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Dodd a sound option for UConn's presidency

By Jesse Rifkin
On September 9, 2010

As UConn begins the search to select its 14th president, I offer a suggestion: U.S. Senator Chris Dodd.

Dodd would easily be among the most famous college presidents in the country, if not the single most famous. This would be advantageous to the university in that it would boost our visibility and reputation, both nationally and internationally.

It would also give UConn greater sway with the state legislature in Hartford. The lawmakers there have kept UConn funding constant since 2008, not adding a single penny since then, even as UConn's budget increased 4.8 percent this year. As a result, the state is funding merely 31.8 percent of UConn's budget this year, down from 50.0 percent twenty years ago. Surely Dodd would be able to coax a funding increase out of the Democrat-majority state legislature, most of whom have probably voted for him!

This may also prove to be true for the governor's office as well. According to an August poll by Rasmussen Reports, Democrat Dan Malloy leads Republican Tom Foley by a 48-33 margin. Should Malloy win in November, he would likely be more sympathetic toward UConn with Dodd as president.

Dodd also has positive connections to the university. In the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care law signed by President Obama in March, Dodd included a provision allocating $100 million for construction of a new UConn health center. He delivered the commencement address here in 2000, with his most recent speech here in May at the School of Business. The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on campus is named after his father, a former Senator himself.

"He knows how politics works, he knows how federal funding, NIH grants work, he knows how to work Washington in order to secure that kind of funding, he's an advocate for Connecticut. He's a consensus builder and he'd be a great asset for the university. Wouldn't that be a great coup for us to have someone of his stature and national recognition but also someone who cares about our state, who has the ties to our state with his father and UConn, and being our senior state senator. It would just be perfect," said Jean Morningstar, president of University of Health Professionals.

UConn alumnus and Indiana University professor Jonathan Plucker wrote in a recent Hartford Courant editorial: "For an extended period in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the UConn presidency was a stepping stone… People who plan to live for the rest of their careers within the organization they are leading often make the most committed (and effective) leaders."

Under that qualification, Dodd would be perfect. At age 66, this would likely be the last major position he holds in his career, a fitting end to a lifetime of public service. For him, this would not simply be a stopover on a quest to other things, as it seemed for former president Michael Hogan, who abruptly retired in May to accept a higher-paying post University of Illinois.

A political candidate taking this step is not unprecedented. Thomas Kean, Governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990, became president of Drew University in 1990 and remained until his 2005 retirement. David Boren, U.S. Senator from Oklahoma between 1979 and 1994, became president of University of Oklahoma in 1994, a position he still holds.

Both took their positions around the same time they left their political offices. Lawrence McHugh, Chairman of the UConn's Board of Trustees, stated that he hopes a new leader is picked by early December 2010. Dodd has held his current office since 1981, making him the longest-serving Senator in Connecticut history. He is retiring in January 2011. The timing works out perfectly.

UConn trustee David Ritter has said "I think the world of Chris Dodd."

Former UConn Trustee Lewis Rome has said that having Dodd as president would be "an extraordinary opportunity for the university" and "a terrific thing." And Rome is a Republican!

I believe the best possible replacement for Interim President Philip Austin would be Chris Dodd.

Besides, Dodd, as a U.S. senator, currently makes $174,000 annually. Michael Hogan, the previous president of UConn, made $577,500. Who would say no to a 232 percent pay increase?


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