The inclusion of $15 million for improvements at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton, part of the $1.5 billion Next Generation Connecticut proposal, is hardly reason for great excitement. This is more token gesture than genuine commitment.
You don't have to benefit from the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiative that Next Generation will focus on to calculate that the money going to the Avery Point campus represents 1 percent of the planned investment. The legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved the $1.5 billion in borrowing on Tuesday. The proposal spreads the investment over 10 years.
The plan is to build new science and engineering facilities and dorms to accommodate a drastic increase in enrollment. Most of the investment will take place at the main campus in Storrs and at the Stamford campus. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also requests $17.4 million for the upcoming fiscal year to begin a 10-year hiring program that would add 259 new faculty and 158 guidance counselors at UConn to beef up its graduate and post-graduate STEM programming.
The investment is necessary to keep UConn competitive in the fields of science and technology. It has broad support in the business community. Combined with efforts to boost the bioscience industry, it could keep more skilled graduates here in the state, helping Connecticut's economy.
But it would be a missed opportunity not to more fully engage the Avery Point campus in that effort. The $15 million announced Tuesday, while better than the zero dollars publicized in the original Next Generation plan, appears geared to necessary maintenance and renovation rather than expansion of the campus' facilities or its mission.
What we would welcome is the introduction of dormitories to what is now a strictly commuter campus, added curriculum emphasizing renewable energy, the environment, climate change and, yes, biosciences - curricula that would take good advantage of its coastal location, proximity to Pfizer pharmaceutical research facilities, and build upon the existing marine science program.
When it comes to Avery Point, the governor, UConn and our local elected leaders need to think bigger than 1 percent.