Recent news reports concerning UConn 2000 have generated concern across the University community. Last week I sent an e-mail to students, faculty, and staff that addressed some of the issues that were raised, but I want to use this opportunity to once again correct misimpressions that may have arisen.
The key issue raised in the news stories relates to the level of external oversight of UConn 2000 projects. In fact, as I said in my e-mail and as those familiar with the program well know, UConn construction is extensively monitored. I am not aware of any state agency whose building programs are subject to as much oversight, and this is something we welcome. To reiterate a few elements:
The report recommended no legislative changes, an unusual outcome for the committee’s review process.
These ongoing reviews have served all of us well and helped guarantee the highest level of achievement in our building program. We have won awards for several specific projects, and our underlying processes have been honored by the American Council of Engineering Companies and the Energy Conservation Management Board.
Media accounts also dealt with issues pertaining to building and fire code violations at Hilltop Apartments. From the time these violations first became known, protection of students, correction of the problem, determination of its cause, and assuring that such a situation never recurs became the institution’s – and my – top priorities. That the violations did not create threats to student safety was of some comfort, but did not diminish the seriousness we attached to the issue.
In addition to prompt communication and remedial action, we have restructured our internal oversight processes for existing and new construction, including the establishment of a University Fire Marshal and Building Inspector’s Office under the Division of Public Safety. This office will provide an increased level of oversight and code compliance for every project.
News reports touched on other issues that are, frankly, less well-grounded. For example, insinuations that our systems are based on anything other than competitive contractor selection have no basis in fact. As those familiar with our construction program know, we maintain a rigorous pre-qualification process for contractors that evaluates them on criteria specified in state statute. This system is open and competitive and we set no obstacles to contractors who seek to engage in the pre-qualification process. Pre-qualification is just a first step; contractors who pre-qualify can only gain contracts through a process of competitive selection.
We are mandated by state law to award contracts on the basis of qualifications and cost through a fair, open, and competitive process that does not take a firm’s location into account. Still, as of our October 2004 report, approximately 88 percent of the total contracted funds under UConn 2000 were awarded to Connecticut firms.
Space limitations prevent my response to other issues raised in recent days. But it is important for you to know that we take all issues seriously and investigate concerns thoroughly. None of us claims perfection; along the way in UConn 2000 we have learned from experience and are bringing our systems – initially designed for a campus mired in the problems of perpetually deferred maintenance – to the level required for a major transformation. This we will continue to do.
We welcome public oversight, not just because we are proud of what has been accomplished, but because the more input we have, the more quickly we will be able to identify areas for improvement and the more rapidly we can take corrective steps.