Hartford Courant. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: The University of Hartford’s job is educating a diverse student body, not staying in NCAA Division 1

Somewhere in all the hand-wringing about the University of Hartford weighing the possibility of dropping its money-losing Division I sports program an important truth is being lost:

Universities are about educating students and broadening the array of opportunities they offer so they are in a position to welcome a diverse student body to their campuses. They’re not about sending a team to the NCAA Tournament once every so often, as captivating a story line as that may be.

The issue exploded a few days ago when WTNH-Channel 8 obtained a copy of a consultant’s report analyzing several options for the university. They included staying in Division I and moving to Division III, where — by the way — there is a robust cadre of skilled and competitive student-athletes.

The report, which has since been released publicly, came to the conclusion that it would be in the university’s financial interest to move from Division I to Division III, as staying put in the America East Conference was costing the university $13 million a year. No official decision has been made.

The ensuing story lines were predictable. Just weeks after its Cinderella turn at the NCAA Tournament (where UHart lost to eventual champion Baylor 79-55 in the first round) sports-hating bean counters were pulling the rug out from under their athletic program. The idea of voluntarily abandoning your place in the top tier of college sports was painted as an unforgivable sin.

That may be true in the hierarchy of sports, where you play in the minors to get to “The Show,” where athletes who fall short in the NBA go off to Europe to play or where, in the world of college sports, Division I is a big deal and Division III is largely ignored.

But the University of Hartford’s mission is not to climb to the top of the sports world. It is to provide a quality education to the most diverse student body it can assemble and send them out educated and ready to make the world a better place. If being in Division I is hurting rather than helping that mission, the university’s job is to take a hard and dispassionate look at the numbers.

Which appears to be what they did when they hired CarrReports to analyze the situation. The report is 80 pages long, with a detailed analysis of the different options.

“Given the financial reality of this study, coupled with parameters outlined in the assumptions on the previous page, Athletics’ current Division I-funding model is not viable and cannot achieve the goal of becoming more self-sustaining,” the report concluded.

Among its recommendations: “UHart should explore viable membership options in NCAA Division III that will align with the University’s Mission.”

It is true that there are advantages to being in Division I that don’t show up on a bottom line. Scholarships offer students who might otherwise not be able to go to college a shot at higher education. And, as the University of Connecticut has proven, success in big-time college sports can raise your profile. And donors certainly love winning teams.

It’s also true the university bungled the PR game once the story broke. The university’s first response appeared to be to hunker down. That never works. A snippet of an email chain inadvertently made public became in the eyes of some a divining rod to university President Gregory Woodward’s true motives and intent. After several days, the university finally released the report but their low-profile approach on so high-profile a story opened the door to both speculation and criticism.

It’s time now for a more reasoned and dispassionate debate.

If Woodward thinks this is a good idea, he should come out and say so and explain why. If he is going to cut back on scholarships for student-athletes, he needs to articulate his plans for how he is going to use the money to help students who might not be able to afford a University of Hartford education. Is there a plan to offset the potential loss in alumni donations? What academic programs will be strengthened?

Many colleges and universities are trying to find their footing in a post-coronavirus world. The University of Hartford’s leaders were doing their job in exploring options. What’s needed now is a full, transparent, and reasoned exploration of the issues.

Too much is at stake to allow emotion to drive this decision.


Hearst Connecticut Media Editorial Board. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: Pandemic will end, but can same be said for shootings in our cities?

The countdown to completing COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a somewhat false ending to the horrors of the past year.

Dreams of reunions, vacations and parties are understandable, but belie the reality that the pandemic is leaving a scorched trail of trauma.

Many people lost jobs, homes, a sense of security. COVID and its social side-effects were rocket fuel for anxiety.

Among other things, such emotions led to impulsive purchases of firearms.

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, Connecticut has worked to be a leader in gun safety laws, even as the nation’s capital reliably failed. But Connecticut’s successes weren’t enough to halt bullets in the streets of its cities.

Another grim reminder came in recent days with the deaths of 3-year-old Randell Tarez Jones in a drive-by shooting in Hartford and 16-year-old Ja’Mari Preston in what police are calling a related shooting incident. Democratic state senators from Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport responded by calling out the state’s failings to invest resources in community organizations.

In a news release, state Sens. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, and Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, pointed to data from Hearst Connecticut Media’s investigation, “Death by Gun,” which analyzed gun deaths of the previous decade. It revealed that some 10 percent of state residents killed by firearms during those 10 years were 25 and younger and from the state’s three largest cities.

It’s only getting worse. The number of homicides in Connecticut increased by 30 percent in 2020, according to the state’s chief medical examiner.

The pandemic has expanded the definition of the everyday hero, but there is seldom recognition of the work being done in community groups that strive to see the bigger picture, as well as the smaller ones. These are the people who don’t flinch from looking for potential triggers of violence.

Their successes are never publicly known. We can’t collect data on how many lives have been saved by the agencies.

