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Former UConn president named interim regents chief

HARTFORD — The Board of Regents for Higher Education has voted to name former University of Connecticut leader Philip Austin as its interim president.

He would fill the position left by Robert A. Kennedy, who resigned earlier Friday under pressure from the governor and lawmakers amid a scrap over secret pay raises for staff members totaling more than $250,000.

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Governor Dannel P. Malloy said he intends to formally appoint Austin to that role as a permanent replacement is sought.

Malloy said that Austin will bring much-needed stability to the board’s central office and that he is the right person to continue reforms that are underway.

Kennedy said the controversy had become a distraction from the work of the board, which oversees 17 Connecticut colleges and universities. The board was created last year to make colleges operate more efficiently and help them respond quickly to business and academic trends with new degree programs.

‘‘I believe my resignation will allow the critical issues of the board and its agenda to be addressed in a different light than they might otherwise be,’’ Kennedy said.

Malloy, who chose Kennedy for the $340,000-a-year job in August 2011, said: ‘‘Bob’s decision is the right one.’’

‘‘It’s unfortunate that the events of the past week have damaged the credibility of the central office, but they have, and that credibility needs to be restored as quickly as possible,’’ Malloy said.

Earlier this week, Kennedy said he made a mistake when he awarded raises of up to $48,000 to 21 staff members without the approval or knowledge of an oversight board. Among the staff members who received raises was the board’s executive vice president, Michael Meotti, who agreed to forgo his $48,000 raise earlier this week.

Kennedy later announced he was suspending the raises, but the furor only grew. On Thursday, the bipartisan leadership of the General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee called for Kennedy to step aside.

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