A faculty group is trying to scrap a proposed overhaul of Minnesota's state colleges and universities, saying it would create "a Soviet-style management structure" that does little to benefit students.

"This is going to lower the quality of their education, and not do anything significant to reduce student debt or make tuition more affordable," said Monte Bute, a sociology professor at Metro State University.

The proposal, "Charting the Future," calls for sweeping changes at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU), which has some 430,000 students at 54 campuses.

Among other things, the plan would encourage more coordination among the campuses and potentially lead to mergers of some schools and programs, according to a draft report released in June.

On Monday, the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents 4,000 faculty members at seven Minnesota state universities, released a scathing critique.

"We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decisionmaking by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom," the faculty union said.

Administrators, however, say the critics were mistaken.

"The draft recommendations neither suggest nor should lead to more centralization or a larger system office," said Michael Dougherty, a vice chancellor at MnSCU. He said that "collaboration and coordination" are the keys to making improvements.

Nancy Black, the union president, said faculty members were caught off-guard when the draft report was released during summer break. It wasn't until last week, she said, that the union's board was able to meet and hammer out its response.

The key criticisms: The plan could squeeze out innovation on campuses and emphasize job-training programs at the expense of academic ones. "Student program choices should not be limited to the programs supported by the business community," the group said.

Administrators say they are seeking feedback on the draft report, which will be presented to the board of trustees in November.

According to MnSCU, the report was the result of months of discussions by three strategic work groups involving 46 students, faculty members, administrators and others.

But Black, one of three faculty members on the work groups, said the report took her by surprise. "We had what I would term, euphemistically, lively discussions," she said, but her group did not vote on any of the recommendations. She said she did not see the final draft until it was made public June 19.

Black, an anthropology professor at Metro State, said the reaction from faculty has been fairly intense. "Let me put it this way: There were enough faculty around that were sufficiently enraged at me for being a part of it," she said.

The group also said the proposal would "have the effect of union busting," because it suggests merging collective bargaining units.

Said Bute: "What we're requesting is that the chancellor and the board of trustees look carefully at this, basically hit the delete button [and] go back to the drawing board."