CHRIS POWELL: Managing UConn in secret; and race-baiting young kids

Published on Thursday, 9 September 2021 21:20

Technically the University of Connecticut is a public institution, but as the Connecticut Mirror noted last week, you wouldn’t know it from following the university’s Board of Trustees. For the board’s meetings are almost always routine and dull, with the board flying through its agenda with little discussion and disagreement.

State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, whose district includes UConn’s main campus in Storrs, explained it: "That’s just how UConn does everything. Everything is lined up with the members ahead of time before the truly public meeting. It’s how they make many decisions, especially those that might be controversial."

Michael Bailey, head of UConn’s professors union, concurs. "That’s the way the Board of Trustees has operated," Bailey said. "There seems to be a lot of discussion in executive sessions and behind closed doors."

Of course this is contrary to the spirit of Connecticut’s right-to-know law and maybe even the letter of the law, since the law limits causes for excluding the public from the meetings of government agencies. Are all the private discussions among university executives and trustees about subjects for which excluding the public is allowed?

No one in journalism or politics seems to have asked that question, and UConn seldom gets serious news coverage.

Is the public well served when UConn makes a decision without a full public airing of the considerations involved? Can the work of the trustees themselves be evaluated when they do the most important part of it in secret?

Of course not, but then the governor and the General Assembly long have considered the university to be the fourth branch of government in Connecticut, accountable only to itself.

When, after serving less than two years, UConn’s president, Thomas C. Katsouleas, announced his resignation in May, availing himself of the golden parachute the trustees had given him, descending gently into a tenured professorship with a starting salary of $339,000, some people wondered if the scandal would nudge the trustees toward more accountability and competence, or that Governor Lamont might nudge them. But no.

Add it to the pile of good issues waiting for Connecticut’s opposition political party to work up some relevance and nerve.

* * *

Is Manchester’s school system striving to evoke racial consciousness and division among its youngest students? That’s the complaint of a teacher who recently resigned. The teacher, Jennifer Tafuto, charged that the elementary school curriculum injects racial issues with students who ordinarily – and fortunately – would not give a thought to race.

Tafuto says she was instructed to tell her students to focus on the race of characters in books, to ask why some whites once wanted to deprive blacks of education, and to suggest that brushing teeth and showering are activities considered particularly white.

There must be something to Tafuto’s complaint, since the Manchester school system replied with lofty but unresponsive prattle.

Board of Education Chairman Darryl Thames said: "We are committed to ensuring that every one of our students feels included and affirmed, and has what they need to grow and thrive. We know that the historic and current realities of racism make it more difficult for black, Latinx, indigenous, and other students of color to be successful. The work we are doing in Manchester is necessary, relevant, and overdue."

A spokesman for the school system, Jim Farrell added: "Manchester Public Schools recognizes its responsibility to address in grade- and age-appropriate ways issues that include racism, inequities, discrimination, and systemic bias. We proudly do so while also practicing culturally responsive and relevant teaching, affirming students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and including appropriately varied cultural references in all aspects of learning."

But exactly what is happening in class? Are racial divisions being created among the youngest students instead of erased as they should be? If so, is the point, as many around the country suspect about this kind of thing, to indoctrinate all students and intimidate the white ones?

Whatever is happening, will Manchester’s schools permit outsiders to observe it? Or must townspeople be kept ignorant by the official prattle?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. 

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Thursday, 9 September 2021 21:20. Updated: Thursday, 9 September 2021 21:22.