June 17: Three-year contract for MnSCU chancellor reached in October draws fire

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2014 - 6:34 PM

System’s faculty union and board of trustees clash over a quiet pay raise and renewed contract.

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Steve Rosenstone

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Monday’s announcement that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system gave its top executive a raise and a new, three-year contract — last October — drew criticism from a top lawmaker and the union that represents the faculty at seven state universities.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone will make $387,250 in base salary for the coming school year, a 1.8 percent increase. He also will receive a $43,160 boost to allowances for transportation and other expenses, MnSCU said.

A professor sent the contract to the media Friday. On Monday, MnSCU sent out a news release “due to interest from the media,” a spokesman said.

Clarence Hightower, chairman of the MnSCU board of trustees, negotiated the agreement. He said that after the board in June unanimously gave him the authority to negotiate with Rosenstone, it did not vote on the final deal — but there was “not an expectation that it would.”

“It’s the same process we used three years ago when we hired Chancellor Rosenstone,” he said. There was no vote, news release or announcement then, either, he said.

Hightower said that some board members “learned as late as yesterday” about the signed contract.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, chair of the House higher education committee, blasted MnSCU leaders for settling Rosenstone’s contract while testy negotiations with the universities’ faculty union drag on.

Those leaders promised lawmakers during the last legislative session that if they approved $17 million for the system, the contract for those 4,000 faculty members would be settled “within days,” said Pelowski, D-Winona.

“Well, it’s been a month or more,” he said. “Then the most expensive contract you have, you settled in October? And now we find out about it?”

The public deserves a more open process, Pelowski added. “If you look at openness in government and take a smell test, this stinks.”

It’s been more than three years since Rosenstone was picked to lead MnSCU — a network of seven state universities and 24 community or technical colleges with more than 430,000 students. His contract expires July 31. It says the trustees “may renew or continue the chancellor’s appointment only by a majority vote of the board.”

The new agreement, which starts Aug. 1, eliminates a performance bonus of up to $50,000 a year, a response to lawmakers banning such bonuses during last year’s session. Rosenstone will get $42,300 a year for housing, $15,000 for transportation and $7,800 for professional development.

The increases bring his total compensation “in line with that of other leaders of higher education systems nationally,” the MnSCU news release says. Rosenstone’s current pay ranks 23rd among 65 heads of similar systems, according to an annual ranking by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

MnSCU spokesman Doug Anderson said the contract approval “is consistent with practices in recent years.”

Hightower, who was appointed to the board in 2002, said that he can’t remember ever voting on a contract for former Chancellor James McCormick. But news articles and meeting minutes mention board votes on McCormick’s compensation. One 2002 report said that the 15-member board reviewed McCormick’s performance and “voted unanimously in favor of the raise and extension.” Board minutes from December 2005 also note the board approving a raise for McCormick.

Criticism is ‘fair’

The faculty “absolutely have the right” to call the board out, Hightower said. “That’s fair. Hindsight always gives us an opportunity … to look at how we do things.”

News of the contract comes as Rosenstone is about to get a performance review. A committee, led by Hightower, will give its report to the board of trustees July 18.

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