If Gov. Dayton was trying to send a message to the feuding parties at Minnesota’s State Colleges and Universities, he succeeded.
In his budget proposal Tuesday, Dayton declined to recommend any funding increase for the system’s 31 colleges and universities “at this time” because of concern about the dispute between administrators and faculty over a strategic plan called “Charting the Future.”
Within minutes, the two sides released a joint statement, saying they’re trying to patch up their differences.
“We take the governor’s decision … very seriously,” said the statement on behalf of MnSCU and the leaders of its two faculty unions, who have been battling for months over the plan. “We understand and share the governor’s concerns,” they said, adding that they’ve been working “to resolve our disagreements.”
Last fall, the faculty unions at the state colleges and universities announced that they were pulling out of the strategic planning process because of distrust of the system’s chancellor, Steven Rosenstone. The faculty at all seven state universities passed no-confidence votes in Rosenstone’s leadership.
This session, MnSCU is seeking a $142 million increase in state funding, saying that it would have to raise tuition and cut programs without it.
Dayton’s budget pitch came the same day that college students testified about crushing student debt before a House committee. “It’s scary,” said Kari Cooper, a student leader and senior at Bemidji State University, who said she has $48,000 in student loans. “I have three older siblings that went to state colleges and they’re also facing debt.” Still, she said she’s confident the faculty and administration will work out their differences, and that MnSCU will get the funds it needs to hold down tuition.
The governor’s proposal was more generous toward the state’s flagship institution, the University of Minnesota. Dayton recommended $32.6 million to help offset tuition increases (half the amount the U had said it would need to freeze tuition). He also proposed $30 million to expand faculty and research at the Medical School. President Eric Kaler issued a statement thanking Dayton for his support, adding that he would continue to seek more funding at the Legislature.
Dayton also recommended increasing the State Grant Program, which helps students with financial need, by $25 million, or an average of $300 per student. Currently, the average state grant is about $1,700.
Dayton expressed hope that the MnSCU rift would heal, and said that he would wait until February to make his funding recommendation for the system.
Neither Rosenstone nor union leaders answered questions about Dayton’s action, saying they had no comment beyond the joint statement.