Cheng named president of Connecticut college system
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Terrence Cheng, an only child of Taiwanese immigrants who rose in the academic world to become director of the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus, was appointed Friday as the next president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.
The state Board of Regents for Higher Education voted unanimously to approve Cheng for the $360,000-a-year post that oversees 17 schools that serve more than 72,000 students.
Cheng, 49, who also is an English professor at UConn, will begin his new job on July 2. He will succeed Mark Ojakian, who retired in January after five years as CSSU president and a longer career in state government including chief of staff to former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Cheng called his new job an “incredible responsibility.” He said it will be one of his life’s greatest challenges as well as one of his greatest honors.
“I am thrilled to be part of an organization that prioritizes equity and access, that celebrates diversity and inclusion, and champions the dignity, the social mobility and the growth of all our people,” Cheng said at a news conference after the regents’ vote. “Every student who enters the doors of any CSCU institution deserves the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and to improve their prospects for a meaningful career.”
Cheng will take over at a difficult time for many universities and community colleges across the country. The CSCU system has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in declines in enrollment and on-campus housing revenue. Interim President Jane Gates told state lawmakers in March that the system’s deficit was as high as $22 million.
Facing a nearly $70 million deficit last fall, the Board of Regents approved new spending cuts of $8 million, in addition to millions of dollars in other planned cuts, which sparked protests by students, faculty and staff.
An advisory committee of more than 40 faculty, staff, administrators, students and others helped conduct the national search for a new president.
Asma Rahimyar, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University and the school’s first-ever Rhodes scholar, said she was impressed with Cheng when he met with students on the committee during the interview process.
“Mr. Cheng spoke with an intricate knowledge of the macro level challenges our system challenges and he also spoke with a sense of compassion and honesty that encompasses every micro-level ramification,” she said at the news conference. “Within an hour, Mr. Cheng managed to delineate a vision that provides substance and solace in equal measure.”
The CSU system includes the four state universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College. It does not include the University of Connecticut.
Cheng has been the campus director for UConn’s Stamford location since 2016. He previously held academic and administrative positions at Brooklyn College and Lehman College, which are both part of the City University of New York.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Binghamton University and a master’s degree in fiction from the University of Miami.
Gov. Ned Lamont called Cheng “the ideal man for this moment of transformation.”
“He just told me as an immigrant coming over from Taiwan he’s always pushed to make things better, and knew what it took and he loved the challenge and never wanted to walk away from a challenge,” the Democratic governor said. “That’s why we need you more than ever right now.”