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Connecticut has a basketball professor and he’s a union man

Gone are the days when the union protected coal miners with dirty hands and black lungs, fighting for reasonable work hours and wages against a conglomerate of greedy, corporate fat-cats. Sure, part of that image is myth, but there was a time when unions were necessary. Now is not that time.

Case in point: UConn Men’s Basketball coach Kevin Ollie.

This week, UConn moved to fire Ollie as head coach — a move dozens of schools and sports teams make every year. Union lawyers rushed to Ollie’s defense to file a grievance against the state for unjust dismissal.

Why? Turns out in Connecticut, a basketball coach making $3 million a year is a union worker — you know, the proletariat class in need of protection by benevolent labor unions, in this case the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). For the past five years, Ollie has needed protection from the greedy state, which was literally throwing money at him.

Apparently a basketball coach is a kind of professor — probably giving lectures on the intersectionality of rebound theory, the social construct of the three-point shot and whether free throws can ever, truly be “free” with so much injustice in the world.

You know, the typical college education these days, which costs a fortune and sends students into debt for the rest of their lives.

Connecticut residents probably shouldn’t be surprised; 94 percent of full-time state employees — including college and university employees — are part of a union. But it’s still hard to reconcile the image of the weary union coal miner with Life Styles of the Rich & Famous.

In 2013, UConn decided to hire professor Ollie for $1.2 million per year. They subsequently discarded that contract after a successful season and increased his pay to $3 million per year in 2015. Ollie didn’t need a union — UConn was chomping at the bit to pay him more.

But the union needs him. According to the UConn AAUP dues schedule, Ollie was bringing in $27,000 per year in dues. So the lowly, beleaguered basketball professor put at least $100,000 into union coffers since he took over as head coach.

At least they’re finally having to work for it in defending his contract.

Frankly — for $3 million per year — Ollie could afford his own legal representation. But for now AAUP dues-paying members will subsidize the fight to make sure a member of the 1 percent — that part of the population that angers college professors so much — stays in the 1 percent.

UConn better hope they have a good case against Ollie, and it will have to be better than merely having a couple less-than-stellar seasons.

On the topic of winning records, UConn doesn’t have much of one when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

Spending has doubled for Connecticut’s flagship university since 2003 and taxpayer funding has increased $115 million, meanwhile in-state tuition has doubled.

Much of the increased spending can be attributed to employee raises and fringe benefit costs for Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities, according to a report by CT Mirror. “Over the last five years, two-thirds of the $290 million in increased spending by UConn has gone to cover personnel costs,” the Mirror wrote.

It makes sense. University directors, administrators, and professors — along with doctors who work for UConn’s Health Center — make up many of the top salaries and pensions in the state. Until this week, Ollie was one of the highest paid state employees. A former UConn business professor has the highest pension in Connecticut — a whopping $330,000 per year.

Big salaries mean big pensions, both now and in the future. But, Connecticut’s pension crisis aside, UConn has made some high profile financial fouls as well.

In 2017, the university spent $5.3 million to fire UConn football coach Bob Diaco, having to buy out his contract and the contracts of his staff. Now, it may have to pay Ollie $10 million, along with whatever fringe benefits he was entitled to.

UConn is the primary offender when it comes to paying out six-figure “non-disparagement agreements” to employees when they are “separated from service.” Which is really just a college-educated way of saying, “You can’t work here anymore, but here’s a bunch of money so please don’t talk about us.”

Last month, UConn found itself in the midst of another scandal. One of their professors was being paid his usual $200,000 per year salary, even though no one had heard from him in months. Turns out the poor man — Pierluigi Bigazzi — had been murdered sometime in the summer, but UConn kept sending the checks and never bothered to check in on him.

Melinda Sanders, head of UConn’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine where Bigazzi worked as a professor, was demoted after the news broke. She made $330,000 last year. Losing the position of department head will mean she will receive a $30,000 pay cut. Maybe the union can step in and file a grievance against that, too.

It’s certainly not like the old days when a union member had to make sure the boss wasn’t skimming his pay or was forced to shop at the company store and run into debt. At least it’s not that way for Connecticut’s degreed intelligentsia … and basketball coaches.

No. Today it’s the state which is in debt and it’s the taxpayers who are seeing their paycheck skimmed to pay for that debt.

Best pick up that shovel and get back to the mine, because UConn is going to need a new basketball coach, and the big boss man needs his tax revenue to pay for it.

Marc E. Fitch

Marc E. Fitch is the author of several books and novels including Shmexperts: How Power Politics and Ideology are Disguised as Science and Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot. Marc was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and his work has appeared in The Federalist, American Thinker, The Skeptical Inquirer, World Net Daily and Real Clear Policy. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University. Marc can be reached at [email protected]

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