About 36 hours after the women’s basketball team won the national championship, University of Connecticut’s leaders came to the state Capitol on Thursday to tout a proposed major expansion of the university that includes dormitories at the Stamford campus.
They held a press conference to announce growing support for Next Generation Connecticut, a plan pushed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that would spend $2 billion over 10 years in state and university funds to expand programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
UConn provost Mun Choi told the crowd in the packed Old Judiciary Room that the university was “the home of the national women’s basketball championship.”
He quickly added, “We’re not here to talk about basketball or athletics. We’re here to talk about an investment” in the university’s future.
That plan includes increasing the enrollment of the state’s flagship university by one third, expanding the number of engineering graduates by 70 percent, hiring more faculty, new research laboratories, and moving the West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford.
The plan is virtually assured of approval because it has the support of Malloy, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, and numerous members of the legislature.
House Republican leader Larry Cafero, a UConn alumnus, blasted the proposal when it was unveiled, saying he was shocked to hear the size of a new, $2 billion proposal for UConn at a time when the state is facing a budget deficit in the current fiscal year and even larger deficits over the next two years.
The state legislature, where many members are UConn graduates, has already allocated $2.3 billion in construction costs and more than $1 billion in interest charges under then-Gov. John G. Rowland for two major expansion plans over 20 years that were known as UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn.
“This one is called UConn Twilight Zone because you’ve got to be in the Twilight Zone to come up with this scheme at this time,’’ Cafero said at the time. “Look, I’m a UConn alum. I love UConn. I bleed Husky blue.’’
But Cafero said he was dumbfounded by the pricetag when the state is still struggling from a sluggish economy and a continuing budget deficit.
“What are we thinking?’’ he asked. “How are we going to pay for this? … I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense.’’
Cafero said that many rank-and-file legislators had no idea that Malloy was intending to unveil a massive proposal. Cafero and even some veteran Democratic legislators had no advance notice.
“Hello? Do we have any say with regard to making the incredible policy change of putting residential dormitories at a branch of the university?’’ Cafero asked. “I think we should. Was the committee on higher education consulted? I think the answer to that is no. … The real question is: how are you going to pay for this? And if the answer is borrowing, my response is: are you kidding me? Moody’s is telling us don’t do it, and we’re doing it. So, that’s my frustration.’’
UConn will contribute $384 million to the project, including some money that has already been set aside through the previous UConn 21st Century.
The plan calls for 1,400 scholarships for high-achieving students, 259 new faculty members and 50 doctoral fellowships. A projected enrollment increase of 6,500 would include about 5,000 students at the main campus in Storrs and another 1,500 at the Stamford campus that was formerly north of the Merritt Parkway but is now near the downtown area.
UConn announced Thursday that the program has the support of more than 100 businesses and organizations, including many in Connecticut and others that include Ambri Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Phoenix Power Inc. of Long Island, and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation of Jenkintown, PA.
Joseph McGee, a Malloy supporter who serves as vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, said that Connecticut currently rates 47th out of the 50 states in science and engineering degrees.
“We’re just above Arkansas,” McGee said.
He added, “This is a home run and a win for all of us.”