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Stories you can only find in your local newspaper

If You Ask Me

It was a story taxpayers, especially those laid off or furloughed by the pandemic, must have found quite interesting, not to mention the loan-burdened UConn students and their parents.  

The story, on May 10 by Hartford Courant investigative reporter Jon Lender, provided some new information on the rather costly retirement last year of UConn’s former president, Susan Herbst.        

In his Government Watch column, Lender reported that Herbst will be joining the faculty at the university’s Stamford campus this fall after completing her one-year, post-presidency sabbatical for which she was paid $711,072.  

That’s the same salary she received in her eighth and final year as president. She will take a cut to about $319,000 a year when she becomes a tenured professor of political science in Stamford.  

According to Lender, the university’s Board of Trustees awarded Herbst the sabbatical at her final year’s salary as president and agreed to hire her as a professor at a salary equal to the university’s highest paid faculty member. That faculty member is Yiming Qian of the university’s School of Business. If Qian’s pay goes up, so does Herbst’s.  

According to her deal, Herbst will not be required to teach more than two courses, which amounts to $109,500 a course, but she’s scheduled to teach only one course in the fall semester.  That’s  $319,000 to teach POLSCI 3625 Public Opinion, a three-credit course for juniors or higher. 

To be fair, or unfair, if you prefer, most tenured, full professors at UConn and other large universities have light course loads in order to have time to engage in scholarly research. Many classes are taught by lower-ranked and lower-paid instructors, part-time adjunct professors and graduate assistants. Students, of course, pay full tuition without regard for the status of their teachers.  And need we remind you that the cost of attending college, adjusted for inflation, has doubled since the 1980s.

Herbst has a private pension plan, according to Lender, but she and her husband will be eligible for lifetime health benefits when she completes 10 years of Connecticut public employment next year.

Lender decided these employment details were worth looking at because UConn didn’t bother to mention them when Herbst’s retirement was announced last year.  

He also thought it was appropriate at a time when “the world is falling apart because of the coronavirus — people are hurting financially (and) new UConn President Thomas Katsouleas has announced a spending freeze and hiring restrictions.”

And I thought Lender’s effort was worth citing here because it’s the kind of story you only find in a good local newspaper, the kind we need more than ever to keep things honest.

Lender did his investigation at a time when The Courant, like most daily and weekly newspapers, is hurting.  His newspaper, owned by the Tribune Company, which also owns the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun and other major dailies, has drastically cut each paper’s news staff and required non-union employees, earning between $40,000 and $67,000 a year, to take unpaid furloughs. 

The pandemic is only the latest in a series of blows to print journalism in the past several decades.  More than 2,000 American newspapers have closed down so far in the 21st century, with many more to come.  

As a consequence, “the first draft of history is not being written,” according to a report by PEN America, a highly regarded nonprofit devoted to free expression. Local news — school board, town council meetings and the like — are not being adequately covered and the citizens are paying the price of not knowing what’s going on in their local governments.  

Fortunately, the newspaper you’re now holding is surviving, but it had to close a sister publication in Winsted a while back, 2017, after having founded it in 1996. That newspaper was preceded in that town by the Winsted Evening Citizen, which had served that part of the state as a daily from 1856 to 1983. Now, the residents of the area have to rely on sporadic news coverage of their communities from neighboring daily newspapers.  

We can only hope dailies like The Courant will continue to have the resources for investigative reporting or weeklies like this one will have the staff to cover this region.  It depends on the support they can get — from advertisers and readers.


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.

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