Moore made some bold, but welcome, proposals. With President Joe Biden pondering a $5 billion investment in such community groups across the nation, Moore suggests the agencies should be empowered to determine how the money is spent without federal interference.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, promoted the idea with the reasoning that the agencies “are doing this kind of boots on the ground community work that don’t involve traditional policing models.”

CT Against Gun Violence has pushed for Gov. Ned Lamont to form an Office of Community Gun Violence Prevention to seek funding and invest it in community strategies to reduce gun violence in the state’s urban centers.

The unsung heroes at community agencies should lead this charge, with clear channels of communication to local law enforcement.

An ending appears to be in sight for the pandemic, but no vaccine will halt the fallout. Unless drastic actions are taken, gun violence will continue to traumatize Connecticut’s cities.


Portland Press Herald. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t let curtain fall on more performance venues

A program to help places that put on live events was created in December but has yet to give out a dime.

It won’t be long and people will be clamoring to check out a live show. But will they be able to find one?

The response to COVID-19 has caused many performance venues to shut down for good, while those that live on struggle as the pandemic enters its second year.

Help was supposed to be on the way by now in the form of a federal relief program. But four months after its approval, the program has yet to distribute a dime.

That’s bad news for these venues, and for the communities that rely on them to provide entertainment and art, to attract visitors, and to support jobs.

Take for example the Ogunquit Playhouse, one of Maine’s top performing arts centers and a link to the wonderful history of summer stock theatre.

The Playhouse each year brings top-notch talent to southern Maine, yet last year, unable to put on shows, it lost more than $8 million in ticket sales, executive director Bradford Kenny told MainePublic this week. Some of those funds would have otherwise gone to its year-round staff.

“This is how these folks feed their families and pay their rents and their mortgages,” Kenny said.

Besides providing jobs, places like the Ogunquit Playhouse also help other local businesses pay their bills, spending on local vendors and drawing people in for a night out, leading them to go to nearby to shop, eat or have a drink.

Besides filling prominent spaces and creating buzz, small, locally run performance venues are often the only one in their community doing what they do. For many, they may be the only place nearby featuring a live band or a show.

And these venues are part of nationwide chain that allows smaller acts to tour throughout the country. If too many close, the chain loses valuable links, and everyone will have fewer choices for entertainment.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, passed by Congress in December as part of the Save Our Stages Act, could help these venues — the ones that have survived, anyway — come out the other end of the pandemic.

The $16 billion program allows grants of up to $10 million for live music venues, independent theaters and other live-event spaces.

But the application site crashed last week shortly after opening and has yet to come back online.

The federal government has approved trillions of dollars in spending to fight COVID across a series of relief packages. But it has struggled to get a significant portion of that funding out the door.

That’s not entirely surprising. A lot of the funds, including the grants for performance venues, are being distributed through brand-new programs that must be built from scratch.

That’s a challenge, but it’s one that has to be overcome. The money does no good just sitting there, and the venues cannot wait forever to find out if they are going to survive long enough to put on another show.


Boston Globe. April 13, 2021.

Editorial: Fixing the chasm that claimed the life of David Almond

The Office of the Child Advocate points to much needed reforms in dealing with the state’s vulnerable children.

They are the children who “fell through the cracks” — their too-short lives noted only after they are gone. Their tragic deaths from abuse or neglect — deaths that might have been prevented, should have been prevented — examined in minute detail for all the safety nets that gave way, the people who failed them.

This time that child was David Almond, a 14-year-old who “loved and was loved by his brothers,” who “found joy in making others laugh,” and who “could recite some SpongeBob episodes by memory.” So begins the report by the Office of the Child Advocate on his death last October, when he was found unresponsive in his family’s Fall River apartment, malnourished, weighing 80 pounds and with fentanyl in his system.

His father and his father’s girlfriend have been charged with second degree murder, but David was also a victim of “multi-system failure” by those agencies that should have protected him. Sure, the pandemic played a role, giving would-be abusers cover, but it was far from the only factor.

“Every single safeguard failed David,” said Maria Mossaides, director of the office, at the news conference that introduced the report.

That report also points the way to internal changes needed at the Department of Children and Families, and to possible legislative changes in the way decisions are made, and services offered, especially to those with disabilities (David was on the autism spectrum).

The task here — as it was back in 2008 when the Office of the Child Advocate was created in the wake of the tragic deaths of 4-year-old Dontel Jeffers at the hands of his foster mother in 2005; 11-year-old Haileigh Poutre, left comatose in 2005 after a beating by her adoptive mother; and the 2006 death of 4-year-old Rebecca Riley after being given an overdose of a psychotropic drug by her parents — is to protect children not just from abusive families but from bureaucratic neglect. All three families were being monitored by what was then the Department of Social Services.

The agency’s name was also changed — well, because that’s also what governments do when things go wrong.

