For months, faculty and administrators have been publicly feuding over a plan to reshape Minnesota's 31 public colleges and state universities.

Yet since before Christmas, the two sides have been quietly meeting - and making progress - to try to heal their rift, said Jim Grabowska, head of the faculty union at the seven state universities, on Wednesday.

So it came as something of a surprise this week, when Gov. Mark Dayton decided to send them a public  message with his budget proposal: No increase in funding, at least not now, until they patch things up.

"Was I personally (surprised)? Yes," said Grabowska, president of the Inter Faculty Organization. Other than a courtesy call shortly before Dayton's Tuesday announcement, he said, he had no idea the governor was so worked up about it.

Last fall, the feud burst into the headlines when the two faculty unions publicly denounced the chancellor, Steven Rosenstone, over his handling of a new strategic plan for MnSCU, called "Charting the Future." The unions said their members didn't trust Rosenstone's leadership, a message that was reinforced when the faculty at each of the state universities passed no-confidence votes in the chancellor. 

The plan at the center of the controversy is a broad work-in-progress, designed to modernize and streamline operations at the 24 two-year colleges and seven four-year universities. The faculty, though, expressed concerns about too-much centralized control, and about the role of a private consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., that was paid $2 million to guide the process.

At a news conference Tuesday, Dayton said his goal was "to stimulate them to come together."

"The continuation of this divide would be very detrimental to MnSCU," he said. "Now's the time to get it resolved."

On Wednesday, Grabowska wouldn't say how much progress has been made toward resolving the dispute, but acknowledged that they still have a way to go. "What we're going for is substantive change," he said.

Rosenstone offered no specifics when he addressed MnSCU's board of trustees meeting Wednesday. "We deeply understand the governor's concerns," he said. The two sides released a joint statement on Tuesday, saying they were taking steps to work out their differences.

But Rosenstone said they're all united behind MnSCU's request to the Legislature: for an additional $142 million over the next two years, to prevent painful tuition hikes and program cuts. The money is key, he said, to be able to offer a quality education and "protect affordability."