As a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board of trustees from 2006-2012, I have read with interest the series of Star Tribune articles reporting various faculty groups voting “no confidence” for the system’s chancellor, Steven Rosenstone. This is a disappointing situation. But more important, it creates a risk of delay in fixing the truly major issues that are ahead for Minnesota’s largest higher education system.
It’s important to remember that MnSCU is a creation of the Legislature and that the law grants the board of trustees — not the faculty, the chancellor or other system management — whatever authority is needed to carry out its mission. The individual colleges and universities are not separate corporations; they are simply branded regional accounting entities or branches whose presidents are hired by and whose program approvals are core responsibilities of the board.
Trustees are appointed by the people’s elected governor, confirmed by the people’s elected Senate and, above all else, are fiduciaries responsible to the Legislature and the people of Minnesota. This higher degree of legal responsibility owed by the board to the people is much higher than that owed to the faculty or chancellor and other system staff members, whose employee relationship with the board is simply contractual.
The chancellor is absolutely correct that there is a need for change and a restructuring of the huge MnSCU operations. In this he deserves the board’s support. There are expensive and unnecessary program and back-office duplications throughout the system. And there is an irrational lack of coordination for such basic standards as the number of credits needed for the same degree at different schools or, for example, the existence of different student selection criteria at each campus for the limited openings in high demand programs such as nursing.
Despite the growth of online education throughout the system, it is only recently that the need for centralized systemwide faculty training has received consideration.
Perhaps the most strategic future issue is created by the system’s two faculty unions. These separate labor contracts create inconsistencies, such as a two-year college faculty member and a four-year university faculty member each teaching the same lower-division course but being paid different amounts, while the required workload of one is five and the other four courses in a semester. MnSCU policies, meantime, stipulate that both courses are equivalent and that both meet the requirement and must be accepted by the university to which the student transfers.
Two important questions need to be raised: First, why are the peoples’ fiduciaries — the trustees — who seem to be on the sidelines, allowing such a situation to evolve between the chancellor and the faculty? Second, how much longer do the trustees have before the Legislature asks the same question?
James Van Houten lives in Minneapolis.