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Malloy eyes $1.5 billion investment in UConn

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published February 01. 2013 4:00AM

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday proposed more than $1.5 billion in bonding and $137 million in general fund spending for the University of Connecticut.

"By targeting state resources to our flagship university we ensure that our young people have the skills they need to fill the jobs we are so aggressively pursuing," Malloy said in a press release. "Make no mistake, we are making Connecticut competitive again."

The university's Avery Point campus in Groton wasn't a direct beneficiary of Malloy's investment proposal, however.

"We are working on plans for Avery Point," Malloy said when asked about proposals to enhance that campus. "That is not in this particular proposal as such, although, you know, shared faculty and that sort of thing. Give me a little time; don't worry about it."

Investments in infrastructure, scholarships and faculty and student positions over the next 10 years are expected to attract $270 million in research dollars and $527 million in business activity, according to the release.

More than 4,000 permanent jobs and 30,000 construction jobs would also be created, Malloy said.

The $1.5 billion in bonding would be used for upgrades such as new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) facilities, $450 million; new teaching and research labs for additional faculty and students, $205 million; and equipment for new faculty, $310 million.

The $137 million proposed for UConn from the state's general fund would be dedicated to growing total enrollment by 6,580 students and 259 faculty members at UConn's Storrs and Stamford campuses, according to the release.

The School of Engineering's enrollment would increase by 70 percent. The number of STEM graduates would increase by 47 percent. The school would offer 1,400 new, full scholarships for STEM students.

The governor said he is responding to a growing need for STEM jobs; jobs in these sectors have grown three times faster than in other sectors between 2002 and 2010, according to the release.

House Minority Leader Rep. Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Thursday that the proposal was irresponsible because of the state's current budget deficit, future budget deficit and new priorities following the Dec. 14 school shooting in Sandy Hook.

He said the proposal should be called "UConn twilight zone because you got to be in a twilight zone to come up with this scheme at this time, and I am a UConn alum."

In a vacuum, the idea to grow the university and keep young people in the state is good, Cafero said. But moving forward in a fiscally irresponsible way "makes no sense," he said, adding that now was not the time to borrow more.

"What are we thinking, how are we going to pay for this, it is beyond comprehension," Cafero said.

Cafero said he would have liked to have had a say in the governor's latest proposal. It's not fair to promise the university this money, have them prepare for the money and then have to say, "We can't do it," he said.

But UConn professors seemed optimistic about the university's future in general and Avery Point specifically.

"Right now we are developing a plan to expand our engineering, both graduate and undergraduate, to Avery Point," said Kazem Kazerounian, interim dean and professor of mechanical engineering at UConn's School of Engineering.

There are currently no full-time engineering faculty members at Avery Point, but the campus is planning on adding two, he said.

About 60 to 70 graduate students at Avery Point currently take engineering courses broadcast from another campus, said Thomas Barber, professor in residence at the School of Engineering. These students are often employees of Electric Boat, Dominion and Zachry Holdings, Barber said.

There are also plans to start a 20-student undergraduate cohort at Avery Point in the fall, which would allow students to study engineering for two years and then transfer to the main campus in Storrs, Barber said. The goal is to make Avery Point a "major pipeline" to the engineering program at Storrs, Kazerounian said.

UConn President Susan Herbst said the possibilities for Avery Point were a little "locked in." There is the ocean on one side and property on the other, she said.

"So there is not that much space to expand, and you got to build on strength, too," Herbst said. The bulk of the faculty and machinery that scientists share are in other locations, she said.

j.somers@theday.com

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