HARTFORD, Conn. — A former president of the University of Connecticut, Philip Austin, was tapped Friday to oversee the state's Board of Regents for Higher Education after the board's embattled president and executive vice president resigned amid a public outcry over unauthorized pay increases for staff members totaling $250,000.

Board members held an emergency meeting and voted to recommend Austin to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The meeting came hours after former board president Robert A. Kennedy announced he was stepping aside, acknowledging the controversy over the raises had become a distraction from the fledgling board's work.

Lewis Robinson, the volunteer chairman of the Board of Regents, said he "appreciated Kennedy's willingness to put students first" and that Austin will help the board get back on track.

"I can't imagine finding a finer person to serve us in this time when we're trying to move forward swiftly and get our load right, if you will, and move forward with providing quality education which prepares our students in a global economy," said Robinson, adding how it could take five to six months to conduct a national search for a replacement.

Austin is not interested in the permanent job and his salary has not yet been determined, Robinson said.

Malloy called Austin an "outstanding choice" and said he'll bring "much-needed stability to the Board of Regents central office the first day he walks in the door."

One of Austin's first tasks was to accept the resignation of the board's executive vice president, Michael Meotti, who had received a $48,000 raise. Meotti had agreed to forgo the 26 percent increase but later decided to step aside because he did not want to be a distraction to the board's work, according to a joint statement from Austin and Robinson.

The Board of Regents, which began operating on July 1, 2011, was originally proposed by Malloy as a way to streamline the way Connecticut runs its colleges and universities. The group governs 17 state institutions, including the four state universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College, a public, online school.

Some state lawmakers had called for Kennedy's resignation after learning he awarded raises of up to $48,000 to 21 staff members without the knowledge or approval of an oversight board. Kennedy, the former president of the University of Maine, suspended the pay raises and acknowledged he made a mistake in awarding them.

Several students attended Friday's packed emergency meeting. Chris D'Amore, an engineering student at Manchester Community College, said he believes everyone who received a pay raise should pay them back retroactively and resign.

"There's a state wage freeze. Why would they take a pay increase without any oversight, any permission from the state?" he asked. "I would consider that to be unethical."

Robinson said the pay increases will be reviewed by a new committee of three board members, charged with formulating administrative policies and procedures on a number of issues, including compensation.

"There are some instances where what was done was quite appropriate indeed," Robinson said, referring to the pay adjustments. "I'm aware of some names that were approved by the board. But it's going to be the job of the Administration Committee to very quickly work in a thorough way and sort through that whole list and make decisions."

Austin resigned as president of the University of Connecticut in 2007 after serving 10 years. He was later appointed as an interim president in 2010 when his successor, Michael Hogan, resigned to become president of the University of Illinois.

During his time as UConn's president, Austin oversaw a massive $2.3 billion construction and renovation project known as UConn 2000 at the state's flagship university. While the program was credited with transforming the school, a task force created by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell determined UConn 2000 was plagued by fire and safety code violations, financial discrepancies and tens of millions of dollars in budget overruns. The General Assembly later passed a bill to impose tighter oversight and financial controls over the projects.