Grassroots Group Seeks to Build
Support for a 'Great University'
By Richard Veilleux
UConn Advocates, the grassroots organization dedicated to educating legislators on the important academic, economic and cultural assets the University provides to the state, and to helping the University continue enhancing its educational and infrastructure needs, has begun a push to ensure legislative support of 21st Century UConn.
"The primary goal of this group is to build support for a 'great University' worthy of the state of Connecticut," says Patrick Sheehan, a 1967 UConn alumnus who is chair of the Advocates. "And right now, 21st Century UConn is a key element in building that university."
21st Century UConn, proposed Feb. 6 by Gov. John G. Rowland, calls for another $1 billion for new construction, renovations, and equipment for UConn's Storrs and regional campuses, including the schools of law and social work, and $300 million in construction at the UConn Health Center. By the end of the program in 2015 - if the legislature approves the proposal - virtually every building in Storrs and many structures at the regional campuses will have been refurbished.
"This concept is the right idea at the right time," says President Philip E. Austin. "If adopted, the governor's 21st Century UConn proposal will not only sustain the momentum of an extraordinary infrastructure program but, like UConn 2000, it will help us immeasurably to attract outstanding faculty and students, generate research support, and enhance private investment."
The Advocates, created in 1995 to support UConn 2000, have become a permanent part of the University's support structure. The group is backed by the Alumni Association, the UConn Foundation, the faculty and professional employees' associations - AAUP and UCPEA, students, the parents' association, and Health Center faculty and friends.
The latest effort began Feb. 16 with the distribution of postcards supporting 21st Century UConn. A mailing to 30,000 Advocates volunteers will be sent this week, and a series of eight breakfast meetings, at locations across the state, will begin Feb. 26 in Waterbury. Additionally, the Undergraduate Student Government is planning to organize a letter-writing campaign, and the AAUP, UCPEA, and the Alumni Association are urging members to contact their legislators.
"The faculty fully support this effort," says Quentin Kessel, president of the AAUP. "It's quite clear that past investments in UConn have paid dividends to the state, and the dollars invested in 21st Century UConn will be multiplied many times over in returns accrued by Connecticut."
Kessel adds that, from the physics department alone, dozens of Ph.D.s have remained in Connecticut after graduation and some now operate their own companies, teach physics at UConn or in the Connecticut State University system, or are lead scientists in technology-based companies. "This new investment will help us attract still more high-caliber people, who will also play leading roles in economic growth in the state," he says.
The success of the Advocates' past efforts can be seen not only in new construction at UConn, but in operating budgets that have allowed the University to maintain staffing levels since 1995, build centers of academic excellence, and enhance the student experience, despite the recent economic downturn.
This year, "We want to tell the governor and the legislature, 'You've done a great job with the University. Now, let's build on that by continuing to invest in UConn,'" says Sheehan, who also has served as chairman of the UConn Foundation's board of directors.
The group also hopes to convince legislators to reduce the $5 million shortfall the University faces in its 2002-03 operating budget.
"The University is moving forward at full speed right now," says M. Kevin Fahey, president of UCPEA. "We're jumping ahead of the competition by leaps and bounds, and we now have a chance to build on that momentum because other public universities are retrenching in the face of the recession. This is a chance for our governor and legislators to really make a mark as the group that made UConn a nationally prominent institution."