Opinion: Former UConn Presidents Herbst and Katsouleas deserve praise, not criticism

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As a proud graduate of the University of Connecticut, I am sick and tired of reading denigrating discussions in the press regarding the last two university presidents — items based on the clause in their contracts concerning returning to the faculty.

These discussions repeatedly refer to teaching and research jobs as “cushy,” and the money paid to them as a waste. These discussions reflect, in my opinion, blatant misunderstanding as to what teaching and research entail, as well as systemic anti-intellectualism. I do not see any inquisition-style analyses, examinations or complaints regarding the exorbitant contracts of many athletic coaches.

Both Susan Herbst and Thomas Katsouleas were selected by UConn after painstaking searches, both were highly talented and qualified, and both have done outstanding jobs in the position, given the specific circumstances they had to function within. I personally have found each of them inspirational in terms of what they accomplished at UConn under challenging circumstances.

When Susan Herbst arrived on campus, there were policy and personnel issues in a number of departments that required attention and action.
Whereas others before her had been aware of issues but had never taken action, Susan was the one who did something. During her tenure as president, she acted with a multi-faceted approach to secure and grow the, well-being of the university in multiple ways. Towards the end of her time as UConn President, an editorial in The Courant cited her for great leadership (May 22, 2018, The Courant, Editorial, “Herbst’s
Great UConn Leadership.”)

Nobody ever complained about the details of her contract then, or asked if she was worth it. UConn would not be back in the Big East Conference if it were not for her efforts. How much is that accomplishment alone worth?

UConn’s 16th President, Thomas Katsouleas, is a rare person whose heart is as big as his mind, and both are as big as the universe which, as a physicist, he loves so much to explore. One can easily imagine him at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton with Albert Einstein. He truly wanted to open up that universe, in all of its facets, to educate all of the students in the state of Connecticut.

With a sure hand, he and his team guided UConn through the worst of the pandemic, providing a good education for students and keeping them safe. He reached deep inside himself and drew out hope and inspiration for the community with his writings, always affirming the sacredness and value of every human life. There is no amount of salary that can adequately compensate him for his service during his time as University President, when he dealt with the essentially wartime
demands of the pandemic.

Both of these educator-scholars have provided tremendous service to the university and should be allowed their scholarly pursuits without
harassment. Let the terms of employment of future university presidents be debated, but leave these people alone. History will show them to be two of the finest presidents that UConn has ever had.

Lisa Phillip Rimland of Mansfield is a 1978 UConn graduate and a former employee of the UConn Division of Athletics and the Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

 


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