Author of the higher education bill, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona
A recent editorial in the Star Tribune accused the state legislature of a power grab in attempting to set tuition rates for both the University of Minnesota system and MNSCU.
They opined that politicians were not the best option for balancing price (tuition) and quality for our higher education systems.
There were a large number of questionable arguments and statements made in that editorial, but today I would like to address only one, briefly.
"The Senate amendment tacitly acknowledges that the Legislature has limited ability to tread on the Board of Regents' constitutionally protected turf. But the House seeks to coerce the regents to do the Legislature's bidding by directing state officials to refuse to release funds to the university if a tuition freeze is not adopted."
First, it should be noted that it was the University that asked the legislature to provide funds specifically for keeping tuition frozen. This was a pre-emptive strike since the general public is furious because of the level of tuition and consequent student debt load.
And second, after bringing the question of constitutional autonomy up, we find later in the same editorial this:
The Senate's omnibus high-education bill is on the right track in making five percent of the state's 2014-15 appropriations to the two systems contingent on meeting at least three of five performance goals.
So, how does this work? A little coercion is acceptable to the Star Tribune but a lot is not? Where exactly is this line to be drawn?
One of the reasons why the U is in such bad odour with the public is the perception of arrogance in the matter of constituional autonomy. You can't tell us what to do, please hand over the money. In thinking about why the Legislature has not been generous to the U in the last ten years, is it possible that this perceived arrogance had anything to do with funding levels?
There are of course ways to fix the constitutional autonomy problem, but hopefully President Kaler is more sensitive to the matter than was his predecessor. The current General Counsel is about to leave town for a new job. One of his claims to fame has been as a fierce defender of the University's constitutional autonomy. Hopefully his successor will be a little more sensitive in this matter.
Although the issue of constitutional autonomy was not intended to be a major focus of these brief remarks, some gentle readers may wish more information on the topic.
"The study shows that Michigan, California, and Minnesota continue as the states with the most substantial legal recognition of constitutional autonomy."
"In these states, independent constitutional authority for public colleges and universities is meant to limit exessive political inteference from other parts of the state government."