Creating DCF and the Office of the Child Advocate didn’t stop the flow of tragedies. There were still the deaths of Jeremiah Oliver (2013) and Bella Bond (2015), perhaps better remembered as Baby Doe for all the months her body remained unclaimed and unidentified.

In the report on David Almond, the Office of the Child Advocate noted that DCF submitted 295 “critical incident reports” on 449 children and young adults (incident reports may involve more than one child) for the year ending June 30, 2020 — a 105 percent increase over the previous year. Such reports are required by law when a child in DCF care “suffers a fatality, near fatality, serious bodily injury or emotional injury.” That same year, DCF served 75,463 children and families.

That was, of course, mostly pre-pandemic.

From March 13, 2020, when David and his brother Michael were reunited with their biological father, until David’s death on October 21, 2020, he received only virtual DCF visits — the last just three weeks before he died — and no special education services from the Fall River school system.

It wasn’t just a crack David fell through, it was a chasm. And it won’t be fixed just because a few employees who should have known better or worked harder have been fired.

So how to close the chasm, repair that frayed safety net?

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities has scheduled an oversight hearing for May 4 to try to answer that question. Mossaides can point them in the right direction — in fact, she already has.

“DCF currently has no policies, standard practices, or training curriculum about individuals with disabilities. The DCF Fall River Area Office did not understand Autism Spectrum Disorder,” she wrote, noting that since children with disabilities are at least three times more likely to be abused or neglected than their peers without disabilities, mandatory training for DCF staff was essential.

Ending bureaucratic stove-piping is also critical. Education officials and DCF, Mossaides wrote, “should collaborate and determine how districts should ensure DCF has access to regular attendance updates for all students who are in the legal custody of DCF.”

And a revamped reunification policy — to determine if children are to be returned to a biological parent — that includes an analytically sound safety and risk assessment and multiple case record reviews. That might have saved David’s life.

A Senate official told the Globe that a bill aimed at strengthening child protection laws, which failed to pass last year because of language differences between House and Senate versions, would probably provide the vehicle this year for making far more sweeping changes — after that oversight hearing.

Over the years, there have been too many names and photographs of the smiling young faces that came to haunt our consciences for a few short weeks or months. Then the hard work began of making things better, of fixing the system that let them fall through the cracks.

This is another of those moments. This is the debt that political leaders owe to David Almond.


Boston Herald. April 12, 2021.

Editorial: AG should put premium on auto insurance relief

Almost exactly a year to the date that she first put the state’s auto insurers on notice, Attorney General Maura Healey again wants those companies, which she claims have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in extra profits during this year-plus pandemic, to return most of that money to motorists in the form of refunds and lower premiums.

In a March 31 letter to the state Division of Insurance, Healey urged that agency to “stop’’ insurers from “continuing’’ to “overcharge’’ consumers.

The AG’s Insurance and Financial Services Division represents the public interest in rate hearings.

Back in April 2020, when lockdowns and stay-at-home directives had been in place for barely a month, Healey led the call for auto insurers to give back some of the money they’d already saved from idled vehicles.

Many companies, either voluntarily or after some prodding, did compensate policyholders last spring in varying degrees, including USAA, Allstate, Geico and Liberty Mutual, citing the pronounced, obviously observed decrease in vehicle traffic on the state’s roadways.

More than 12 months into this pandemic, the cumulative effect of learning and working from home has certainly padded insurers’ pockets far beyond what Healey could have contemplated when she first publicized this inbalance in the auto-insurance marketplace.

Healey’s office now contends data show a reduction in driving in 2020 of about 50%, and that as a result there were fewer crashes, fewer claims and fewer payouts by insurers.

By any measure, this extended lack of vehicle activity has translated into a significant boost to insurers’ bottom lines, bordering on the confiscatory, primarily due to that dramatic dip in accident claims.

“This drop in loss ratio resulted in additional profits for insurance companies of about $700 million,’’ according to the letter signed by Glenn Kaplan, chief of the AG’s Insurance and Financial Services Division.

State lawmakers representing economically disadvantaged communities have also pressed insurers to do right by their lower-income clients, who already pay inordinately high premiums.

Healey’s position has received support from several legislators, led by state Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat whose district includes Lawrence, one of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic; he wrote to the commission in December that high premiums in the face of reduced driving “disproportionally hurts communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,’’ such as “low-income urban communities and communities of color.’’

But don’t expect the auto-insurance industry to open their wallets without a fight.

Christopher Stark, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, a lobbying group, responded that auto insurers have done their part during this public-health crisis by providing refunds, suspending policy cancellations and offering payment plans for policyholders unable to immediately pay premiums.

He also questioned the attorney general’s calculations, saying insurance industry losses for 2020 may be higher than the figures cited by others.

Stark also pointed out that insurers don’t ask for increases in premiums retroactively after losses exceed what they expected, which seems to imply the same should apply when profits exceed expectations.

We expect auto insurers to admit the obvious, and deliver premium relief commensurate with the excessive profits they’ve made during this pandemic.