Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
September 5, 2001
Honorable Valerie Lewis
Department of Higher Education
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 60106
Dear Commissioner Lewis:
In your June 26, 2001 letter you request our opinion as to whether P.A. 01-141, §4 authorizes the Board of Trustees for the Connecticut State University System (CSUS) to establish, subject to authorization by the Board of Governors of Higher Education, a pilot education doctoral program to be conducted at one of its institutions only or whether such a doctoral program may be conducted at more than one of its institutions.
Until this year’s legislative session, the University of Connecticut had "exclusive responsibility" to award doctoral degrees. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-149. CSUS had - and continues to have - "special responsibility for the preparation of personnel for the public schools of this state including master’s degree programs and other graduate study in education, and authority for providing liberal arts and career programs at the bachelors, masters and sixth year level." Id. This year’s General Assembly enacted P.A. 01-141, §4. That section provides:
You have informed us that a disagreement between the Board of Governors and CSUS has arisen about the extent of the degree granting authorization embodied in this brief statutory language. The Board of Governors maintains that the concept of CSUS establishing "a five-year program” connotes a pilot program, namely a test program of limited duration, at one CSUS institution. You cite the Board’s resolution approving CSUS’s most recent mission statement (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-6(a)(7)) "with a stipulation of limitation of expansion into educational doctorate programming authorized by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, and evaluated by them over a five year period to determine need and success."1 On the other hand, we are informed that CSUS takes the position that despite the finite nature of the doctoral program, the statute does not limit the System to one program at one institution but allows for such a program at any CSUS institution for which CSUS applies.
Where statutory language is clear and unequivocal, the statute speaks for itself and there is no occasion to construe it. Mazur v. Blum, 184 Conn. 116, 118-119 (1981); Hurlbut v. Lemelin, 155 Conn. 68, 73 (1967). "This is consonant with the legislative intent which is found not in what the legislature meant to say but in the meaning of what it did say." Frazier v. Manson, 176 Conn. 638, 644 (1979); see also Kellems v. Brown, 163 Conn. 478, 505 (1972). However, when a statute contains an ambiguity, the rules of statutory construction are applied to ascertain the actual intention expressed by the language. Farms Country Club, Inc. v. Carini, 172 Conn. 439, 443 (1977).
The statutory language under review is not, with respect to the question presented, clear and unambiguous on its face. While it is certainly reasonable to read the clause, ". . . the Board of Trustees for the Connecticut State University System may establish a five-year program to award education doctoral degrees. . .", as meaning one new program at one institution, it is, by the same token, not unreasonable to read that provision as permitting CSUS to maintain such a program under which more than one of its institutions awards the degree. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-87, CSUS maintains four separate and distinct degree granting universities, and the statute does not expressly limit the program to any specific university. A third possible reading in light of CSUS's multi-institutional nature is the establishment of the program through one university with classes taught at the other universities.
Since the language in question is unclear, it must be construed. "Statutes are to be construed by considering ‘their legislative history, their language, their purpose, and the circumstances surrounding their enactment.’" Anderson v. Ludgin, 175 Conn. 545, 552 (1978) quoting City Savings Bank v. Lawler, 163 Conn. 149, 157 (1972). As pointed out above, last year CSUS proposed to the Board of Governors to amend its mission statement to include the awarding of education doctoral degrees (Ed.D.).2 The Board of Governors reviewed and approved CSUS’s request to a limited extent by allowing a five year program. It referred this recommendation on to the General Assembly because CSUS lacked statutory authority to award doctoral degrees.
The instant issue came before the General Assembly as part of Substitute HB 6630 dealing with a variety of public higher education issues including endowment funds, foundations and student trustees. At a February 9, 2001 hearing before the legislature’s Education Committee, the education doctoral program language, which was and remained in its present state throughout the entire legislative process, was the subject of considerable discussion including testimony from the CSUS Chancellor, the presidents of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), the Dean of the University of Connecticut’s School of Education and yourself as Commissioner of Higher Education. The CSUS officials spoke in terms of the bill permitting each university, under the appropriate circumstances, to award the degree. No committee member contradicted this assertion.3 In fact, in answer to a committee member’s question, the Chancellor stated that CCSU and SCSU had already developed their own programs and Western Connecticut State University "indicated a potential intention in the future to develop an Ed.D. program." The presidents of CCSU and SCSU spoke of their plans for programs at their universities. The Dean of the School of Education and you, on the other hand advocated one limited pilot program. Again no member of the committee contradicted your position.4
Thereafter, the Education Committee favorably reported out Sub. H.B. 6630, stating one of the bill’s purposes5 as: "To authorize state universities to award doctorates in education."
Representative Staples reported the bill out of committee to the House on May 24, 2001. Statements of the committee chairman reporting out a bill strongly indicate legislative intent. Sullivan v. West Hartford, 143 Conn. 280, 286 (1956). Rep. Staples stated in pertinent part:
At the conclusion of that five-year pilot program, the Department of Higher Education will evaluate the EDD program, make recommendations back to this General Assembly as to whether it has been successfully in operation and should be authorized on a more permanent basis.
