The Minnesota State colleges and universities system will review its harassment and discrimination policy and re-evaluate how it structures administrator contracts amid criticism of how it's handled college president misconduct cases.
Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra and the system's board of trustees announced the reviews Wednesday after Star Tribune reports revealed that Malhotra allowed a former president of Hennepin Technical College to stay on the job amid multiple accusations of harassment and discrimination.
"Sometimes, our approaches and decisions fall way short of getting the desired results. This was the case at Hennepin Technical College," Malhotra said, issuing a public apology during the board of trustees meeting. "When I met with them, the Hennepin Technical College community was candid and forthcoming in expressing their profound disappointment in me and the system office in addressing the climate issues in a timely and responsive manner."
Former Hennepin Technical College President Merrill Irving Jr. resigned last month after a Star Tribune report detailed accusations that he belittled co-workers who had disabilities and made sexually derogatory comments about colleagues. Minnesota House Republicans called for Irving to resign after the report.
Upon his resignation, Irving was immediately reassigned to an administrative job in the Minnesota State system's central office, where he will be employed through June 30 on his same presidential salary of $232,000. The Minnesota State system has been criticized by legislators and student groups for appointing college presidents who step down amid accusations of misconduct to high-paying administrative jobs in its central office.
"It is clear that there is a larger systemic issue here that can no longer be ignored," said Axel Kylander, president of the community college student association LeadMN. "It is time to change the culture at Minnesota State."
System leaders are reviewing the harassment and discrimination policy and will propose changes to the board in May, Malhotra said.
Minnesota State leaders found that Irving made "derisive statements about individuals of a protected class" but determined his comments were not "pervasive or severe" enough to merit being a violation of the current policy. Malhotra said an updated policy needs to be "more responsive" to prevent similar situations from occurring.
Kylander argued the board should tap an outside expert to review the harassment policy instead of the system office.
"The system office cannot be responsible for fixing internal problems that are allowed to fester whenever there isn't public scrutiny," Kylander said.
Jay Cowles, chair of the board of trustees, said the board has directed Minnesota State's internal audit office to review "best practices for administrative contracts regarding severance" at other colleges and consider changes to the system's presidential contract language.
"Our intent is to ensure our employment practices, with respect to administrators, enhance rather than detract the recruitment of top talent to Minnesota State while also ensuring strong stewardship of taxpayer dollars," Cowles said.
Jennifer Erwin, president of the AFSCME Minnesota State policy committee and an employee at Rochester Community and Technical College, urged the system to ensure there is a "check and balance process" before renewing presidential contracts.
Erwin noted that problems with school presidents have occurred at more than just Hennepin Technical College. At St. Paul College, a former president stepped down amid accusations of a leadership style "grounded in fear and intimidation." And a Rochester Community and Technical College president resigned after being criticized for spending and personnel decisions.
More problems could come to light if employees at other system colleges were surveyed, she said.
Trustee Javier Morillo called for the creation of an "after-action report" detailing how Minnesota State leaders handled the Hennepin Technical College situation and what lessons were learned. Morillo said he found it "embarrassing" the situation reached a point where legislators intervened.
"It did not look to me that it reflected the values of Minnesota State or everything that I believe we are striving for," Morillo said. "I have so many questions still about it all."