Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian plans to retire at the end of the year.
CSCU released a statement saying that Ojakian announced Wednesday that he intends to retire, effective Jan. 1 after a 40-year career in state government, including five at the helm of CSCU.
“After more than 40 years in state government, it’s time for me to move on,” Ojakian said in a statement. “I am proud of the accomplishments our team made over the past five years, with a relentless focus on making sure the students we serve have the tools necessary to succeed. It has been a tremendous honor to lead this organization, and while it is hard to say goodbye, I am confident that the team we have in place will continue to move important ongoing initiatives forward. The merger of the community colleges in particular is well on its way to completion, and will ultimately improve student success and equity measures while putting the community college on firm fiscal footing.”
Gov. Ned Lamont released a statement soon after the announcement came out.
“Mark Ojakian has been a dedicated public servant in Connecticut for more than 40 years. He is as intelligent and knowledgeable about the workings of government as anyone. I have come to rely on his counsel and appreciate his friendship. Over the past five years, Mark brought stability to a system that was in turmoil. He recognized that public higher education represents not just opportunity for individuals to expand their knowledge and improve their lives, but a critical component of the state’s long-term workforce development strategy. He refocused the CSCU system to put the needs of students at the forefront, and our public colleges and universities are in a much better position because of his leadership," Lamont said.
Matt Fleury, chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, said in a statement that the board will launch a national search for Ojakian’s successor, and an interim plan will be put in place until a permanent president is installed.
“President Ojakian has been extraordinarily effective in leading Connecticut’s colleges and universities in the best interests of our students and our state,” Fleury said in a statement. “He has maintained a steadfast commitment to the Board’s vision for quality, affordable, equitable higher education by focusing on student success and the sustainability of these valued institutions.”
Among the new president’s responsibilities will be to move forward the Students First initiative, which seeks improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students.
“Of course, significant challenges continue, and I am gratified to hear that the Board of Regents remains committed to implementing the important changes started under President Ojakian, especially Students First. Our community colleges are critical to the state’s economic future. We need to ensure not only that every campus remains open and operational, but that they make strides toward reducing chronic inequities. Students First will do just that, and I am committed to working with the CSCU leadership team to ensure it is fully enacted,” Lamont said.
“It’s been an honor to partner with President Ojakian on programs and initiatives that helped Black and Brown students succeed in the classroom,” Scot X. Esdaile, president of the NAACP Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors said in a statement. “He has been an ally to the NAACP every step of the way, and he has become a personal friend of mine. I am sad to see him retire – though it is certainly well deserved. I will continue to work closely with the CSCU team on the efforts started under President Ojakian.”
Before he became president of CSCU, Ojakian served as chief of staff to Governor Dannel P. Malloy from 2012 to 2015, deputy secretary at the Office of Policy Management from 2011 to 2012, deputy state comptroller from 1994 to 2010, director of government relations for the Board of Governors for Higher Education from 1988 to 1994, and research analyst for the Office of Legislative Research from 1980 to 1988.
In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney said Ojakian has been a visionary and leader through challenging times:
"Mark Ojakian has had a truly outstanding career in Connecticut's government and public service. Especially as Chief of Staff to former Governor Malloy and for the past five years as President of the State College and University system, he has been a visionary and creative problem solver and a steady hand in times of turmoil and challenge. Mark's vision has always focused on the urgency of creating an enhanced educational environment for the tens of thousands of students he serves and it was always a pleasure to work with him toward that end. I believe he has pointed a path to sustained success, and I am gratified that Chair Matt Fleury and the state Board of Regents for Higher Education will continue his commitment to student achievement, social justice, debt free community college, preparation to compete in a demanding economy, and other critical initiatives. Mark, my friend, enjoy a well deserved but too early retirement!"
State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano released a statement on Ojakian's retirement saying: “Mark Ojakian has been dedicated to public service for over 40 years. His warm personality and gentle demeanor allowed him to navigate rough waters in a way others simply could not. Whether it was talking to leaders on the other side of the aisle, advocating for a budget that people disliked, or union negotiations, he was always direct, honest, sincere, and a gentleman. He is a true friend to everyone he has worked with and he embodies respect and dedication. He was always loyal to his job, to his party and to the state of Connecticut. I have incredible respect for him and wish him all the best in his retirement.”
House Republican Leader Themis Klarides also praised Ojakian in a statement:
“President Ojakian leaves a legacy of accomplishment and professionalism from his long service to the people of Connecticut going back some four decades. Mark has used his vast experience in government to help transform the university he heads into a more efficient system that puts students first. His vision will be felt long after he takes this much deserved next step. On a personal level, Mark has been dear friend who has helped me throughout my career as his wisdom and advice has always been a comfort. He embodies qualities that we all should hope to possess in life: optimism, common sense, humor and loyalty.’’
He lives with his husband Jason Veretto in West Hartford. He has two children, Brandon and Kyle, and four grandchildren, Connor, Madison, Summer and Jordan.