Faculty groups at two Minnesota community colleges are mobilizing to try to replace their own presidents in the wake of a similar campus uprising in Rochester that led to a change in leadership.
On Monday, the faculty union at Inver Hills Community College has scheduled a no-confidence vote against President Tim Wynes, who has headed the college for five years.
And on Wednesday, the faculty union at Ridgewater College is sending a delegation to the Twin Cities to press leaders of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to intervene in their long-running dispute with President Douglas Allen. Last February, the faculty overwhelmingly passed a no-confidence vote against Allen, who runs the college’s two campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson.
Steven Rosenstone, the system chancellor, issued a brief statement saying he has “complete confidence” in both Allen and Wynes, and calling on both sides to resolve their differences through “open dialogue.”
Faculty spokesmen say that the conflicts have been simmering for years over the two presidents’ leadership styles.
But the latest attempts to draw public attention to their grievances have been fueled, in part, by recent events at Rochester Community and Technical College, where public criticism led to the resignation of President Leslie McClellon in December after 18 months in office.
“I don’t think there’s any coincidence,” said Kevin Lindstrom, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty, the faculty union. “For years and years and years, we have always tried to address concerns about campus leadership in behind-the-scenes conversations.” Often, he said, “it hasn’t resulted in much substantive change.”
The lesson from Rochester, he added, is “if you become loud in public, you get the change you want.”
Union leaders have blamed the presidents of Inver Hills and Ridgewater for low morale and a poor working relationship with faculty. They also have criticized layoffs at Ridgewater, and spending on consultants at Inver Hills.
Both presidents say they have tried to work with the faculty as they navigate through challenging times, with tight budgets and falling enrollment. But not all of their decisions have been popular.
“I’ve said many times I’m happy to sit down with faculty and talk about their concerns,” said Allen, who has been president of Ridgewater for 13 years. “No matter what decision is made in any organization, somebody is going to think it’s the wrong one; that’s just the reality.”
Wynes, who is head of two colleges, Inver Hills and Dakota County Technical College, declined to speculate on what’s fueling the no-confidence vote. But he noted that he’s had a “tremendous outpouring of support” from employees, students and community members since news of the conflict broke last week. “We haven’t laid off a single faculty member in the 5½ years I’ve been there,” he said. “We haven’t closed a program. It’s a financially well-managed college.”
He also noted that he’s seen no similar outcry on the Dakota County campus, which he has overseen since 2013. “I’m not a different person at Dakota County than I am at Inver Hills,” he said.
The student senate also took issue with the faculty critics in a post on the Inver Hills website, saying that Wynes’ administration “has been responsive to our concerns, and helpful and honest.”
Lindstrom, the union leader, said he hopes the controversy will prompt new efforts to address the faculty’s concerns. “The underlying message is that we’ve got some issues that we need to deal with,” he said. “And, unfortunately, that they haven’t been dealt with very effectively. So now you’re seeing a different approach.”