can occur efficiently by superior faculty and superior students. ... I will continue to hammer this home until we put it to rest."
Regarding the balance between academics and athletics, he added: "I refuse to accept them as competing activities. If handled properly, they can be completely complementary."
Student Trustee Michael Bellafiore agreed.
"The amount of money our athletic department has required from public funds has decreased significantly," he said. "We should focus on the bigger picture. Because of the success of our athletic teams, applications have gone up."
The Courant also reported that more than a dozen family members of coaches and athletics department staff members were flown to Charlotte, N.C., where the women's team played in the NCAA Final Four, and other late-season games. Their expenses were paid by a combination of NCAA, state and private funds from the UConn Foundation.
State law prohibits state employees's family members from receiving reimbursement for travel expenditures from a private entity, the Courant reported. UConn has asked the State Ethics Commission to review its policies.
Austin told trustees that the University will ask the commission for clarification on whether family members can be reimbursed when they accompany UConn employees on official business. If not, he said, he will seek a modification of the law.
"We are going to follow the law," he said.
One is a new master of science degree in physical therapy, in anticipation of new licensure requirements for physical therapists nationwide. The new curricula will involve an integrated bachelor's and master's program.
Students will be required to complete two years of undergraduate pre-allied health courses, one and a half years of upper-division undergraduate physical therapy courses, and one and a half years of graduate physical therapy courses.
The program will be able to accept about 40 students per year, equivalent to the University's current capacity for its highly competitive physical therapy program.
The board also approved two new undergraduate degrees in coastal studies. If approved by the state Department of Higher Education, the program will be the first bachelor's degree offered at the Avery Point campus in Groton.
"We don't have a crystal ball to guide us, but we believe that future career opportunities will be enhanced for college graduates with a better understanding of the complex science and social issues of the coastal zone," said Jim Kremer, coordinator of the program.
The interdisciplinary program will offer a cross-section of marine and social science courses aimed at providing students with proper academic training and practical expertise needed by the industry and the scientific community in the region.
"The Coastal Studies program responds to the social and economic changes occurring in Southeastern Connecticut and is a program vital to the state and its citizens," said Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs. "Its establishment is consistent with current educational thinking and with the University's strategic planning, particularly for the development of the Avery Point campus."
The curriculum was developed by surveying businesses and researching the admissions criteria for a dozen graduate schools. Marine companies, meanwhile, were asked what skills and training they look for in potential employees.
Six new courses were created, some of which include laboratory, field training and practical decision-making of real-world issues. An internship program would allow seniors to work in area marine businesses.
"This innovative approach to studying the coastal environment will prepare students for careers directly or indirectly related to the coast, in diverse areas of science, environmental policy and management, regulation, education, law and business," Kremer said.
The degrees are being developed in connection with a new, $56 million marine sciences center being constructed during the next two years through UConn 2000 at the Avery Point campus.
The Board of Trustees last Friday also approved a new joint major in linguistics/psychology in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"Such a joint major would enable undergraduates to have greater accessibility to excellent faculty in linguistics and in psychology," Emmert said in his recommendation to the board. "It would allow both departments to better serve undergraduates while relying on existing strengths and courses, and it may spur development of new courses in either field." The new joint major will use existing resources and current faculty.
Until now, students who were interested in studying both linguistics and psychology could create an individualized major. Making the two a formal major, approved by the University, will attract more students and help them direct their interests in a more coherent program, said Diane Lillo-Martin, chair of the linguistics department.
Thomas Chen, director of the Biotechnology Center, spoke about transgenic talapia fish he is developing that grow bigger, faster. Xiangzhong Yang, associate professor in the Biotechnology Center, wowed trustees with an outline of transgenic cattle and pigs. And Gerald Berkowitz, professor and department head of plant science, relayed to trustees the latest in floral transgenics.
"What we saw here today is the equivalent of an NCAA championship," said Trustee Lenworth Jacobs Jr.
In other issues, the Board of Trustees:
Unanimously ratified the collective-bargaining agreement between the University and the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA). The four-year agreement now heads to the General Assembly.
"This is the first time in more than a decade that the contract was worked out before arbitration," Kathleen Sanner, UCPEA's first vice president for collective bargaining, told trustees. "We're hopeful this represents a new relationship."
UCPEA members ratified the contract in December. It calls for increases totaling 3 percent in each of the first two years and 4 percent in each of the last two. The total cost of the increases is $6.3 million. One item in the contract would enable some members to take classes free of charge on a space-available basis.
"I'm pleased that the dispute was brought to a conclusion before mediation," said Lewis B. Rome, chair of the Board of Trustees.
The Board of Trustees also approved the participation of faculty and staff on its committees. The University Senate originally proposed that faculty and staff serve on the board without being able to vote. Under the plan approved last Friday, five trustee committees will have one faculty-staff member participate; the Academic and Financial Affairs Committee will have two faculty-staff members.
Those members will be able to participate but not vote. Terms will begin July 1.