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Tue November 5, 2013
William Randolph Herbst
Hearst had San Simeon. Kane had Xanadu. UConn President Susan Herbst has Scarborough Street (in addition to the expensively refurbished president's mansion in Storrs).
You can hardly blame her for wanting a pied à terre somewhere. It's nice to be able to get away from a campus which, as far as I can tell, is up in arms against her.
To be fair, the Hartford mansion is not, on its face, an automatically terrible idea. A lot of good can come from a bigger UConn presence in the city (although, if they really want to be good citizens, they should keep that house on the tax rolls). And maybe Herbst's brand new $350K money guy really can pull pots of gold from thin air, as the song says. Oddly enough, the Foundation used to own just such a house and sold it ...to generate dollars for scholarships.
The problem is the context.
The new digs -- here's the Courant's Zillow slideshow -- contribute to a growing perception of Herbst as an almost entirely corporate person, devoid of any common touch and far fonder of plutocrats than she is of students and faculty. A person for whom a stack of chips > Mr. Chips.
The Scarborough mansion follows in quick succession Herbst's icy comments about women who complain about UConn's handling of sexual assaults and then a further legal action partly based on those comments.
She has spearheaded a policy about community college transfers that is far snootier and more restrictive than the bigger state universities she hopes to emulate. (Cards on table: my son attends a community college.)
UConn's new law school dean comes from the legal business rather than from the ranks of educators/scholars. (Could be a great pick anyway, but it tends to ignite the debate about whether you're running a trade school or a place of learning.)
A meddling, wealthy donor who has demanded more involvement in athletic department decisions simply plopped Herbst on his corporate board of directors.
Then there's her insistence that when UConn-Hartford moves to the city, it should go into prime real estate which was was developed using vast amounts of public monies in order to create new tax-producing property for the depleted city rolls. Herbst's characterization of the area north of Capital Community College as "a frontier" -- what are there, Comanche raiding parties? -- sounded more than a little elitist. (And will sound even more so over a 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc sipped on Scarbourough.)
None of these seems to be playing well on campus. College professors are notoriously grumpy and peevish, but the emails I've been getting since I started writing about Herbst suggest a climate of deep paranoia and a distrust of Herbst's hand-picked, high-paid cadre of central administrators who are perceived as actively punitive. If there's a whole other climate of opinion about that, I'd be happy to hear opposing views at email@example.com. And either way, I'll keep identities secret unless authorized to do otherwise.