As He Exits, UConn Chair Lobbies Governor to Select Shari Cantor as Successor

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor gave her State of the Town address at a Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Delamar West Hartford Hotel. Jan. 31, 2019. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor’s name has been mentioned as a possible chair of the UConn Board of Trustees.

By Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org

As Gov. Ned Lamont considers whether to name former House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter the next leader of the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees, the outgoing chair has urged Lamont to make history by choosing another trustee, Shari Cantor, to be the first woman to hold the post at the state’s flagship university.

In a resignation letter submitted Monday by email, Thomas E. Kruger promoted Cantor and made no direct mention of his vice chair, Ritter, a lobbyist and member of a prominent Democratic family. Ritter is the son and brother of former lawmakers, the husband of an Appellate Court judge, and father of House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.

In his letter, Kruger describes Cantor, a trustee who serves as mayor of West Hartford as the highest vote-getter on the town council, as “a unifying, non-polarizing force on the board.”

Kruger declined to comment Thursday on the letter or the conversation he had Sunday with Lamont, a day before emailing it to the governor.

He provided a copy of the email, which is a public document under the Freedom of Information Act. In the email, Kruger told Lamont it was intended to “summarize a number of matters we touched on in our telephone conversation.”

Lamont responded cooly Thursday to Kruger producing a written summary of their phone call.

“I thought I had some private conversations with Tom Kruger,” he said.

The governor declined to share his thinking about a choice of the new chair, but he reiterated what his senior aides told CT Mirror on Monday: Lamont is intending to make significant changes to the board.

“We are going to be making some board appointments pretty soon, and it’s going to be a new board,” Lamont said.

The changes are coming at a pivotal time for the university. Susan Herbst is stepping down as president in August, to be succeeded by Thomas C. Katsouleas, the provost and executive vice president of the University of Virginia. The finances of the school’s athletics department and the UConn Health Center are raising concerns at the State Capitol.

The school’s share of the state’s massive unfunded pension liability has been an obstacle to finding a private partner to help run the health center’s campus in Farmington. The General Assembly passed legislation in June 2017 requiring UConn Health’s Board of Directors to begin the process of establishing a public-private partnership, leading to a solicitation for proposals in October.

Beside a new chair, the only other change the administration has confirmed is that Denis J. Nayden, a long-time trustee and UConn donor, will not be reappointed when his term expires in June. Nayden was a backer of Lamont’s opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski. He contributed to Stefanowski directly and provided $100,000 in seed money to a Super PAC that support Stefanowski with ads attacking Lamont.

Kruger urged Lamont to keep Nayden on the board.

“During my eight years on the Board, he has consistently been one of the most effective trustees, willing to spend the considerable time that being a deeply involved trustee requires and providing guidance and good judgment on the many difficult issues that confront the University,” Kruger wrote. “While I know that his political affiliations may seem problematic on one level, I am hopeful that the best interests of UConn and the State will trump those considerations.  I am grateful that you have agreed to speak with him by phone about his strong desire to continue to serve the University as a trustee.”

Lamont said he no longer was inclined to have that phone call. 

Nayden, who has declined comment, wrote Lamont a letter last month, asking to be reappointed. 

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Denis Nayden and have been working with the State for a very long time – always as an unpaid volunteer. I am coming to the end of my third term as Trustee of the University of Connecticut. I am very proud to be a UConn Husky grad and proud to serve on the UConn Board as a very active participant and contributor,” Nayden wrote.

He congratulated Lamont on his victory, making no mention of supporting his opponent.

“I am the longest serving Trustee and have been intimately involved with Financial Affairs and budgets, Audit and Compliance, Athletics, and the Health Center,” Nayden wrote.

As for himself, Kruger said he enjoyed a close working relationship with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appointed him, and would step away to give Lamont the opportunity to make his own choice.

“To be effective, the Chair must be close to you as Governor,” Kruger wrote. “Consequently, you should have the opportunity to pick the individual for this job whom you want and with whom you can work closely.  In addition, the University faces many critical issues in the near term, including developing a new strategic vision, building the next budget, and revamping the curriculum to make it more supportive of post-graduation employment. All this work needs to be done in the context of how you will address the current financial position of the State and your plans to invigorate the economy. Accordingly, I think it is critical to get my successor in place as quickly as possible.”

He said he was resigning, effective at the conclusion of the next trustees’ meeting on April 24, and then offered the new governor some guidance on his successor.

“My successor should be someone who has had a number of years of service on the Board, since the learning curve in the University business is long and steep, and should be someone with whom you have a pre-existing relationship and whom you can trust to understand and help implement you agenda,” Kruger wrote. “I can think of no one on the Board better suited to this job at this time than Shari Cantor, whose intelligence, integrity, good judgment, and devotion to UConn are of the highest order and who would not bring to the position other agendas. She would, in my opinion, be viewed as a unifying, non-polarizing force on the board and within and without the University community. And it’s time for the University board to be led by a woman.”

Cantor and Ritter were circumspect. 

“I have no wish to comment,” Ritter said.

Cantor said the decision is Lamont’s. “With a new president, it is an especially important decision,” Cantor said. “I have confidence he’ll pick the right person.”

Lamont is expected to name a chair when he announces the new trustees. Five terms are expiring, and Kruger’s resignation creates a sixth opening.

“It’s going to be the best board I can find,” Lamont said, “folks who can do outreach to the business community and get that university where it ought to be.”

Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Mirror. The author can be reached at [email protected].

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