Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's outgoing chief of staff was appointed Friday to head Connecticut's Board of Regents for Higher Education, promising he'll listen to the concerns of college presidents, faculty, students and legislators around the state.
The panel voted unanimously to appoint Mark Ojakian as the temporary president of the board, for a term of up to two years. Created several years ago, the Board of Regents oversees four state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak State College, which serve about 90,000 students. Ojakian will become the system's fourth president.
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He is scheduled to begin his new job Sept. 28.
Ojakian's appointment comes a week after the current president, Gregory Gray, announced he was resigning, ending a rocky two-year tenure marked by no-confidence votes from faculty at many of the system's campuses.
Ojakian, who announced last month he planned to leave his job as Malloy's chief of state at the end of 2015, will earn up to $335,000 a year.
"I intend to go around the state, make myself known and listen, quite honestly," he said Friday. "I want to hear what the issues are that presidents, faculty and students have. And I want to work closely with members of the General Assembly to move, I think, that relationship forward."
State Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Higher Education Committee, said Ojakian's lack of an education background may be a problem for some. But she said he has strong administrative expertise. Besides working as Malloy's chief of staff, Ojakian served 16 years as deputy state comptroller.
"The key to success here may not rest with traditional academic credentials and experience, but policy and administrative experience — which he has," she said.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, the leading Republican on the legislature's Education Committee, said more needs to be done besides appointing Ojakian. She has questioned whether the Board of Regents concept still makes sense, contending major changes are needed regarding the system's organization and the board's role and authority.
"I hope that the Board of Regents does not consider today's decision to be the ultimate solution to the serious problems it has experienced," she said. "That would be unfair to Mr. Ojakian or to anyone whom the members might have appointed."