This issue has been thoroughly discussed and examined by the Education Committee. We recognize that this is going to provide a great new opportunity for our state university systems to develop programs in a new area where we think we can serve the needs of our communities.
The proposal is specifically geared to allowing the Department of Higher Education to receive application from the State University campuses interested in embarking on the EDD program and the authorization in the statute would permit multiple campuses, based on the Department’s approval, to establish that EDD program at the State University System.
From this legislative history, we conclude that despite the potentially short time span of any such doctoral degree program, P.A. 01-141, §4 does not restrict the CSUS program to one institution, even if courses are taught at more than one site. Indeed, the statements by Rep. Staples as co-chairman of the Education Committee signal the General Assembly's intent that the program could be available at more than one institution, without explicit authorization in the statutory language. Hence, there is statutory authorization for a program under which more than one of the universities may award the education doctoral degree.7
In sum, the concept of "program" as used in P.A. 01-141, §4 is not limited by the act to one CSUS institution granting the Ed.D. degree but may encompass the award of that degree by other CSUS institutions. The legislature indicated its intent that the program may be available at two or more institutions.
Very truly yours,
Bernard F. McGovern, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
1The resolution also included a recommendation to the General Assembly for an enabling statute.
2CSUS is required to develop a system-wide mission statement, which must include degrees offered by its institutions. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-89(a)(2)(B). The Board of Governors reviews and approves mission statements. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-6(a)(7).
3As a general rule, only proceedings on the floors of the House and Senate are considered in construing legislation; State v. Galino, 201 Conn. 435, 445 (1986); Baker v. Norwalk, 152 Conn. 312, 316 (1965); but legislative committee testimony will be considered when necessary. Gay and Lesbian Law Students Association v. Board of Trustees, 223 Conn. 453, 477, n. 19 (1996); Mahoney v. Lensink, 213 Conn. 548, 559 n. 15 (1990); Manchester Environmental Coalition v. Stockton, 184 Conn. 51, 57, 58, n. 8, 10 (1981). The transcript of this hearing appears on the General Assembly’s website at www.cga.state.ct.us/2001/eddata/chr/2001ED-00209-R001300-CHR.htm
4The following colloquy did occur between you and Representative Staples, the Education Committee cochairman, regarding the possibility of a pilot program encompassing more than one site:
REP. STAPLES: . . . I just want to make sure I understand a pilot program could mean two sites and in your view and in other words, both Southern and Central if they were deemed by CSU to be able to put an Ed.D. in place would be encouraged by the resolution of the board.
COMM. VALERIE LEWIS: I would respond with two points. One that the board did discuss it at length and it was a singular article used, a pilot program. And that would indicate as we describe program, one degree and one authorization. Within our regulations, however, there is a great deal of latitude about (inaudible) the program together.
* * * * * * * *
REP. STAPLES: Just so that I understand. If the Legislature were to allow for an Ed.D. program would the CSU system need to come back to you and clarify, I’m sorry, would the CSU system need to come back to you, you at the Department, and clarify their intentions and then be authorized as such a pilot program.
COMM. VALERIE LEWIS: Actually, we have taken to you the recommendation for a pilot program because in fact this would require a statutory change, as you well know. If such a degree were authorized in any fashion, then of course the actual program review would come back before the Board of Governors and that’s the point at which you’d look at the curriculum and the nature of the funding and resources that are provided.
5The statement of purpose of a bill on its introduction into the legislature may be considered in determining legislative intent. Manchester Sand and Gravel Co. v. South Windsor, 203 Conn. 267, 274-275 (1987).
6See www.cga.state.ct.us/2001/trn/H/2001HTR00524-R00-TRN.htm. In the Senate the bill was passed without discussion on Consent Calendar No. 1 on June 4, 2001.
7There may remain the issue as to the general mandate under Section 4 that makes the establishment of any CSUS education doctorate program contingent "upon the authorization by the Board of Governors of Higher Education." Such a program must be established pursuant to the pertinent licensure and accreditation statutes and regulations, which require Board of Governors’ approval of any new program. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10a-34; Conn. State Ag. Regs. §10a-34-1 et seq. Before the substance of any new program proposed by a public higher education institution is scrutinized by the Commissioner, the proposal must undergo a planning assessment. Conn. State Ag. Regs §10a-34-4(e)(1)(B). That assessment consists of a review by the Commissioner ". . . in regard to the conformance with the institution’s role and mission; need for the program; unnecessary duplication of existing programs; cost effectiveness; and availability of adequate resources." A positive planning assessment finding by the Commissioner leads to a quality assessment of the proposed program under § 10a-34-4(f). At the Education Committee hearing, the Chancellor seemed to acknowledge the Board of Governors’ role in the process when he stated in part in answer to a question posed by Rep. Cafero about multiple CSUS institutions offering the degree:
See also comments of Rep. Staples, supra, p. 6.